This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sakhi Nitin-Anita. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What’s In A Surname? More Than You Think!

More from Sakhi Nitin-Anita

By Sakhi Nitin-Anita:

The views I express in this article run the risk of sounding aggressive, extremist, and drenched in the most dreaded of all feminist perspectives — radical feminism. The reason I called ‘rad fem’ the ‘most dreaded’ is because even people doing gender justice work refuse to identify with this branch of feminism, and no wonder it is considered synonymous with words such as ‘feminazi’, ‘militant feminism’, ‘men-hating women’ and so on. Which, I must say, is completely and utterly rubbish. Academic radical feminism essentially seeks to get to the root cause of oppression in order to dismantle it, and believe that this root cause is sexism, from which other forms of oppression such as racism were copied. But certain right-wing ideologists have convinced the world (including those with egalitarian views on gender and sexual politics) that radical feminism is opposed to men and seeks to create an inversion of gender power relations in which women will persecute and dominate over men. Hence, radical feminism has become a ‘snarl word’ for any individual who espouses anarchist, leftist or even egalitarian positions on gender issues.


Although I would very much like to, my article is not to defend against feminism in any of its radical or conservative ‘white, middle-class’ variants. I am simply going to put forth my comments and critiques on certain life ‘choices’ that are made by today’s apparently ‘empowered’ and ‘educated’ women. Since I live in India, I will obviously focus on the context of the Indian woman. I write this not only to critically analyze current norms and populist trends, but also to put forth an argument in favour of practices I consider being the most egalitarian.

We live in a society today that is ‘civilized’, but I have my doubts. Primarily because this so-called civilized society that we are part of, is based on certain fundamentally oppressive systems. There is huge debate on how these systems came into place, ranging from theological justifications, Marxist perspectives to evolutionary explanations. Let us, for now, assume that these systems were designed to bring a sense of order and regularity into the processes of human beings relating to one another in all aspects of life — be that work or leisure. Unfortunately, due to the human race’s volatile relationship with power, over time these systems and divisions turned hierarchical and oppressive — favouring and privileging one particular human group over another.

We can confirm this malady through a simple diagnosis — Are the various groups created by these systems relating to one another as inferior or superior in nature simply based on their collective identities? If this is the case, then we have no difficulty in asserting that we are a fundamentally flawed race that believes in subjugating, persecuting, enslaving, brutalizing, and massacring its own as the ultimate purpose of existence. (As for the horrors it has unleashed on other beings and Nature itself, let us not talk about those. I tend to think there is no argument; no scope for improvement left along those lines, except maybe to feel deep, heartfelt remorse at our moment of death as we look back at the pain this one human life has brought to Nature.)

Having determined thus, let us move on to a system which, as a proud radical feminist, I have no qualms about declaring as the “root of all evil”. A system that denigrates one half on the human race as the ‘Other’ just because of the differences in the reproductive functioning of their bodies. A system known in short as ‘patriarchy’ (pitr-sattah) or the ‘patriarchal system’ (purush-pradhan sanskriti) in which males who become ‘men’ are given the ultimate power over the rest of the company. I use the term ‘males who become men’ because according to patriarchal hierarchy, any person with a body that doesn’t have the phallus, along with any male who doesn’t display the normative masculinity, or who prefers other men, or who wants to be identified with other genders, is consigned to a rank lower than the ‘masculine’, ‘authoritarian’, ‘phallic’ or ‘patriarch’ male.

Let us not get into speculation about the origin of patriarchy, or even the reasons it has stuck around for ages. There is plenty of material available on that — from religious discourses to ideological debates. Let us instead talk about how patriarchy, in its current form, operates in the lives of human beings, especially the manner in which it permeates the most intimate and vulnerable of human relationships — family and sexuality.

Sociological theory states that the twin institutions of marriage and the family function in order to fulfil certain basic human needs. The need for companionship, sexual expression, sharing of economic and other resources, bearing offspring and socializing them are some of the needs fulfilled in a marriage/family. At a glance, these needs are not explicitly linked to patriarchy. But if we dig a little deeper and unearth the very foundations of these institutions, we will find patriarchal undercurrents flowing deep below the surface and nourishing them.

