A woman is who refuses to change her last name after marriage is still considered a rebel and a misfit. Her decision is still not accepted!
It was the first time they met when she laid down the conditions to her would-be husband. “I am not going to change my surname. A Sen – always a Sen.” He smiled and nodded back.
Little did they know what was awaiting them.
It was the day of their registered wedding. The couple, decked up in their finery stood in front of the registrar, waiting to sign their names. Her husband had just finished signing his name when Radha stepped forward to sign hers. ‘Radha Sen,’ it read.
The witnesses and the audience looked back at her in disbelief and disdain. Then, the whispering began, “Why won’t she change her surname? What will she gain by this? Oh! What kind of a girl is she? And what kind of parents allow this?”
The allegations were countless. And the assumptions were equally myriad. But the couple remained unperturbed. She remained a Sen, keeping her sanity intact.
Radha had to get her passport done. The address verification happened while they were away at work. And it failed. No one knew why. She reapplied. This time she stayed at home. She had also put up a printed list of the names of her family members on the door. This was to enable easy identification.
The verification was complete. That’s when officials informed how they were misled by the personnel at the gate. The reason – her surname did not match her husband’s.
One evening she returned home to find the word ‘slut’ staring back boldly in red glitter against her name on the printed sheet. Shocked, it was evident that someone did not approve the idea of her using the maiden name.
Radha realised after a few days that most of the parcels addressed to her never reached them. The address was correct. But it went back undelivered.
A confrontation with the delivery agents resolved it. All the parcels were addressed to a ‘Sen,’ which created the confusion. The Post office, the courier and even the security personnel advised her to either change her name to her husbands or write a C/O (Care of).
“A married woman always carries her husband’s name forward not her father’s,” was the unsolicited advice she received.
Her in-laws could never get over the fact that the daughter-in-law had chosen to retain her maiden name. It was interpreted as a deliberate strategy to continue her family name. A family without a male heir is relegated to the limbo of oblivion while a family with one has its lineage guaranteed.
Her stance served to reiterate the fact that this was a careful ploy of her parents. The Sens would continue through Radha – their daughter. This assumption led to many more taunts and sarcasm. It was uncanny how every action of hers led to allegations against her parents. Her sanity was finally at stake.
As she kept pondering about the socio-cultural reasons behind the change of name, another incident left an indelible mark on her. It was late in the night when the couple was returning home from a movie date. Their car came to a halt at the police check post. The supervising officer asked for their identity cards. That did not suffice.
He needed further proof to establish that they were a married couple. No logic worked to establish the need for a marriage certificate or the need to prove that they were married. The very fact that their surnames were different invited harassment.
Finally, at the behest of another officer, they were allowed to go. But it was not without a long sermon. The policeman considered it ‘unwomanly’ to omit the husband’s name. “A husband is the only identity after marriage. And hence his name gives the woman the much-needed respect, prestige and the standing in the society.”
Radha kept fighting the battle – the battle of retaining her maiden name.
With the beginning of a new decade, the fight continues. The fight to retain one’s identify, the fight for respect. And the fight for freedom.
The refusal to accept the husband’s name as one’s identity directly questions the very foundation of the patriarchal structure. It’s seen as defiance. Such a woman is still considered a rebel and a misfit. Efforts are taken to tame the spirit in every possible way.
As more and more women take up the cudgel, the scenario shows some improvement. But a transformation in the status quo will take place only when the woman attains financial independence. A financially independent woman is a threat to every man, to every institution and to every norm as she is no longer vulnerable.
The situation is grim in the semi-urban and rural areas where women are still bound by the traditional definition of division of labour. A steady diffusion between the urban and the rural women is a must to make this transformation possible. Maybe this decade will usher in the much-needed change.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Kay
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Sreemati Sen Karmakar holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She
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