lessons on womanhood while buying a car

marriage certificate

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?

92 comments

  1. After reading this ii’m trying to find ways around this glaring sexism, but I can’t. i try and consol myself with the only piece of sexism I know that works in my favour. The CCI gives membership to children of its members by default. Males only have membership until they turn 18, females until they marry. At first this used to annoy me, but then i realised I’ll never marry so I’m a member for life, for free.

  2. I could completely relate to your post. I don’t use a surname, so I’ve faced similar problems…

    Why don’t you write an official letter to the company and publish their response? Often, these assumptions / conventions change when they are subjected to a legal-sounding scrutiny.

    All the best!

    • Rajashree, opting not to have a surname is even tougher than keeping your maiden name. I tried that when I was in college and a couple of years after that, but gave up. No one understood at all, and put the surname in, anyway. I have written to the company. I did get a call from another dealer saying they would find a way out, but am still waiting.

  3. I know, I even have problems with retaining my maiden surname as a middle name. And all the disapproval over not incorporating husband’s name into mine, my being older, etc, etc… I couldn’t open an account once because my PAN card reflected my maiden name!

    • Irene, in a lot of situations people have been ‘generous’ enough to concede that they would be willing to concede my using my maiden name as a middle name, if I used my husband’s name as a last name.:)

    • Ever since I’ve read about you getting a Nano, I’ve been OK about getting one. I like its size and the lovely colors. But I want an automatic. I’ve been so resistant to driving in Mumbai because of all the shifting of gears required in heavy traffic.

    • Akshara, it does seem to me that a woman needs many more documents to prove her identity than a man does in most cases. So yes, much more red tape.

  4. But this is horrible, Banno! Shame on Hyundai. And sorry that you had to deal with that — would have made me furious.

    Are you going to buy the car or go with something else?

    • Unmana, I am waiting for their response. I do want an I10 automatic because we’ve looked at other options and this suits me best. But don’t want to go ahead until I get a satisfactory reply.

  5. This made me see red. I am in the same boat – my husband and I are of different religions, plus I have never let go of my maiden name – but somehow I’ve always managed to escape these nutters who seem to think that implies I’m not legally married or some such bull.

    On a lighter note: an ex-colleague, who didn’t know me very well, once asked: “So, what does Mr Liddle do?” And I – knowing full well that he assumed my husband was Mr Liddle – replied innocently, “Oh, he’s been retired since 1996. He collects coins and does gardening, now.”:-)

  6. Dear God. Well, if it makes you feel any better, we seem to be going backwards here. Binders full of women, voting for men who think they should be home to cook dinner for those children they are obligated to have. And even without them, sexism is still very much present. One of the blessings of having a Gori Mem card in India is that you are treated with marginally more respect although whenever I am in male company nobody talks to me but only to the man I am with.

    • Memsaab, yes, isn’t that funny, when men just won’t talk to you even if you address them directly, and continue conversing with the man you are with. I used to get annoyed with that, now I just find it amusing.

  7. I fully understand your situation. Years back, ages back, really, I gave my official signature as just my name, and my bosses were horrified – “Oh, you belong to the Women’s Lib thing?” and so on. Later, I came to the US, and when I was opening a bank account, I was informed that I could not have a signature with just my name and no surname – women’s lib obviously did not matter even in this country. And even in India itself, it is different from one state to the next. I was born in Kerala and my birth certificate lists my mother’s name, and my father’s name is not mentioned anywhere. My sister was born in Delhi and her certificate asks for Father’s name, and Father’s father’s name, but not the mother’s name. I had to get an affidavit to prove that my father was indeed my biological father and my sister was born to my mother, so that I could sponsor my dad and my sister for green cards! And here’s the funny part – neighbors have been known to ask if hubby was a guest because they have never seen him in the yard, doing chores like watering the plants!

    • Lalitha, the endless rigmarole of proving identities. Such a nightmare. As it is, paper work of this nature paralyzes me, and incidents like these only worsen my phobia.

  8. I am seething with rage. How does a company like Hyundai get away with misogyny like this?
    Can we start one of those annoying change.org petitions?

  9. Yes she sodding does!!!
    Sorry, Banno, uncharacteristic outburst. But having come to know you through your writing and your career, and your introduction to Indian films – I cannot help but seethe that you are seen as somehow a chattel, still, in this century, after all this time. Your name is your choice and your right. So hard when those around you do not see it that way!

    • Kate, it is infuriating. I don’t have outbursts either, usually. But some times, it just gets to you, when it happens once too often.