When we are born, one of the fundamental identities given to us along with our sex, parentage, religion, and caste, is a name. The name, like the rest of our ‘ascribed’ identities, isn’t chosen by us. Who chooses it then and how is it chosen? In some parts of India, a syllable is drawn up based on position of the planets and stars at the time of our birth, and a name beginning with that syllable is decided. Usually, the parents or the father’s family choose the name. Why not the mother’s? In India, most cultures (save for a few matrilineal societies in the North-East and down-South) are patrilineal. So, when a male child is born into this world, carrying genetic identities from two principle sets of ancestry in his DNA, he will only be identified with his father’s family. He will be ascribed the religious and caste identities of his father’s family and be expected to carry his father’s surname forward. (A female child, however, is ‘paraya dhan’ or ‘another’s wealth’; she too, will take her father’s name on birth, only to lose it and be merged into her husband’s upon marriage. One of the main reasons why sons are preferred over daughters across all the religious, caste and class spectrum of our country is because of this very fundamental patrilineal norm that gives a only the male child the right to ‘belong’ to his father’s family.)

But are we not born with one half of our DNA coming from our mother? Are we not born from her womb, because of the labour she undergoes during the ‘miracle’ of birth? Are we not raised on her breast, sucking the milk that her body produces? In that case, why are our mothers, and their ancestries, invisible from our most primary identity, the name?

In the institution of family, a woman’s traditional role is to be a vehicle that carries the man’s seed forward. The man sows, and so he reaps. The woman’s body is controlled and exploited by the man, first for the gratification of his sexual needs and then ‘harvested’ to bear him offspring (preferably a son) that will carry his name forward. I find this basic disparity repugnant and frightening for two reasons. First, because the loss of one’s name — one’s primary identity — can be calamitous for anyone, and yet women are taught to accept it, even look forward to it as part of their ‘fate’. Second, because this thought will never have to be suffered by a man! If one is born a male, one can keep his name without second thoughts, without doubt for the rest of his life, regardless of the number of times he gets married. This dichotomy exists even in current times of so-called empowerment. In fact, it frightens me even more when women, in the name of ‘empowerment’, make a conscious ‘choice’ to change their surnames, or get hyphenated surnames.

I want to make a point here about choice, and whether we, as a society, are really that free to choose as we imagine ourselves to be. When I buy a pink-coloured dress for myself, am I doing that out of my own agency of liking hence choosing the colour pink, or am I doing it because I’m a victim of the image politics around me that conditions me into liking hence choosing pink? Alternatively, when I, as a ‘feminist’, consciously make an effort not to choose pink, or cosmetics, or feminine embellishments of any kind, am I doing so out of my own agency or out of a compulsion to be faithful to the ‘kitsch’ of feminism? I have reached the conclusion that nothing today is free, and choice is an illusion invented by capitalism and the advertisement industry. And if that is the case, is having the freedom to ‘choose’ really a privilege/empowerment?

In my endeavour to understand the processes behind this ‘freedom of choice’, I spoke to women who, unlike most women in India, had a choice to keep their ‘maiden’ names, but chose instead to get their spouses’ surnames, or at the most, hyphenated ones. I wish to discuss here two of the most cited reasons for name changing. First, many women said they did it because it was ‘convenient’. Which is what patriarchy is all about, isn’t it? Convenience and social acceptability to those who keep inside the laxman-rekha (moral line) of conformity. But those who step out — they will be engulfed with shame, veiled as inconvenience. As someone with no surname and three first names (my own, and each of my parents’), I know a lot about inconvenience. From schoolteachers thinking my name was Anita (my mother’s name and my last name!) to Government bureaucrats refusing to pass my legal documents, I’ve experienced it all. There was a time when I got so irritated with my name I wanted to marry a nice-surnamed chap to change it once and for all.

To be honest, I’m scared of convenience. I’m scared of the complacency it brings, of the wall of comfort it builds around us. This wall isolates us from the rest of the world, making us apathetic to the world and to the interconnectedness of everything. When I ‘choose’, again, to travel in the less-crowded, more-expensive a/c compartment of a train, I do it for my convenience, because I am privileged with money that pays for my convenience, I fail to engage with and learn from the people who don’t have the same privilege as me. I know this; I understand the irony of saying “I want to work for people” and yet, being so used to convenience, still preferring not to be with the people! I prefer, instead, to feed the system of class segregation that I’m supposed to be fighting against. I prefer, instead, feed the selfish, non-egalitarian, convenience-seeking wolf inside me.

