For a people who likes to worship their nation by the name of Bharat Mata and heckles those who refuse to sing Vanda Mataram in her praise, Indians seem to accept the mandatory declaration of their father's name on various identification papers without question. From birth certificate to Aadhaar card, driving license to admit cards to appear for examinations, the patriarch must be duly mentioned in almost every conceivable document most Indians need to get by in life. Given the intricate workings of the bureaucracy in India, not having the requisite document can leave a citizen variously troubled — from being stranded without rations to being unable to file their taxes.
Thanks to Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, the long-standing and unthinking rule of giving precedence to the father over the mother in a range of public documents may now be modified in a few instances. According to reports, Gandhi has urged the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) to strike out the obligation to have the name of a student's father on examination mark-sheets.
Gandhi's demand for the change is based on sound and progressive principles, but the very fact that one's father's name is of any consequence to being awarded a degree certificate should stand out for its sheer absurdity.
In her plea to HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, Gandhi explained that she is approached by many women who are single, separated or divorced with a request to modify the rule stipulating the compulsory mention of the father's name on various ID cards. She added that the time has come for the State to reckon with the reality of the "breakdown of marriages", which is leading to ever more single mothers taking care of their children.
Last year Gandhi had written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj asking her to reconsider the obligation of having the name of a child's father on a passport. Her request was sparked by a campaign started by a Delhi-based single mother who didn't want the name of her husband on her daughter's passport. As Priyanka Gupta argued, "Every time my daughter looks at her passport, she sees the name of a person who hurt her, who abandoned her."
The very fact that one's father's name is of any consequence to being awarded a degree certificate should stand out for its sheer absurdity.
The Delhi High Court held also ruled last year that in certain cases a mother's name is sufficient for a child to apply for a passport, "especially because a single woman can be a natural guardian as well as a parent," as The Times of India reported.
Elaborating on the judgement, the bench noted a range of reasons for making such accommodations. "This court also takes judicial notice of the fact that families of single parents are on the 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," the ruling said.
Be that as it may, there is a more fundamental logic behind not making the father's name mandatory in any document — and it has no bearing on the marital status of a woman whose child may be applying for it.
In 21st century India, where the government is allegedly pushing for women's empowerment by a campaign to instil pride in the girl child and by increasing the duration of paid maternity leave, parenthood should be freed from having to draw its legitimacy via the name of the father. If there's any real merit to the Centre's pro-woman initiatives, women must be imagined and treated by the State as free agents, living life in their own terms, rather than as victims who need its constant protection and supervision.
Being able to choose the name of the parent on a document should be a matter of individual discretion, or that of the parents' in the case of a minor, and not an injunction by the State.
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