By Shivani Nag:
In a case involving conflict regarding the Passport Authority’s refusal to include a child’s step father’s name in the passport, a judge wondered, ‘what in case of the unwed mothers’! A rational person may have responded saying that depending on whether the mother is staying with her partner or bringing up the child alone, or on any other relevant basis, she can ask for the ‘inclusion’ or ‘exclusion’ of the father’s name. This or any other response respecting the agency of the mother who has given birth to the child and is now taking care of it might have been fine. But sample this response – “Unwed mothers must file an affidavit revealing ‘how she conceived’ and if ‘she was raped’, and giving a reason why she does not want the father’s name to be included”. Before commenting on the response, it must be made known that this response came from the advocate representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the court.
The response is problematic at multiple levels. First, and foremost, there already exists an affidavit for such cases where all that an unwed mother might be required to say is that she is not legally wedded to the biological father and that she is the sole custodian of the child. Why must the government want to replace an existing, non intrusive and non misogynist affidavit with a highly intrusive and a misogynistic one?
Second, why must a query pertaining to whether the mother was raped or not, be a part of such an affidavit? Is the government trying to say that rape is the only “legitimate” way of conceiving a child outside wedlock, and if it isn’t by rape, then it must be further explained and justified? Why shouldn’t the fact that the biological parents are not married and that the mother is the sole caretaker of the child be sufficient as information needed by the courts, as is currently the case? The passport authority of India is required to issue passports and not character certificates to the unwed mothers. The judiciary, the executive and the legislative, are required to defend and uphold the spirit and provisions of the Constitution and not play the moral police!
And seriously, does the Foreign Affairs ministry really have no idea as to how children are conceived? I can only think of one response to such a question that asks a mother how her child was conceived – “She had sex with the biological father”. If the suggested questions are not outright patriarchal and misogynist, then the only other plausible explanation for the suggested questions by the Foreign Affairs Ministry can be absolute ignorance and naivety, and that perhaps should provide a food for thought to the Health Ministry that ‘sex education’ is not such a bad idea.