Another set of responses that I received was that women changed their surnames because they loved their husbands, and subsuming their identities into their spouse’s was their way of showing the love. To which my question is (apart from other heavily philosophical questions such as what is love, etc.), in order to show his wife that he loved her back, the husband would have to take her surname, right? Simple logic based upon the reciprocity of love. Also, if the woman did not change her surname, would it be assumed that she did not love her husband? And conversely, since the man would obviously how-can-you-even-make-this-statement-it-is-laughable not take his wife’s surname after marriage, did it imply that he did not love her at all? The same applies for hyphenation. Why does the woman always take two surnames, but why not her husband? The best thing to do in such a situation — i.e. the “we love each other and want a common name”— would be to forego both their surnames and invent fantastic new name that rings well with both first names. But ask any man to give up his surname and watch his response, would he agree heartily? In 90% of the men I asked, it was at best, a laughable suggestion, and at worst, hurt their ‘male ego’ that I could even suggest something like that.

In India, surnames often denote caste. Hence, to give up one’s surname is to eliminate one’s caste — something that is an intolerable prospect for many people. Caste as a tool for identity and cohesion is presently so strong in our country that uprooting it is the stuff of anarcho-commie dreams. But for me, it is an unjust system of oppression that has dehumanized entire communities and robbed them of their dignity simply because of the work they do. I find it almost ironic — religious scriptures telling us that all work is God’s work, and the same religion then debasing all those who clean other people’s dirt as ‘less than human’. I refuse to be identified with any caste, and refuse to identify and pigeonhole anyone else based on their caste. I used to think that I don’t have a surname would help in not being identified with a particular caste, but I realize that caste is so deep-rooted within me that it isn’t only about the surname I wear. My caste, rather, the kitsch of the caste I was raised in, is present in every part of me — the way I pronounce my syllables, the kind of food I eat, the attire I wear, the relationship I have with shit, and the amount of security I feel within myself. How do I then get rid of this layer of caste that has embedded so subtly, so deeply, within me, without scraping away bits of myself?

In the end, I realise it boils down to me. Patriarchy and casteism are not physical structures and institutions operating from some headquarters somewhere. They are systems of understanding that have been constructed within me, the frameworks and filters of how I perceive and interact with the world and myself. They are also what make me, me! And yet they are not me. I am bigger, better than these narrow slits of perception. But I have identified that my purpose, the meaning I make of my life, is to strip away these constructs from myself, just as chemotherapy or intensive surgery attacks and slices away the cancerous growth inside a body. The process is painful — inconvenient at most and unbearable at times. But I struggle. Because I want to be healthy again.

You must be to comment.
  1. Akhil Kumar

    Very beautifully written, i can totally relate to what you have said. It’s one of the most wonderful articles i have read in a long time. The simplicity with which you have explained the complexities of the society is really commendable.

  2. Shruti Shreya

    Brilliant! and Thank you so much!

  3. Anirudh G

    One of the best articles I have read in youthkiawaaz. It is a fact that the demerits and flaws of the caste system in all its form including the surname concept far outweighs any of the apparent merits. I hope the day is near when people consciously choose to give up their surnames and refuse to be identified by castes. That would be a huge step towards universal brotherhood and human integration.

  4. Sumedha

    This is probably one of the most wonderful pieces I have read. Going through it was an enriching experience and I agree with every bit of what you have to say.
    Please write more 🙂

  5. Bhavna

    Extremely well written .

  6. Divyani

    What about the fact that along with yourself, egalitarianism would result in everyone else going through the same painful process of peeling bits and pieces of themselves. And you may be able to peel some aspects that lie on the surface, but what about those things that are just inherently what make you ‘you’. Spiritually speaking, attachment to an idea of ‘you’ is also undesirable. Its attachment right? And this process that you find absolutely necessary, isn’t that also an attachment to the idea of losing parts of you that make you who you are into becoming your ‘ideal self’? It is a noble pursuit, to want to strip everything away.. To be left nothing but pure light. But I just feel like an easier, happier, healthier way to go about it would be to accept with love who you are. Love everything unique about you, accept and love what makes other people unique. Learning from people doesn’t necessitate those people being underprivileged or any such thing. You don’t want to change your surname? Don’t. Someone who knows how to love, knows that the love that you share with him or her does not depend on names. A name is given 10 odd months after you are created. You already exist as who you will be and who the person will eventually love. I may be off, but I just feel like the struggle might be easier if you focus on accepting, sharing and learning rather than indulging in something that makes us lesser than who and what we are. Embracing one definition of yourself doesn’t have to mean you let go of everything else you are.. ?

    That being said, I was prompted to reply because I enjoyed what you wrote. Great work! 🙂

    1. Subhanka

      Hi Divyani,

      I think you have put up a beautiful perspective of not being attached to your identity as a valid reason for not changing surnames. Changing surnames brings a lot of complications to a girl’s life post marriage but not changing it brings so many of its own as well. Which last names should the children keep, or the children’s children keep? Should both husband and wife both change their last names?

