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How Not Changing My Maiden Name Post Marriage Turned Out To Be A Life-Saver

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By M Mohanty:

The best part about retaining your maiden name when you get married is not having to change it back when you are no longer married. At other times, this becomes inconvenient, annoying, and sometimes, downright comical.

My first name is quite an unusual one and almost a tongue-twister for those uninitiated in Sanskrit. Since my schooldays, people have mangled my name in more ways than I care to remember. Bank statements prefix my name with a ‘Mr’. Tele-callers address me as ‘sir’. Hapless maîtres d’s mumble my name incoherently, after having my dinner table ready.

Therefore, to make life easier, I often rely on my last name. It’s a simple, easily-pronounceable, fairly common surname from the eastern state of Odisha. I use it at the salon or at the car service station or for signing up on the Uber app or for random subscriptions. It’s a lifesaver, indeed!

For a single working mother, there are other things that require energy and attention than guiding people to say your name correctly. But that wasn’t the only reason I’d retained my maiden name after my marriage. I primarily did this to avoid paperwork-hassles. Besides, having been an independent, working woman, always, I had already procured a driving license, passport, bank accounts and other assets in my maiden name by the time I got married.

A week after our marriage, my husband returned home from office and said, “Pack your bags. We’re going to the US.” I’d just been uprooted from my own world to step into a man’s world. Uprooting myself all over again and moving to a new country was just about all I could handle! If anyone had insisted on making a legal name-change during that hectic time, I am sure I would have snapped at them!

‘Whose name do you choose now?’

When we moved to the US, the confusion with my surname showed no signs of abating. The systems there persistently demanded a person’s identity in the ‘first name-middle name-last name format’. And, it would perplex the average official to no end when my ‘first name-last name’ combination didn’t resemble my husband’s, in the least bit.

Moreover, there was also the issue that I was married to a South Indian person. In parts of South India, the practice of people adopting their father’s first name as their own surnames is prevalent. This meant that my husband’s last name, ‘Subramaniam’ (not his real name), was actually my father-in-law’s first name.

At the wedding reception of an American colleague, the name-cards on the table listed my husband as Vijay Subramaniam and me as Mrs Subramaniam. By inference, that made me my father-in-law’s wife, that is, my mother-in-law! I found it embarrassingly hilarious, but my husband was definitely not amused.

While retaining my name brought about these little annoyances, it proved to be less of a worry when the marriage went sour. The paperwork for a divorce and child custody is intimidating in India. I was only too glad to have avoided the extra burden (not to mention the emotional drubbing) of filling affidavits for a change of name.

However, a judge, who was hearing my case in the civil court, was highly condescending. “These modern couples, with their independent ideas,” he smirked. “What can one hope from them about the sanctity of marriage? They don’t even change their names,” he added. I stood there, fuming. With all due respect to the judiciary, how could someone judge my decision to stay married or not? Moreover, my name should have had nothing to do with all this!

Thankfully, my life has been fairly smooth since then. Better still, since my name stays the same, most people are blissfully unaware and hence, have not intruded upon my life and its changes. My daughter and I have moved on without having to face uncomfortable questions or excessive curiosity.

I’m comfortable with my maiden name and with the fact that I never changed it. I’m comfortable in my own skin and identity, including the several flaws in them. I’ve made what people term ‘mistakes’ – but I perceive them as ‘experiences’. They’ve shaped me and my personality. They’ve taken me far ahead from where I stood, in the beginning.

That said, I do not have an issue with women who change their names to adopt their husband’s surnames. According to me, it doesn’t change their ‘identity’ – it only gives them a new ‘address’. As a whole, they are more than the sum of their individual parts – and this is their greatest strength!

The article was first published here. It has been published on Youth Ki Awaaz with the author’s permission.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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