  10. Banno, can totally relate to your experience, having retained my maiden name myself. Really makes me seethe too. Had a most unpleasant experience myself some years back when I went to vote but some nitwits had happily changed my surname on the voting list. Didn’t match my voter card, of course. The polling officer said if none of the political party representatives (present at the polling booth) didn’t mind, I could vote. Only one party representative insisted on having a problem with that. No prizes for guessing which party! I had to go home to get my passport and only then could I vote. Grrr

    • Nandita, unbelievable. With the low polling turnout, one would think that they would be happy to have one more citizen come in to vote, rather than harass the person.

  11. Completely get your rage. I’ve had the High Commission in London telling me that I was breaking my in-laws hearts by not taking their name. Plus ICICI refused to open a joint account. Absurd, sexist and a very warped sense of what tradition is.

    • Neha, this kind of ‘patient explanation’ is even more annoying. As if you are a stubborn child who can be won over by kind handling.

  12. I am not sure that rickshaw walas care if your a woman or a man. Their shenanigans dont discriminate in fact, you’d be surprised at what a man might have to endure from rickshaw gangs and it does not require a secluded place, you can be harrased in to paying more or what not because after all men are supposed to be “fair game” and women are not.

    As for the second part, what a horror story! shame on Hyundai for being so close minded in this day and age

    • Ranting Raj, no, rickshaw-walas or taxi drivers do not discriminate. I’ve never felt threatened as a woman. But just beginning to feel more unsafe in general.

      Yes, shame on Hyundai, and shame on these archaic rules.

  13. Totally infuriating, yes. And I’m in the same boat as you know. Constantly have to produce my passport with husband’s name to prove we are married. But in this case, it seems to me that Hyundai is just being cheap and using this ‘rule’ as a trick to avoid giving too many discounts.

    • Jabeen, I know. I get fed up, carrying my papers around all the time. And as for Hyundai, why not be totally cheap and not offer a loyalty discount at all?

  14. I could relate so much to the beginning about this being like a game of snakes and ladders.. I had a similar moment of feeling ‘cobra!’ a few years back. I’m married, and hubby being away on work, i made a plan to go to korea and with everything ready from tickets to visa app, I was told at the last minute that as a married woman attempting to travel without my husband, i needed a NOC ( no objection certificate ) from my husband. I remember feeling a similar rage and helplessness, and finally just scrapped the whole trip ..

    • Tess, that’s horrible. I can completely understand why you would scrap the trip altogether. I’d hate to go to a place where they needed a NOC from my husband. Yikes!

  15. If you have a lawyer friend, send them a legal notice TELLING them that this is nothing but discrimination. The lawyer would take care to point out the specific legal reference involved. Also explore whether this becomes a case for Consumer Redressal Forum. It just may, if it can be interpreted as deficiency in service. The bizworld understands the negative publicity and financial liability and not the progressive and humanitarian logic.Don’t waste time and adrenalin on it. Don’t spare them if you have a case legally.

  16. Banno, this is beyond archaic! I’m another person who has retained her maiden name, despite the fact that if I had changed my surname to my husband’s, with Kerala’s matrilineal system, it would still have been myname (and I had more right to that surname than he did, anyway). I’m shocked that it should be happening there, now, with a company that has customers across countries and cultures. (I’m shocked it is happening anyway!)

    In the US, I have had issues because everytime an insurance issue comes rolling around (even changing companies), I have to provide my marriage certificate as proof that I’m S’ wife. This, in a nation which prides itself on women keeping their surnames, hyphenating their last names with that of their husbands’, or even changing into a new family name altogether. I had a fight at one of the banks we had an account with earlier, because, as Lalitha pointed out, my signature didn’t have my last name. I’m routinely referred to as Mrs. (S-lastname) or sometimes, even Mr (my last name).

    Why don’t you send this post of yours (along with the comments) to the customer relations’ section of Hyundai? You are part of the media – use it. As Anil points out, negative publicity is something corporates understand – and do not want.

    As for daughters being someone else’s wealth, not among certain communities in Kerala.:) (Perhaps the men may argue that it is sexist in the other direction.)

    Laughing at Dustedoff’s response to the enquiry about Mr Liddle.:)

    • Anu, the matri-lineal system works in such few communities, that it is admirable, even though as you point out, it is sexist in the other direction. I have written to the company and am waiting for their response.