      But more than any of these concerns what the author of this article and many like her contest is why a majority of women have to shed their identity. Surely, “attachment” is a concern for men too? On the contrary this leads to women necessarily staying attached emotionally & socially at all times with the man. The man around whom her life must revolve. And, there lies the problem.

      I am a feminist who believes in choices. Choice to change your name or not. Change your Gothra/gothram (ancient version of surnames) at the wedding or not. Choice to wear the sindoor or not. However, if one trend is greatly skewing over another because of patriarchal reasons, we must talk about it.

      Talking about this will make people uncomfortable as we welcome any form of change. It threatens to change the social setup as we know it. That is scary and it is okay to acknowledge that. But everytime it seems easier to validate the patriarchal notions by reasons of love, chastity, purity, religious reasons, cultural inheritance etc, think of the women who got you the right to vote and right to inherit property. These women were not content with the love their parents showered on them in the form of dowry. They saw perils of dowry and how easily the society would abandon the daughter if she had no man to support her. We wouldn’t be were we are today (a much better place, i’d say!) if not for those tough conversations.

      This seems trivial but until we address the seemingly innocuous social norms which makes a young boy growing up to believe men are more powerful than women (the powerful doesn’t change the name, the wife must adopt his name lovingly), we won’t be able to stop the manifestations of their power trips (infanticides, domestic violence, gender shaming, sexual harassment et al).

      As Gloria Steinhem famously said, “The first resistance to social change is to say it’s not necessary”.

  7. Madhavi

    very well written, continue good work.

  8. preeti

    really touching!!!!!!!!!!!!!!thanks..waiting for more…..

  9. Renu Vishwakarma

    frist of all thank you so much for given us…’s really haerd touching n so intersting……! i hope u’ll continue…..thins type of work…thakns once again…

  10. Shreya

    I wrote an article long time back considering this issue.

    1. Richa

      Hi Shreya,

      The link does not work any more

  11. Sadaf Javed

    Very nicely written..While reading this article i was actually relating n recalling many women i know whom have changed their surnames for the sake of love or have changed it without even knowing the idea behind it…Nice piece of work..Keep writing!!!

  12. Priyamvada

    Brilliantly written. It annoys me to no end to see married women assume the husband’s Surname or the hyphenated ones. My own official name does not have a Surname because my father was against the kind of casteism and patriarchy it would promote as I grew up( my first name was given to me by my mother and my second name by my father). It has greatly affected the way I look at the so called patriarchal culture but such efforts seem to have been in vain when you consider the kind of patriarchal crap that is fed to the Indian audience by the small-screen entertainment industry in the name of tradition

    1. Richa

      Oh wow, it is so good to know and come across someone with an experience like yours and i am quite proud of your parents too for being so liberal. i am sure, you are too.

  13. Kartik Chandra Chaturvedi

    Really well written.
    I use two surnames one from each parent and so does my sister. We always used both Chandra and Chaturvedi because we liked to and using Chandra helped us identify with our mother, however I had never thought about it in such sense and reading your article has actually changed my perspective about surnames.

    I don’t think I’d want my wife to change her surname at all, not even hyphenate it now.

    1. Agnes

      I wonder whats going to be the names of your children?(not that I’m against it or anything. I completely agree with the writer. I’m just curious :))

  14. Anuva

    can you please tell me how to join your team and post through your page?

  15. Ashish

    Totally agree with u
    I lost a girl because of this caste system…….
    And now, i am so against of this, that i don’t introduce myself to someone by my full name

  16. Asna Eram

    Alright. I applaud for your thoughts but isn’t this a fact that a woman is “choosing” to include his husband’s surname? I’ve known so many woman who never changed their surnames. To be honest, I hate feminism and to an extent gender equality. Don’t look at me. Men and women are equal but they both have different body structure and mindsets which cannot be inferred to as being equal that we would talk of gender equality here. I notice people shouting for equality but as an example, when being asked to work late at night, we cringe and say “Ohh, a woman can’t work so late!!” (Disregarding crimes against woman) Man gets abused and killed along with children and woman too. The fact is that we are all hypocrites and change our opinions in a blink.

