surti bohra yugal

Reading this article – Priyanka Gupta’s fight for a change in passport rules that makes listing the father’s name mandatory, brought up once again, so many jumbled up strands in my life. I’ve often felt like a coward, because I didn’t take up this fight myself. I evaded it. I was caught up in making a new life for my daughter and me. I did not want the hassle of a fight.

But I was still distraught, enraged, every time I was made to fill up a form, at school, at college, at the passport office – what is the father’s name.

A father who has been absent since the girl was a toddler, who was worse than absent while he was there, who I can assuredly say has not contributed even 1 rupee to the child’s birth or life thereafter, and who has been absent emotionally, physically and mentally for her ever since. And yet, I am asked again and again to add his name to the documents that pertain to my daughter, and thereby to me.

For years, in every official situation, I had to carry my divorce papers, the page which gave sole guardianship to me of my child, as proof that I was the only biological parent in her life, when I was, in fact, so.

A principal at a school sought fit to give me a lecture on divorce and how it affects a child’s welfare. As if I did not know it. So-called friends told me how sad my child’s face was. As if I did not see it. When I remarried, friends and family thought my new husband was an angel for marrying a divorced woman with a child, that I was singularly lucky for getting the chance to begin a new life, the new life being of course, that of a married woman. If I had not married again, of course, I would have continued to live my old life.

I wondered how they failed to see the actual beauty of our relationship, to see that our relationship was what it was, and not some social revolution. It took a while for people to take my second marriage for granted, to accept that it was as simple and as complicated as any other marriage, that no one was doing any one any favours.

But my first husband’s name kept cropping up in correspondence, in forms, on my daughter’s passport. On forms where I filled up my name as her guardian, letters came addressed to me as Mr. even when I was clearly stated as the mother, because how, how, how could it be that the guardian could be anyone other than a Mr.?

I could handle big film shoots, police permissions, location permissions. But I quailed when I had to go for myself or my daughter to a school or a government office, because of that status that had to be offered up each time, divorced, daughter’s father’s name? My daughter did not understand why I didn’t like coming to her school, why I avoided it as much as I could.

And then, there are fathers who deserve their names to be there in their child’s passports. A father I know, going through a separation at the moment, determined to provide what is fair and just for his child, to make sure that he will be able to participate in her life henceforth. He has deliberately given his child a different surname, because he does not want her to be tagged by her parents’ names. He doesn’t know how difficult it is going to be for the child to escape her father’s name.

A friend I know from long ago, getting a divorce around the same time as me, fought for custody of his child and got it, a singular feat for a single father in this country. Because the court acknowledges that the mother is the best guardian for the child, even if they don’t need to know her name as long as they know the father’s name.

My husband who has been the actual father to my daughter, been for her PTA meetings when I balked at going, woken up early and seen her off in the school bus while I was sleeping, shouted at her and screamed at her as any other father, who gave her boyfriend advice and waited up when she was partying – but he is not even a legal guardian to her, because hey, she is born a Muslim, and a Muslim child always belongs to her biological father, come what may. Guess who would have to give his permission to allow my husband to be the legal guardian of my child, while she was a minor? Yes, her biological father.

Her biological father worried for a few months that my daughter would change her name to my husband’s name after we got married. Little did he know that it would be impossible to do so without his permission. For some years, we all had different surnames. Add to that, the fact that there was 1 Hindu and 2 Muslims in the mix. The good lady who came for the census report did much eye rolling.

Both of us, my husband and I, have worried endlessly over many days, many evenings, many years, about the legal issues that could affect my daughter or my husband, when it comes to their relation with each other. When she was younger, I would pray that nothing happened to me until she was an adult, because I did not want her to be in a situation that may be legally sound, but emotionally unsound. Or in a situation that was emotionally sound, but legally unsound. Meanwhile the politicians still debate the need for a uniform civil code.

Today, I went to a society meeting. A lot of shouting and screaming, pushing and shoving. Most people talk emotionally, with half-baked information, with no real knowledge of procedure or law.

The trouble is that most of us don’t know about a law until it affects us. And the law that affects us doesn’t necessarily hold any significance for anyone else. So it is often that even close family members and friends don’t understand what it means for my daughter to have a father’s name, or not, which father’s name should she have, and whether the choice belongs to her mother, or to a father who is not there. Or whether the choice even belongs to the child herself.