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Marriage for an Indian woman is a huge life change – a change in her home address, family members living with her, and also her name, while for a man it is just a change in ‘relationship status’.
Amidst the incomprehensible chant of the priest in Sankskrit and flashes of the cameras, he put sindoor in the parting of my hair, while my nanad (my husband’s sister) covered my head with a red tant saree, known as lajjavastra in marriage parlance. The cameraman asked me to sport a smile- the coy smile that a newly wed bride was expected to sport.
The smoke from the sacred fire was stinging my eyes and I ended up with rubbing my eyes, smudging the carefully applied kajal by the make-up woman earlier that evening, as I tried lamely to smile looking at the camera.
Looking back to that fateful day after a couple of years since my divorce, I think that was a decisive moment – the moment of my transition from being Miss Tarafdar to being Mrs. Das.
Now that I am no longer married and no longer part of the Das family (which I have grown to despise since my marriage), I often wonder how easily women are expected to blend in with their matrimonial family, how they are expected to leave behind their maiden surname effortlessly while they take in a new identity – the identity of being someone’s wife, the identity of being the proud Mrs. X, Mrs. Y or Mrs. Z. Marriage for a woman entails a vast change in her life – from change in the place of residence to change in the family members to change in surname, while for a man it means simply a change in his relationship status.
One female employee of my office who used to use her maiden surname post-marriage, once said to me, “Why’ll I change my surname just because I am married? It’s my father who got me educated and it’s because of my parents that I am standing on my own feet today. So why’ll I not keep my father’s surname in my service records?” Her words resonated totally with me and I was reluctant to change my surname post-marriage.
My husband sarcastically asked me, “Why aren’t you changing your surname? Even Priyanka Gandhi changed her surname and became Priyanka Vadra after her marriage. She did this in spite of the great legacy of the ‘Gandhi’ surname in India. Do you think that your father’s surname carries greater weightage than the ‘Gandhi’ surname?”
“No. It’s because of the fact that I am not Priyanka Gandhi. I am Swagata. If it was Priyanka Gandhi’s choice to change her surname post marriage, then it is MY CHOICE not to change MY surname after marriage!” I snapped.
My mother-in-law heaved a sigh, “Our bouma has a job and she is earning well. That’s why she is so disrespectful of traditions. Look at my daughter. She is also working. But she has willingly changed her surname to that of her husband’s. That’s what I have taught her.”
My sister-in-law happens to be a teacher in a local primary school and flaunts her husband’s surname proudly. I am not disrespectful of her choice. She did what she thought best for her. However, that doesn’t in any way imply that I have to follow suit.
And so, my surname remained unchanged in my service records except in my Providend Fund Account, where I used both my father’s and my husband’s surname. I did that to avoid any complications which may arise due to any unforseen events. Using my husband’s name ensured that he could claim the money in my Providend Fund Account in case any untoward incident took place.
Amidst all these hoopla surrounding my own surname, what remained fixed was my son’s surname. He got his father’s surname following society’s prevalent norms, despite the fact that I am the one bearing all the responsibilities for him, including his financial responsibility. In that way, I being the breadwinner, am playing the role of a father. Still I am unable to give him my surname.
I am hopeful that a day will surely come when a child of a single mother will no longer require his/her father’s surname to carry for a lifetime. And I sincerely pray for that to happen. As of now, whenever I find the communications from my son’s school addressed to Mr. Das, despite me paying the school fees, I feel very annoyed. Even more annoying is whenever his teachers address me as Mrs. Das, inspite of communicating my marital status to the school. Perhaps because all the other children’s mothers are married, the teachers fail to remember one single mother. But this somehow hurts me, reminding me of my failed marriage.
Manusmriti says about a woman that “Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.” Even in this twenty-first century, women are treated as the property of her father prior to her marriage, getting his surname and the property of her husband post-marriage, changing her surname to that of her husband’s. She doesn’t have a surname to call her own. She can’t take her mother’s maiden surname. Likewise, her children are also barred from taking her maiden surname.
We women have achieved a lot during the past century. And I am sure during the course of the next century, we’ll surely carve out a place where we’ll be able to choose our surname according to our own accord – be it our father’s surname, our mother’s maiden surname or our husband’s surname. May be then we’ll be able to pass on our own surnames to our children too.
Image source: pexels
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