Thursday, September 10, 2015

The battle with the name!

I am Shweta Hardikar married to Deven Kher.

My marriage certificate says so, my passport says the same. I have a joint account with my husband just to prove that we are indeed together in the eyes of the lawmakers. In the eyes of the God, we are already together no matter what names we choose to use. I always believed that the choice of retaining your maiden name or choosing to accept your husband's name is a personal one. It's a choice, which I am not gonna defend or oppose. It's a choice, not a prerogative, which should be enforced by anyone.

I chose to retain my maiden name for personal reasons. I knew that I am not going to change my name even when I wasn't sure who I was getting married to. I was always sure that I am and will always be known by my name given by my parents. Some can say that it is after all a man's last name even if you chose to retain it. The big difference is that the name I retain is of someone who has co-created me. He supersedes the one who is now sharing my life.

It took my husband some time to support my decision. Everyone, including my mother, asked me why am I doing this? My husband and his family were worried that I might land into issues with the government institutions. Their concern was more for the legalities, but I could sense their unease. Thankfully, my husband, though a little uneasy initially, didn't bother me much to change my last name. Five years later, we haven't had a major issue with the name yet and now he has seen that a name doesn't change how I feel about him.

I still face some unexpected reactions from my friends, relatives, and strangers the moment I say I have retained my name. The only person who had wholeheartedly supported my choice was my doctor. She had retained her name and assured me that she never ran into issues almost 20 years after getting married.

I feel the entire unease with a woman not changing her name or rather not accepting her husband's last name comes from the belief that a woman doesn't become a part of their family unless she has the same name. How does a name change what I feel for my new family? I always liked them and grew fond of them over the years. I will always take care of them no matter what my name is. The feeling of one family doesn't come with a name. We see so many cases of daughter-in-laws troubling their parents-in-law and vice versa. They have the same name. We don't see dowry cases being resolved because of the same name. So what's the big deal with taking your husband's last name? Unless it's some patriarchal image imbibed in the man where he needs to own the lady completely. As one dear ex-boyfriend had once told me, he wanted me to take his name because he wanted me to be his completely. Thank God I never married him.

Indian government institutes still find it difficult to accept that women choose their names. This is surprising considering we allow people to change their names based on their whims and fancies but a woman retaining her name is almost a sacrilege. I also had my fair share of problems, where I had to convince an officer at the passport office that I am X married to Y, and here's the marriage certificate. He still used it as a ploy to extract a bribe. I've heard stories of my friend whose son's birth certificate contained her name and her husband's name, which was not the same and the municipal corporation refused to accept a form with parent's name not matching. My friend went thru some personal agony and bureaucracy before getting it done her way. Even my election card has messed up my husband's name. Because some genius (and I say this with as much sarcasm that I can use) accepting the form didn't understand or bother to understand the difference, my election card now reads my husband's name as Deven Hardikar, a hilarious mistake by him, evoking an almost a blood-boiling kinda reaction from me.

The battle has just begun. It surprises me that a country who allows me to chose my education, my job, my career, my life, my husband, and rest everything in my life is still uncomfortable when I chose my name. No fans of Shakespeare for sure!

All I ask for is the choice to decide my name. Is it really a tough one?