    And yeah, my name is Asna Eram and both are my names. No surname included. But to be honest, I would choose my husband’s full name after marriage because whatever we say, we both will be starting our family (and yeah, convenience in legal matters too) and just including and excluding surnames won’t give an assurance that the child to be born will have the husband’s family side of values, mindsets and knowledge only; as I’ve learnt more from my mother than my father. So for me, a girl’s surname doesn’t have much value if she cannot provide proper upbringing to her child after giving her child her surname.

    1. Vineeta Chandekar

      The only thing I do agree in this rant of yours is that everyone is a hypocrite – men or women. Women do tend to take the easier way out a lot of times owing to their ‘gender’ and I hate that as much as I hate misogyny. And I also support what you say about men being victims as well however I am lost by your thoughts otherwise.

      Choosing to change your name by choice.. awesome. Changing your name because that is what society expects you to do and that is what you have been taught and never questioned it.. not awesome.

      Good for you that you would change your name – because it seems that you want to. But there are so many people who do not even think about it and that is what is the main concern is. The idea is to make a choice of your own, isn’t it? In everything.

      As for upbringing and a child’s name … I am sorry you just sound like you are digging for something to be said here – what’s the connection here again? So just because a woman says she is not going to change her name it equates to not being a good mother? How did you even make that leap? Changing names Vs good mother/bad mother.

      Making a relationship work has a lot more to it than having a new name.

      And yes, my name is Vineeta Chandekar. I did not change my name. And that hasn’t affected my family life one jot.

  17. Neha Jha

    I agree with you. Even I have strict reservations about changing my surname. The main reason – I want to die with the same name as I was born with. And, my parents are the first priority in my life. They have created me and brought me in this world. Just because I’m a daughter doesn’t mean I will leave my identity with them and submerge mine with a complete stranger.
    Love has its own place. I don’t believe that my changing my surname will give some sorta proof that I love my spouse. And, again, I don’t want to prove my grandma right by doing that because she always was biased against me and my sis and often used to make the statement – “Yeh dono toh tera naam bhi nahi rakhengi….itna kyun pyar deta hai?”
    I think its purely patriarchal!

  18. Templetwins

    If you ask me why do children have the names of the father and not the mother? The main reason I could think of is that children are given birth by the mother, so it is sure they carry her dna. But the fathers DNA is usually a promise(anyone can impregnate a woman) and hence they carry the fathers name. In the advent of paternity tests available it no longer need to be a promise, if the govt mandates the compulsory paternity tests then I wouldn’t mind whose name they have to carry.

    If you ask me why a woman has to carry her husbands name after marriage and fathers prior to it is because men (fathers) had be the providers and protectors of the children and they when they marry their daughter to some other man, that protector and provider role is being transferred from the father to that of the husband. A husband must provide his wife financially even after he’s separated and not the other way around. If you remove such obligations from the men then there’s no need for the name change.

    1. S RC

      Why is the notion of a woman not taking up the husband’s surname so unsettling for you? Does it feel like you have to relinquish your power/control/hold over her and you are accepting her as a free spirited human being?

      Also, it seems that men who believe in your logic are an insecure lot who need to reinforce the importance of a father (irrespective of the fact whether they are biological or not) by ensuring the child goes by the label of the father ONLY.

      And this is a misleading statement. Men do not provide for the family single-handedly. Even if you choose to ignore the large segment of women (from day labourers and those who work on the farms to the girls drawing a handsome salary at corporate jobs), women provide for their family in terms of running the house. Infact, women are unpaid for their contributions back home, made to feel inferior contantly despite working longer hours than any man at his job. If her contribution is “less meaningful monetarily” compared to the man, do the math how much would someone spend in replacing the contribution of one’s mother in their life. Not even talking about the non-monetary contribution which can not be replaced anyway.

      Most of women I know are co-signers of the houseloans, bring 50% or more money to their households.

      Never forget, everytime a woman decides to give birth she chooses to roll the dice and play with her life in bringing a new life on earth. Believe me, that is a good enough reason alone to name the child after her.

    2. Templetwins

      Your whole post is a serious straw-man but I will try to address.

      I am only responsible for what I say, not what you understand from it. So I am gonna skip your first few lines and ignore it as an emotional rhetoric not because of the fact that you could emulate emotions but it can be quiet irrational too.

      I don’t know which world you live in, but where I am from only women can commit paternity fraud. Unfortunately, there are the only ones who can give birth and ensure their genes are passed but has the ability to rob a mans chance . So in the traditional sense a mother is a fact and father is a promise, which is not required at this age with the advent of scientific advancement. A dna test would conform it and we could keep any name for the child for it is not a promise but a fact? Sounds fair? No?

