Why do a majority of women in the Indian society adopt their husband’s name or surname after marriage? Is there any rule of law under the Indian Constitution that tells you to do so? “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, this profound referenced much cited quote from William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, has become a part of the distant past. There are many more doors in this hallway, some that have already been opened and some that are yet to be explored. Here’s a comprehensive report based on our research on the sensitive issue.
FIGHTING THE CLICHÉ
For years, women of our society have religiously followed the custom of adopting their husband’s surname, perhaps even their own name for that matter. It was supposed to be that way. Period. Husband and wife are partners in a lifelong adventure called marriage, then why ask more from either of them. Dale Carnegie rightly said, ‘Keep your mind open to change all the time. Welcome it. Court it. It is only by re-examining your opinions and ideas that you can progress’.
Now, why should a girl change her surname post-marriage, which has been a representation of her identity all the years of her life? “I love my name. It is my identity, something I was born with. Just because I’m choosing to be a part of the institution of marriage, doesn’t mean I have to give up my individual identity. I am going to retain my maiden name after marriage. However, I will add my to-be husband’s family name to my own name, but I will not give up my maiden name,” asserts 23-year-old Srishty Chawla (soon to be Srishty Chawla Rao).
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
That day is gone when women were dominated by men in all aspects in ignorance of their fundamental rights, a change in surname being a fallout of this very patriarchy. However, the larger question remains: Are there any legal implications to retaining your maiden name post-marriage in India? Curious, we prod, “There is no law to stop the lady from retaining her maiden name after marriage. As per Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, there is no discrimination on the basis of sex and therefore, a woman is free to continue with her identity as before marriage,” points out Siddh Vidya, Advocate, High Court. “Also, there is no requirement to file an affidavit for adding Mrs for mandatory documents like PAN card, Visa, Aadhar card, Voter Identity card, etc. She does not have to make any declarations via an affidavit. She may even opt to write Miss. instead of Mrs. after marriage. So far as the marital status is required for all documents, there is a specific provision for the same in all forms,” mentions the advocate. Since changing one’s name, middle name or surname is discretionary and not mandatory, does it have any consequences on the legal property rights of a woman in any manner whatsoever? A wife has all the rights over her husband’s property till the divorce decree has not been passed. But it is important for her to have adequate evidence i.e. Marriage Certificate, Marriage Invitation Card, Marriage Photograph etc. to prove the factum of marriage in case the husband disputes the marriage.
WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?
The next question that pops up is what problems children are likely to face in future in getting government documents or ancestral property, if their mother retains her maiden name? “Father’s name and surname are used because that is the prevailing custom. No one has a right to put conditions on that. It would directly violate your fundamental right,” says Vipul Maheshwari, Advocate, Supreme Court, who has 24 years of standing in the Bar Council of India. Marital status is not influenced by a woman continuing with her pre-marriage surname, title, etc, therefore there are no impediments at all and her children will continue to enjoy the same rights as any other child can have. “My children carry my husband’s surname as per societal norms. If and when they choose to make a decision about it, if at all, it will be their choice,” adds Vishakha Sharma Billa, who carries a double-barrelled surname, one that fuses her past and her present. She has been married for 16 years to Chandrashekhar Billa and is mother to Yuvraj Billa and Manoviraj Billa. “I just did not feel like removing my dad’s name from mine. It was as much a part of me as my name. My father-in-law was a little shocked by this, but then nobody really made a case against it.”
WHAT HAPPENS IN CASE OF A DIVORCE?
After divorce, it is the choice of a woman to either continue with her husband’s surname or go back to her maiden name. Everybody has a right to use a name or surname of his or her own choice as long as it is not misused for fraud. If the mother remarries after divorce, she may change the surname of her custody-child by giving him an official gazetted surname of her new husband. However, in such a case, the child loses his ‘inheritance rights’ over his biological father. The child cannot have two inheritance rights: one of his biological father, and another of his stepfather.
TIME TO UNWIND
Whether there is nothing or something in a name, is left to your own discretion. Marriage and true love is about loving, caring and supporting each other. “I believe it’s a personal choice. Nobody should have to do it just to please the society. If a woman wishes to take her husband’s family name, we don’t condemn her choice. Similarly, if a woman decides to retain her maiden name, society does not get to play judge. As long as the woman in question is exercising her choice without external influence, I believe we are on the right path. A woman has the legal right to retain her maiden name after marriage. If the law is with you, thou shalt not be afraid,” says Srishty. From a legal perspective, Siddh concludes, “It appears that certain people, not aware of law, are suffering from absolutely unfounded misgivings about the rights of a married woman. Simply by virtue of being married, a woman does not lose the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Our Constitution does not discriminate between man and woman and both enjoy equal rights. If a man can continue to have his original surname after marriage, so can a woman.”
Let’s challenge some long-standing views of the society. You never know, it may bring about a significant alteration in the social structures and lives of many.