  17. This is terrible!. Agree with Anil Zankar – you should at least threaten them with legal action such as a Public Interest Litigation. Hyundai Motors policy amounts to non-recognition of the Special Marriages Act and so is a violation of the laws of the land under which all MNCs must operate. MNCs are scared of negative publicity!

  18. WOW, just WOW! I think it speaks volumes to the lack of training and knowledge with these people. Hyundai is not a desi company following arcane desi laws! I think the Sales Man was making up the whole “company will not accept it”. If a dealer is providing a special deal, they should have a written document supporting the discounts…
    WOW!

    • Gayatri, thanks for dropping in. At first we thought it was the sales person too. But we’ve tried 2 other dealers since then, and it’s the same story. They insist that it is the manufacturer’s policy. I still haven’t heard from Hyundai.

    • Suniti, yes, it would be great if this issue was brought up in the media. It is so ridiculous, in this day and age, that it is almost unbelievable.

  19. This is beyond idiotic. We have a farily sane constitution which all and sundry can apparently ignore with impunity. This really needs a huge awareness campaign, at the very least.

    • Dipali, ‘idiotic’ is the word. You are right about the awareness, most people don’t even know that such things happen, unless they are ‘special cases’ like us.

  20. FURIOUS! REALLY FURIOUS!
    This in 2012!!!!!!!!!!
    Shame on you Hyundai and all the people concerned!

    “Name should change, no?”
    No, it shouldn’t! These people are backward then the laws that govern them! Normally it is the other way around!
    Any petition thing or so, I’m game. I wish more men would support this as well!

  21. Another classic example of how draconian we are still as a society. This is absolute idiocrisy. Hyundai Motors should be banned! You should write to the CEO of Hyundai International (cc the head of India) and see if you get a response.
    Sadly, all the growth and expansion the country has had, has been nothing but superficial, almost illusory.

    • Sukanya, I have written to Hyundai International. And to Hyundai India. Their website does not give out any corporate contacts, only a standard customer feedback form. Which I’ve filled in, and got an acknowledgment of receipt. But no answer as yet.

  22. This reminds me of my own story, but it was 40 years ago in France. When I got married, we were allowed to keep our maiden name but no body did it except artists. And at work , I was registered under my husband name until I divorced, just because one silly girl in the administration would not allow it !!!!
    it will take some years in India, but it will come, one day…….

  23. Banno, I think you need to tweet this, with a #Hyundai hashtag. Should help.
    But omg think of the children- all of us women keeping our own names and getting educations and so on, getting extra degrees in our maiden names…..no wonder Hurricanes are striking and so on.

    • Allytude,:) Instantly reminded me of an old woman after the Gujarat earthquake, she said things were going wrong, because girls had started wearing baseball caps and going out on two wheelers.

  24. Banno, any further progress on this issue? Do, do make that change.org petition? Send this post to one of the many print media available… use the power of the media for this, Banno. Don’t let’s just take this lying down. It affects all of us.

  25. Banno, dont buy a Nano, its a milage car but its really delicate. I banged mine on a swift, and the swift dint even get a scratch, while mine was badly damaged. Bumper gone, A C gone! Insurance covered expenses, but I still had to shell out 12 k. Secondly, if you can afford it, do buy an automatic, and please let me know how much it costs. I have got knee pain because of changing gears, and I drive only on sundays in bangalore! :) .
    I am a south indian woman these days. the censor guys had come home to note down name and age, and they made one single remark about the ulta age difference, opposite also exists!:) .

    • Manju, Yes, I think a Nano is too delicate. I’d be scared in Mumbai traffic. And I wanted an automatic for the sheer ease. But for now, I’m back to rickshaws. A couple of years ago, was having a look at old, old FTII ID cards, and I think they transformed all South Indian names to Kumar and Kumari.:)

  26. Ridiculous. You could try writing directly to the Hyundai India / WW head. We had some credit card related issues in the past, and sending an email to the CE0 worked. Should not be too difficult to find someone in Hyundai and get the relevant email IDs.

    • Satish, I have written to the Hyundai people, India and abroad, but was not able to find any direct corporate email ids on their websites. Just a custom-made customer feedback form.

  27. hi! had gone for the adhar card submission today but was told that my form is not acceptable as my pan card is in my maiden name. can anyone pease tell me if it is necessary to change to my married name for the acceptance of the form.

    • Rashmi, what a nightmare! For the Adhar Card, I did not face any problem, as all my documents are in my maiden name. So it depends what the status of your documents is. If some are in your marital name, and some in your maiden name, you may need to synchronize everything.