      I am not making an argument that all men are only the sole provider of their family. So you are either misinterpreting me or strawmanning me! My argument is that men had been pushed/enforced into the strict gender roles as provider and protector since the dawn of the time, to say otherwise is to ignore the history. The emphasis of being a provider is almost enforced in our society, there aren’t as many house husbands as house wives, but that is not even my point, my point was that, even after being separated, ONLY men are supposed to provide for their wives and not the other way around (statistically) and it is exclusively enforced by law. And because of this burden of taking care of an adult financially, the traditional society had enforced women, their change of name in order to give it a symbolic ‘sense of belonging’, ‘she is yours, you have to provide her and take care of her’ or something along that line. Don’t assume or strawman me into calling me a traditionalist patriarch , I am not in favor of strict gender roles, what I emphasized is that, there were privileges(oppressive to women) which came with that of the obligations (oppressive to men). If you are to remove the privilege, remove the obligation too, we’re all equal, we are all fine and dandy.

      One more point is that the law doesn’t clearly state that you have to have lived together at least a few years to demand alimony, it could be just a month and she could take you to the cleaners. Now that IRBM is introduced, it is even more easier to a get a share from inheritable property. So again reiterating my point that men are forced into this financial obligation by the society. It clearly states that it is applicable ONLY for men to provide half of his belongings during divorce even if his wife already had properties of her own, and hence he is the the default provider. May not be the only one but the default, nevertheless.

      The anecdotal evidence of the women you know who share loans is irrelevant to the actual numbers of dependent wives in our country. I am not really gynocentric in my world view so your motherhood worship didn’t moved me, for me, motherhood is a natural process for most of the species, I have the same feeling about birth and death too, nothing so magical but natural, may be even beautiful and that part about wives/mothers, who are uncredited for their hardwork at home, I would agreed before the post-industrial revolution but now every house hold work is not that challenging, in fact I would gladly change my name to my wives name if she is willing to uphold all the obligation a man has to in our society and I would end this long post by letting bill burr debunking the whole ‘difficult job in the world’.

    3. S RC

      So, I am sorry for trying to use logic while you were pouring your heart out discussing your insecurities about parenthood and how your wife/gf might give birth to someone else’s child and that thought unsettles you greatly. I am sure you are so worried about this because most women must be lying to their bfs/husbands about who is the dad of her child. Fair enough. I empathize with your concerns now.

      Btw, I whipped up a story for you. Hope you like it.

      Man (Insecure father who thinks the child born by the woman in his life, is actually not his) thinks to himself, “hmm, so this child may not be mine. And, this is unsettling for me. What should I do now?”

      Man (the same man as above) reasons with himself, ” So, my father when he was in my shoes debating if I was his child or not, couldn’t have done anything to prove he was my father indeed,”

      Man, reasoning further, “But we have paternity tests now, maybe I should get one done. That way I will be as sure as the mother if this is my child indeed. I need to do this, obviously, because I don’t trust my wife/gf. ”

      Man, now feeling confused because he is not used to being rational, “But hang on, didn’t my father live a perfectly happy life simply pasting his last name after my first name, believing that this act magically made me his son? If I am his son indeed, I must do as my father did.”

      Man, blinded by societal conditioning, feeling the high after a triumphant win over logic, walks into the room where the baby lies and declares to him/her, ” Because my father did so, because I refuse to acknowledge your mother’s contribution in my life and yours, because I am not very bright, I will make you bear my last name and die trying to make you believe your mother doesn’t bring money and also doesn’t contribute to the household in anyway and therefore I am the one she should feel indebted to.”

      At the same time in a different place, a reasonable man picked up his baby and lovingly looked at his wife soaking in the love and respect they have in their relationship. Not feeling insecure for a moment but thanking the heavens for witnessing the start of a new life. He knew the last name made little difference to him because he loved the baby and he needn’t proclaim it to the world. But because he wanted acknowledge his wife for being more than a “natural baby-making machine”, he put down both of their last names on the birth certificate. Knowing, that someday the baby will grow and get to choose if he wants to keep both names, either of the last names or an amalgamation of names or drop it altogether. He wouldn’t love the baby more or less because of the “last name” but he was confident enough to give the woman he cared for the same rights and privileges as his. Just by doing this, he laid the foundation of trust and respect for every family member.

