13 November 2019 12:40 PM

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RASHMI OBEROI | 14 DECEMBER, 2016

Why Must A Woman Always Have To?


I have often pondered about this over the years and even discussed it with like-minded family and friends. Why is it that only the woman must compromise in all situations? Why can’t it be the other way round for a change…?

Before the hardliners dismiss me as yet another ‘Feminist’…let me tell them that I believe in equal opportunities for women…I believe in equal rights for women and I do believe that a woman must be given the respect that she deserves and not spend her lifetime fighting for it or be subjugated due to illogical traditional values and religious beliefs.

Recently, a friend’s post on Facebook brought on a healthy discussion amongst friends and it was encouraging seeing both men (some) and women supporting the issue. The question raised was as to what is the need for women to change or take on a new name after marriage. The subject revolved around not only about the family name but the first name as well. This was sparked off by the recent reports that cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s wife Hazel was given an ‘Indian’ name after marriage by their ‘Baba’. This apparently came as a huge surprise for those that have known Hazel for a long time, as she was the one who raised her voice against racial discrimination based on her name just a few months back. An employee of a money transfer company had refused to offer her services as Hazel’s name sounded un-Indian to him. Yuvraj had supported her then and tweeted, “We all are human beings. Is that not enough? Racial discrimination will not be tolerated.”

Which brings me back to the issue of why must we change our names or family names to suit another? I consider my first name to be my identity…my inherent individuality…from the time of my birth, through years of school/college/work etc. My name defines who I am and as a person I define my name…my characteristics…my nature… My name is ‘Me’. I would not be tolerant of anyone taking away that from me.

Then, the next issue of giving up your family name and taking on another is quite unwarranted and feudal I think. If men can keep their family names all their lives, then women should too. After all that is her family name and men and women being on an equal standing in this day and age… The family name must carry on.

I changed my surname after marriage but I always missed having my family name as that was the family I was born into. The surname that I took on was not mine… I was not comfortable in it nor did I feel it as a part of my identity. Soon after my divorce, I went back to my maiden surname and that I must confess made me feel extremely good and liberated.

My children had a request: they wished to use my maiden surname and not that of their father as he was no longer part of their lives and had given up all responsibilities towards them. I think that was a very fair and relevant request under the circumstances.

We went through the whole legal gambit…extremely tedious but well worth it. Paper work and legalities are never easy in this country. Finally, the Gazette of India Notification declared us legally ‘Oberoi’ once again! Thereafter, there was more paper work involved with identity cards, school certificates and the like being changed but in the end it was all done. The process is not easy but someone like me who is determined to see the end result, persevered on. My point is that why should such a process be difficult at all… in fact it should be a smooth transition that should move effortlessly but unfortunately it doesn’t.

I know for a fact that I won’t ever give up my surname again and neither will my daughter. I can’t even dream of changing my first name for anyone. My son has my family name and not the father’s and why not? Under such circumstances, I think we have a fair platform where both a male and female member of my family carry forward my family name – so matriarchal instead of patriarchal some would say but let this be a matter of personal choice and acceptance!

The time has come to put patriarchy and principles aside and let the woman as an individual decide what she wants and not what society wants! Like a dear friend said, “As a start we could get our kids to desist from this patriarchy -if marriages are still in vogue in the coming years that is!”

I am not okay with women obliterating their personalities and their lives after marriage. This name-changing custom, followed in parts of India, is at the extreme end of the continuum that ordains that a woman's identity and independence ends the day she takes her marital vows. Is this really required? Would it really matter so much in the long run if both partners kept their own identities instead of changing the woman’s? An arrangement that flourishes on mutual respect, admiration and acceptance of an independent thinking will naturally work better to my mind. In this way, both have the right to remain their individual selves.

A woman who enters into marriage or even a relationship that is publicly-acknowledged must have the right to be herself and not turn into what is demanded of her. And why should the woman move home to where the man resides… Why can’t it be the other way around? What is the harm in doing so? The problem lies in: What will people say? How can you justify such an action? Society will not accept such a move!

Obviously, because I question and I re-question society and the customs, rules and norms laid down… I am termed a ‘rebel’ and one that asks and expects too much! But I see change… Albeit slowly but it is omnipresent. Independent women with clear beliefs and careers are unwilling to sacrifice everything for marriage and are questioning customs. If someone says ‘Why’… They say ‘Why Not’ and justifiably so. If marriage is to remain a norm, there will be a huge requisite for change in the way of thinking, of acceptance and a need for a balanced ‘give and take’ in the relationship and doing things that have not necessarily been the pattern in the past.

Fortunately, some and I lay stress on that ‘some’ male family members and friends are on par with my thinking and ideas and supportive too…but there are many who can’t fathom or digest this. Unfortunately there are many women too who are not for this…which is perfectly alright; after all they are exercising their right to an option.

I am all for people questioning as to why it should be a certain way and not the other! For the path ahead is never smooth but filled with tribulations that will lead to positive change.

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