A Woman’s Right to Her Own Name: Challenging Gender Bias in India

Preeti Bali / 9:33 am / March 6, 2024

The fight for true equality for women requires dismantling all structures that perpetuate hierarchy, marginalization, and a male-dominated system. This includes the right to define one’s own identity. Ms. Divya Modi Tongya exemplifies this struggle, petitioning the Delhi High Court to reclaim her maiden name after her divorce.

Govt notification on the verge of line?

A government notification currently creates an unnecessary hurdle. Married women seeking to revert to their maiden names post-divorce must provide divorce papers or an approval document from their ex-husbands. Ms. Modi Tongya argues this notification is inherently biased against women. It infringes on their fundamental right (Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution) to choose their own name, specifically a change of surname. The requirement for an approval document, regardless of marital status, reflects a deep-rooted prejudice that seeks to control a woman’s personal choices. Ms. Modi Tongya, and all women, should have the freedom to choose a surname they identify with, without a fight.

Creating an environment free from gender bias

Women who deviate from societal norms often face harassment. Choosing to retain their maiden names after marriage can lead to intrusive questions and excessive paperwork when opening bank accounts, enrolling children in schools, or applying for passports. In a society already grappling with caste-based discrimination, adding another layer of bias based on marital status only creates a more unequal environment. We need to strive for spaces free from gender bias, where difference is respected, and humiliation is banished.

India, despite its vast population, continues to grapple with stark gender disparities across political and social spheres. Women shoulder a significant burden of unpaid domestic labor and are often pushed out of the workforce. Decisions about a woman’s capabilities and limitations are often dictated by men in the family, with some women even accepting these injustices as tradition.

The United Nations has declared achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls the most pressing human rights challenge globally. Empty platitudes about equality are meaningless without concrete legislative changes and a robust social support system. True progress requires dismantling these barriers and creating a world where women are empowered to define their own identities and reach their full potential.

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