If you earn a fair amount of money, you are in an equal relationship with your partner, you move in a social circle where almost everyone has a similar world view as you, you live in a city where you are not afraid to move around alone at any odd hour of day or night, you are likely to forget that you are after all, an Indian woman. Being an Indian woman these days is like playing a game of snakes and ladders. One minute you are climbing up, moving ahead, and the other, you come whooshing down right into the snake’s mouth. For years you can believe that you are free, empowered, emancipated, and then, be reminded sternly that after all, you are a woman, an Indian woman.
After several skirmishes with rickshaw-walas over faulty and rigged meters, an incident at night with a drunk rickshaw driver, and the rickshaw-wala’s general tendency to fly the rickshaw on the highway at night, I felt I needed my own car. I spent days dilly-dallying with Teja teasing me about being stingy, but I wanted to get all my calculations right, considering it was my hard-earned money that I would spend.
So there I was a few mornings ago, all bright-eyed and excited about buying my first car, an I10 Automatic. We’ve been using Santro cars since 12 years, and the reports for the Automatic version are good. Hyundai Motors are also offering good discounts in the festive season, and also a substantial loyalty discount to customers who already own Hyundai cars.
And then there it came, the steep, unexpected fall into the snake’s pit. The benefit of the loyalty discount can be availed by a customer’s parents, children and spouse. But. Only if the customer is a man or an unmarried woman. A married woman cannot pass on the benefit of her loyalty discount to her parents, because in the words of the company representative, “A woman, after marriage, belongs to another family.”
I argued, “What if my parents don’t have a son? What if, I as a daughter, want to gift my parents a car?”
The representative said, “Of course, you can, Madam. You can gift a car, Madam. But you cannot get the loyalty discount. Because after all, as a woman, after marriage, you do not belong to their family.”
And then, came the cobra with its lethal sting, heading straight at me. A look at my name, and he said to Teja, “Madam cannot get the loyalty discount, because she has a different name from you, Sir.”
Teja said, “So?”
He said, “No Sir, after marriage, the name should change. The company does not accept different names.”
Teja said, “Fine, we can submit a marriage certificate.”
“No Sir,’ he said, ‘that is not acceptable.”
I said, “But legally, I am allowed to have my own name. My passport, pan card, voter’s id, aadhar card, bank accounts are in my maiden name. So what is the problem if I buy a car in my name, and give you a proof of my marriage?”
“No, Madam, that is not acceptable. Because the company says that the name of the wife should change after marriage, why the person is using the old name? They will not accept, Madam.”
We said to him, “Why don’t you at least ask your company about this? We are sure that this cannot be the policy. We know so many women who have kept their maiden names.”
He said, “Yes Madam, even I know. We have so many cases, especially teachers, where they keep their maiden names to get some benefits, etc. But company does not accept, Madam. The name has to be the same in the RC book, Madam. They say, what is loyalty? ”
I say, “If I don’t use my husband’s name, I am not loyal to my husband.”
He said sheepishly, “No Madam, but name changes, no?”
We said, “No.”
This was happening at Teja’s home in Baroda, with my in-laws pitching in with their arguments. Later, Teja called a dealer in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land hoping to get a more enlightened response. The representative said immediately over the phone, “Oh, we will make the car papers in Madam’s marital name. It is easy, we will change her name. That should solve the problem.” Teja said, “But why? We don’t want to change her name. We don’t want the papers in that name. That is not her name.” “How can that be, Sir?’, he said, ‘Woman’s name changes automatically, no, after marriage?”
His tone implied, “What is the fuss about?”
This unsaid sentence has been the background of many conversations. When a census officer, a woman came into our home, to take a count for the census report, she raised a disapproving eyebrow at my name and my religion being different from my husband’s and also the fact, that officially she had to put me down as the head of the family, as I am older than Teja. When the courier came to deliver Teja’s credit card, he refused to hand it to me without proof of our marriage because our names were different. Dhanno’s college, despite several reminders, continues to send correspondence to us with a Mr. affixed to my name, because they cannot accept that a mother can be the legal guardian of the child, over and above the father. This was the case even with her school. When we needed a domicile certificate for Dhanno’s college admission, once again, we were subject to scrutiny. A lawyer friend of Teja’s even went so far as to say, that our marriage could not be considered legal until I change my name and my religion. To hell with the Special Marriages Act, which exists for people like us, because what the hell is a Special Marriages Act. After marriage, a woman’s name changes automatically, no? And her religion too?
All these people seem to say, even if they may not put it into words, “Why this name. why this fuss?”
Teja and I have become used to this silent disapproval, but we were not expecting it to be part of a consumer deal with an international corporate company.
Which is why, in Indian society they say, a daughter is someone else’s wealth. And a woman is someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother. Why does she need her own name?