in the father’s name

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.

13 thoughts on “in the father’s name

  1. Totally agree Batul. Kudos for writing this. There are scores of women we all know who are raising their children single handed with zero contribution from biological dads in any positive way. I can imagine the pain, humiliation and mockery for the mother and child,each time that column needs to be filled. Sincerely hope the government brings about a law to once for all end this ordeal.

    1. Thank you, Charu. For reading and commenting. Yes, these laws need to be changed. In cases, where the laws are changed, moral policing continues to keep everyone ignorant of their rights.

  2. Thank you for raising this most bizarre yet most accepted truth of our patriarchal society. Only a woman can be held for a birth of child and only she can determine who is the father of her child, so how can giving the onus of a child to a man justified. I know a lot of Single woman facing this issue if only the law changes.

    1. Angela, thanks for commenting on this. Yes, forms of all kinds need to be simplified. Need to understand that one parent/guardian is as good as the other. Why this heirarchy?

  3. Banno, thanks for this post sweetheart. I changed my surname when I was 18 yrs old. I asked my maternal grandfather if I could take his name and he refused. So I simply dropped the surname. Amd till date, my sign remains only Manjushree. 🙂

  4. Banno, thanks for sharing. It never occured to me that it could be so difficult to adopt or get rid of a surname. Just shows how callous the system is towards single mothers, and women as a community. Frankly, I don’t understand this obsession with the surname. Not comparing my situation to yours, isn’t even close, but there has been this huge resentment against me sticking with my maiden name post marriage. Even the mostly liberal husband didn’t approve of it.. but when has approval stopped me from doing what I wish! My argument has been that I continue to be parent’s child irrespective of my marital status.

    1. Violet, yes, I can understand the disapproval. It’s so ingrained in us. That despite being liberal, sometimes our childhood conditioning comes to the fore. After my first marriage, my father insisted I should change my name. After my divorce, I went back to my maiden name and refused to change it when I got married again. My daughter now has my name, but it’s all such a merry-go-round, and needs so many explanations at every turn. Proud that you are sticking to your guns.

  5. Very informative and an eye opener… I know your daughter as my daughter’s friend and classmate..But despite some superficial knowledge could never fathom the underlying complex and complicated issues which affect our daily lives..Life on our country is tough for a woman, more for a daughter and maximum when there are such comications in tbe equations..Happy and proud to have known who i thought was a pretty and delicate girl but who actually had a strong mom behind her as a pillar..God bless you all.

  6. Thanks for sharing, dear Batul.
    When one is not affected by such situations, one hardly know what goes into it and how the person affected fares. One really doesn’t think that it can be so complex.
    You are indeed a strong person.

    1. Thank you, Harvey. Yes, that’s true. Implications of laws really unravel before us only when we are within that situation. Specially in our country where everything is so needlessly complicated.

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