On Monday, the Supreme court freed Hadiya from her parents’ custody, thus allowing her to resume her studies at the Homeopathy college. The Dean of the college, who is now also her legal guardian, stated that she will be registered as Akhila Asokan (her name before marriage). Before we can start sniffing out a conspiracy here, let us address a fact.

Hadiya took admission in the college as Akhila Asokan, which means that is the name on her mark sheet. We are unaware of whether or not she changed her name legally whilst she was in college. Hence, it seems less of a hassle for everyone, including Hadiya, that she completes her internship and gets her degree under that name.

If she wants to practice as Hadiya, she can then have her name legally changed on her degree.

In India, women voluntarily or involuntarily change their names after marriage. It signifies the completion of the process of change that takes place in a woman’s life after marriage.

She enters a new household, to start a new life. So just as she leaves her old clothes and books behind in her maternal home, she leaves behind her old identity as well. In many communities, this change isn’t just restricted to changing the last name. It is an actuality that many women wake up to a new identity after their marriage.

Though it sounds practical to many, in changing times this identity transition is legally inconvenient, to say the least.

Today, a majority of urban women prefer to retain their maiden name or add their marital surname to their existing name. This indicates that an increasing number of women want to retain their original identity after marriage.

They come and live in a new household, bear children who take up their husbands’ surname, but they will not let go of their identities. This change is a major victory in our eternal battle against patriarchy.

In times when we have a ton of documents and long queues at government offices, legally changing the name is surely a frustrating job. Our reasons to change or not to change might not be important to others, but they sure are important to us.

This very power to have a choice and say in what our identity is what we have struggled for all along. Hence, it is discouraging when the society uses our sign of liberty in gender politics.

Husbands and in-laws emotionally blackmail women into using their surname. Many elders take the refusal as a mark of disrespect towards the entire family. They think that their modern daughter-in-law should not have it her way and the fabric of family’s traditions and virtues stay intact.  What they fail to understand is that a woman is not averse to learning new family traditions and customs. She merely wants to carry forward the name with which she has associated since childhood.

For women like Hadiya, who chose to change their religion, a new name does signify a new beginning. It is their way of telling the world that they have chosen a new identity out of the will. The society has to understand that it is not about choosing to retain one’s maiden name. It is about having the right to choose one’s identity.

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Dr Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are author’s own.

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