      Do let me know how you liked the story. I have a feeling you are going to love it. 😀

    4. Templetwins

      You think you are logical and yet giving a melodramatic story which has no logic, which appeals to emotions, you live in a make-believe world where your feelings are more important than facts. I was speaking of how this society works and why they laid such rules and for what reason, you ignored all that but relied mostly on personal attacks for the second time. I am gonna tell you a story of a free spirited empowered woman. Trigger warning to all you numb wits.

      A woman (out of her empowerment) decides that she could sleep with several men, apparently it is her body and it is her choice and exercising that is her own rights as a free spirited soul. But she lived in a time where there was no condoms available and no other contraceptive measures which was available for her. She as a societal free-rider who is already been provided financially for her existence by a hardworking father is now pregnant and increased the burden on his shoulders. When asked who is father was, the empowered woman couldn’t identify who is father was, among the several men she slept with, of course they decided the richest one among them must take the responsibility of providing the empowered woman and her bastard child for which she and the child would have the rich guys name as their surname(biggest hurdle) for all the obligations he had over them.

      Hundred years later another version of empowered woman emerges who is financially (equipped or not) decides to sleep with several men again. Only now she is married to an ATM machine already, which has the obligation to whip money out at her will and not doing so could be Domestic violence. Yes the empowered woman made laws for almost all of her insecurities, either imagined or not for his life long servitude towards her.
      1. What if he yells at me (make a law against it) but I could yell at him all i want.
      2. What if doesn’t give me money (make a law against it) and I have no such obligation.
      3. What if he fucks me analy (make a law against it).
      4. What if I find this marriage and want to end for no fault of his (make a law for it -IRBM).
      5. What if he wants divorce (make a law to appeal against it).
      6. What if he appeal against my need for divorce (make a law to prevent him to appeal against it).
      7. What would I do for money after divorce (make law in such a way that you can steal 50% of his residential property and other assets, but if you were smart and the property is in both of your name you would get 75% of it)
      8 Alimony if you are financially inept and child support etc are added incentives.

      So this melodramatic lovey dovey empowered woman made laws for everything she’s insecure and whine about a simple name change (which is not even enforced by law). Now lets get back to the twist in the story, the empowered woman who slept with several guys out of which, one was an Anglo-indian, and the child looks almost like his(accidents do happen in spite of all the contraception). Of course the empowered woman wanted the ATM machine to grab the child out of love and pamper it with kisses, which he did but the apparent blue eyes and the skin color and blonde hair tingled his lizard brain. So he asked for a paternity test and found that the child doesn’t belong to him. He then decides to appeal for divorce on the grounds of adultery only to be appealed against by wife and after a long struggle the court decided to give him divorce but the court ordered him to give 50% of what he owns to the free spirited empowered wife. He thought that dna test would relieve him of any financial obligation to the child but little did he know the judge ordered that he must pay child support as well, because of the best interest of the child. It happened in japan lately, won’t be surprised if it happens in India too.

      I bet you loved this story better because it made the empowered woman rich and financially equipped even after the separation, now she can go back to her dating pool and find another ATM machine and say some sob story about her previous marriage.

      In fact I am least bothered about name change but what I do emphasis is to free men out this burden of being a default provider which is a bigger issue than a silly name change. Of course you decided to ignore all that because you want to take your cake and eat it too. To free men off their obligation to you is unsettling for you because unlike you, he ain’t a free spirit. You know you have power/control/hold over his finances which is a privilege you don’t want to give up? do you?

    5. Templetwins

      Wow you had to delete my response and my beautiful stories about modern and ancient empowered women. I get that you didn’t like it very much especially the last paragraph where I exposed your inherent hypocrisy and the double standard. I guess I will let you dwell in your narcissistic bubble, if you had to censor all dissenting opinion in order to validate your feelings, my work here is done. Adios.

      “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    6. S RC


      Nice job quoting a man on the subject of gender discrimination who had a controversial relationship with his grand-daughters . However, your reply is exactly what I would want to tell you. Some time in the future, I hope there comes a day when you are not trying to prove a point but really trying to understand what people here are saying.

      And, you do not have to belittle women and hate them for having a point of view, you know. If you think women have a free ride in life and you as a man are truly bearing the burden, that’s self pity and I am sure you deserve better respect than that from yourself.

      Have a nice life and hopefully a vision of a woman to spend it with, who shows you her side of the story.

      PS: I didn’t delete anything because I can’t on this site, so didn’t get that crib-story.

  19. Anonymous

    Well just a thought. .. may be the reason they want to tag the child with father’s name and not the mother’s is because we are always sure of who the mother is….;)

    1. Rukmini

      Why do you need to be so sure about who the father is? A child belong to the people s/he grows up with! And how does the surname anyways ensure anyone’s fatherhood?

