A child identified by her mother’s name would be just as sweet

A few years back I visited Vadodara to spend the weekend with one of my best friends from school, Meghana as she was posted there at that time. We visited one of the public libraries as I wanted to refer to a few more books before submitting my dissertation proposal. I was not eligible for taking a membership as I didn’t reside in the city. When Meghana tried taking the membership she was asked to submit details of her husband or father. She produced her ID card issued by the Indian Air Force as she is a serving officer with the Indian Air Force. She tried explaining to the librarian that being an independent working woman, she doesn’t have a guardian. Therefore she should not be forced to produce details of a male guardian. The librarian looked dumbfounded as if the existence of single working women was news to him which he found hard to comprehend. The situation was so frustrating that we felt that laughing over the entire thing was the best possible way to deal with it. We continued joking about how he should be the first guy she should send her wedding card to as and when she got married till I boarded the train for Mumbai.

One can just imagine how a child’s identity has to be necessarily ascertained by the identity of the father in light of how obsessed the society is with identifying a woman by her husband/father’s name as against an identity she has carved out for herself through her merit. After all, a mother’s contribution is limited to giving birth to the child and upbringing her. Of course, that is not reason enough to let an applicant decide if they would prefer to be identified by their mother’s name or better still write names of both their parent’s names in the form. Gradually as I came across more such application forms asking me about my non-existent husband’s name I anger got diverted from the issue at hand. To be fair enough, these days some forms do let you mention details of both your parents but they are very few in number. Most of them still operate on the archaic notion of Bollywood that baap ka naam is essential right from getting dakhila into school to finding a naukri in the big bad world. I was pleasantly surprised to find a single mother in Tribhanga file petition to change her children’s surname to her own once her ex-husband severs ties with them and eventually even get a decision in her favor. I am hopeful that someday I will get to witness a verdict such as that being delivered in reality.

In a certain case in 2016, the Delhi High Court took note of the fact that families of single parents were on increase due to various reasons “like unwed mothers, sex workers, surrogate mothers, rape survivors, children abandoned by father and also children born through IVF technology”.[1] Although the aforementioned judgment was expansive when it came to taking note of reasons that lead to an increasing number of families helmed by single mothers, there are many more such factors that were not considered. Former Miss   Universe, Sushmita Sen made headlines when she adopted her daughters but it still isn’t a cakewalk for unmarried individuals to adopt in this country. Government agencies are just about as helpful as the librarian mentioned in the incident above when approached by single women. I am slightly going off-topic but it would be relevant to mention here that in India neither does Central Adoption Resource Authority let a man cannot adopt a girl[2] child nor does it let a same-sex couple adopt because marriage between them is not legal yet[3]. No provision under the existing laws allows couples or a single member of the LGBTQ community to adopt specifically.[4] Thankfully, at least a circular issued on 31st May 2018 by Central Adoption Resource Authority barred applicants in a live-in relationship from adopting a child on the ground that “the Authority would like the children to be placed only with a stable family and individuals in a live-in relationship cannot be considered as stable family” has been withdrawn.[5]
On 5th August 2019, as national attention was focused on the revocation of special status for Jammu and Kashmir, parliament’s lower house, the Lok Sabha also passed, with almost no debate, The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 which prevents single parents, same-sex couples, divorced or widowed persons, transgender persons, live-in partners and foreign nationals from using a surrogate mother.[6] It is 2021 and yet our idea about a “normal family” still comprises of traditionally understood roles of “mummy” and “papa” which isn’t very different from what it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

Coming to the original issue things have indeed been looking up on the legal front as the apex court has held in ABC v The State (NCT of Delhi) [7] that an unwed mother in India can apply to become the sole guardian of a child, without giving notice to the father of the child and without disclosing his identity. The judgment delivered in Githa Hariharan v. Reserve Bank of India[8], where the RBI had refused to accept an application for a fixed deposit in the name of the child signed solely by the mother was noted as follows:

 “In the context of Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act as well as Section 19 of the Guardians and Wards Act, this Court had clarified that in all situations where the father is not in actual charge of the affairs of the minor either because of his indifference or because of an agreement between him and the mother of the minor (oral or written) and the minor is in the exclusive care and custody of the mother or the father for any other reason is unable to take care of the minor because of his physical and/or mental incapacity, the mother can act as natural guardian of the minor and all her actions would be valid even during the lifetime of the father who would be deemed to be “absent” for the purposes of Section 6(a) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 and Section 19(b) of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.” 

So it turns out there is indeed a judgment that lets you identify yourself with your mother’s name, although only in the absence of your father. We are still in need of a verdict that gives an individual the right to identify with either of both of her parents. The only issue is that the principle upheld in the judgment has not been adopted in spirit by government bodies in practice while creating application forms. In a country with a severely backlogged judicial system where justice comes from a price, it is hardly feasible to approach the court for a seemingly insignificant issue such as this. It is easier to take time off on Mother’s Day to tell your mother how much you appreciate her presence in your life.  A mother deserves to be valued like every other relation every day of the year but there is no harm in going an extra mile on some days. Love is meant to be expressed after all.

[1] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/mothers-name-sufficient-for-passport-hc-2812494/

[2] http://cara.nic.in/Parents/eg_ri.html

[3] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/adoption-by-same-sex-couples-in-india-and-the-issue-of-hiv-aids-saving-chintu-to-be-screened-in-10-film-fests-in-october/articleshow/78497581.cms

[4] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/now-time-to-give-lgbts-marriage-parenting-rights/articleshow/65712127.cms

[5] https://www.thequint.com/news/india/adoption-live-in-relationship-children-india#read-more

[6] https://www.indiaspend.com/almost-final-surrogacy-ban-for-single-parents-homosexuals-live-in-couples/

[7] 2015 SC 609

[8] (1999) 2 SCC 228

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s