  28. GRRR! Am catching up on your blog on a day when I’m grounded with a head cold and this made me angry enough to unbock my nose. You’ve gotten lots of good suggestions, just one more to add: if the school creates issues again about your being the legal guardian for Dhanno, cite the Gita Hariharan case at them.

    • M, Well, that post did some good.:) No one really creates issues about my being the legal guardian, it’s just sort of .. ‘oh, how can that be?’ and the system just assumes it must be the father.

  29. I have come to this late (and gotten really very angry) and want to know if you have had any response.

    In my husband’s country, surnames have by tradition and law, never, ever changed. Male or female, you are born with your surname(s) and those are written in stone. So everyone has two surnames, with no hyphen, one from their father and one from their mother. To practical purposes it used to work out that the father’s name prevailed but now equality laws have decided that you can choose which surname goes first: hence, you decide which surname prevails.
    Indian consulates do not have problems dealing with parents with two different surnames each, and kids with their own particular combination. So when they want to, they can do it.

    My mother-in-law talks about all those women-could-do-anything-without-male times in Europe during her younger days. I think we really have to make a collective effort and keep plugging away until we get things to change.

    P.S. One of the cutest bits of paperwork I like in Spain is that when you get married, you are given a “family book”. In this the marriage details are listed (nowadays also partnerships, if they want, who have not got married, neither religiously nor civilly) and your names written down- one in each page. Then, when you have children, next page(s) get filled in for each new addition. So all these people with different surnames are shown to have formed a “family” through showing this book (or a photocopy). Really sensible!

  30. No, Bawa, I have not received any response yet from Hyundai on this. Incredible, isn’t it? Specially since, I did get a call from a sales representative who said what I had decided about buying the car I was looking at.

    I like the idea of the family book. It must be so useful, particularly these days, when presumably children don’t meet their extended families as often as we did while growing up.

  31. Hi,
    I am a first-time visitor but to your web address but it hit an instant chord with me-the retaining your maiden name part. So here comes my little story, apart from the glares, stares, raised, raised eyebrows that I witness every now and then in bank, pathology clinics, gyms etc. So en route to our Vaishno Devi trip, we have to make a few-hours-long stopover in New Delhi. And as per ‘security’ regulations,all the hotel reception desk asks for ID proof for each individual. Fair enough. Just that the moment we book into the same room, the second level of requirement pops up “Sir, a copy of your marriage certificate” , with a wry smile and statement written all over their face that says “we don’t allow anything close to illicit in our premises”:) . Mind it, this ‘security’ is never reasoned for the couples accompanying us, with same surnames.

    I just have one realization and one question:

    Realization: may be immoral, but extramarital or any other relation beyond the ‘recognized’ marital status is easy to establish. Just borrow the surname of your male partner.

    Question: how come a couple with different surnames can pose a threat to the security of the nation and not ones who share the same?:)

    • I know, it’s funny how if you would just submit, and give a false name, which you don’t use, as long as it fits with what people expect, you would not be asked for any proof. After all, most transactions have to be conducted by the man, anyway. Women don’t pay bills, or book hotels, or buy cars with their own money.

  32. Interestingly, I have just finished a unit in my 8th grade English class that looked at this idea of an Indian woman “belonging” to her husband’s family after marriage. A part of me wondered if I were teaching my students stereotypes based on biased news articles written by western journalists. This entry has been quite eye opening. I appreciate your analysis of this tradition in your country. I have been to India twice myself and have had a hard time wrapping my brain around the narratives about womanhood that are so entrenched in your culture. I hate to self-promote, but please take a moment to check out my blog: yetanothersinglegal.wordpress.com. As a western woman, I can identify with fighting against societal narratives. The U.S. has its own version of what you have described here.

  33. I am torn between how deeply sad it makes me to learn that there are still these absurd remnants of patriarchy and how pleased I am to read of strong, educated, cosmopolitan women like you who are living the egalitarian ideal.

    Thank you for sharing the story. Is there any chance we can shame the company into joining – at least – the twentieth century even if they aren’t ready for the 21st?

  34. Sue the company, it will make an example of them and others like them will amend their rules. At the least it will start a public debate/discussion about the issue. You may even become rich/richer if the company decides to settle.

  35. The sad but true state of affairs. Just as a way to address your immediate problem, I would suggest you to tweet the link to this article to @CarsHyundai. Overall, this country really needs to have a strong hard look at how it treats it’s women.

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