  20. Shamik

    Very Important and Timely Article….Well written and deconstructed…Especially the caste-based politics and patriarchy associated with Surnames….However, there is one point I need to clarify to the author of the article….Even a woman’s family surname is associated with her father’s…which is ultimately patriarchal….so if a man changes his name after marriage to his wife’s surname…it doesn’t change the fact that he is still using a tool of patriarchy: the surname….therefore the most radical solution to this problem…is to do away with SURNAMES…and challenge the foundations of patriarchy….

  21. Rukmini

    Dear Sakhi,

    Enjoyed reading your article ! Very lucid a read!
    I must congratulate Youth Ki Awaaz for this article and Guneet’s articles! and many more that I can’t recollect right away but have learnt a lot from.
    If this is our youth we have a lot to be hopeful about:)…and I say this with wide eyes and not to patronise.

    love and best wishes,

  22. Mayur Suman Vilas

    Nice Article….Agree with your views

  23. Pooja

    Even I have also pointed out many times. I think that Kanyadaan is one of big reason for it. I have tried to explain it in following words at my blog.
    “Kanya Daan” is the word used in Hinduism which implies the rule of donating girl child at her marriage to her husband by her father. This rule may have different name in different groups but it’s there. I feel that this tradition of “Kanya Daan” is biggest or root culprit for many crimes against women especially female foeticide.
    As a girl is supposed to leave her own home after marriage and she will not be there with her parents at their old age, logically parents have no motivation to have a girl child. But yes there are girl children which are due to natural love that parents have for their children irrespective of male or female. When this natural love overshoots the logics, parents do have a girl child. Many times in hope of getting a boy child, parents land up with a girl child. Even in today’s time, there are very few parents who have equal emotions or love for both girl and boy child.
    Once they have a girl child then due to emotional attachment they want her to be happy. But unfortunately they have accepted that they can make her happy only by marrying her and sending her to somebody else’s home. They are not able to see the real happiness of their daughter. So now they want her to be happy in her in-laws home and for that they need to make her in-laws happy. To keep her in-laws happy they need to arrange money to give to her in-laws so that they (in-laws) are not harsh to their daughter. Obviously, they think that they are doing it for their daughter. So daughter seems as a burden to them. This all is known to them even at the birth time of their girl child. So at that time only they have so called two logical reasons for not having a girl child: first is not useful to them as she shall leave home after marriage and second she will be burden to them. If natural love overshoots these two logical reasons only then girl child take birth.
    Not only this, woman has a lot of struggle in her life due this stupid custom. For whole life she does not have her own home. Either she has her parents’ home or her husband’s home. Since childhood to her marriage time, she is told that she is “paraya dhan” which means somebody else’s property. Most of the fun or entertainment sources are not for her. Many times even higher education is the problem for her even if she belongs to a well educated family. Parents do not prefer to spend big amount of money for her education as they feel that it is better to give that amount to her in-laws in dowry form. After marriage, she is any ways in her husband’s home only. If sometimes there is misunderstanding between her and her husband then she is the one who is supposed to leave home. The reason is “Kanya-daan”. They are many more worst outcomes of this “Kanya-daan” tradition. So, there must be more than something wrong with the tradition.
    Moral is that the default rule of sending women to her in-laws after marriage is absolutely bull-shit. Then what should be done at marriage? Should men be sent to her in-laws after marriage? I think, NO, because then there may be problems for men. And we are here to fight for human right, not male/female right.
    What we are suggesting is following. Normally while finding spouse, one set some criteria like age, looks, financial status, education, place of residence etc. etc. Similarly one can put some condition that whether she/he wants to shift or she/he need somebody to shift with her/him depending on the convenience and requirement of both the families.
    But by default, imposing something on one gender is a crime. I can say that ‘”Kanya daan” should be declared as a crime. No one should have right to donate any one especially one particular gender.

  24. Birender Singh

    Congratulating you first of all for bringing up one of the important issues and your viewpoints.
    This topic insisted me to share wonderful message from Guru Nanak where he strongly stressed upon equality for women, in fact all human races.
    ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥ सो किउ मंदा आखीऐ जितु जमहि राजान ॥ meaning: So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.

    Later Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa where no male/female is allowed to use surname thus freeing from caste-ism/differences. I now realize that freedom from surname/caste-ism also keeps you free from such debates as in this article. Best regards !

More from Sakhi Nitin-Anita

Similar Posts

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below