No, There Never Existed A Law That Asks Women To Change Their Surname After Marriage For Passports
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Thursday that women need not change their names in passports after marriage. PM Modi made the statement while speaking at an event of the Indian merchant chamber’s ladies wing.
However, The Logical Indian checked the instructions for filling the passport application form and found that this was never a requirement. The announcement by PM Modi got widely shared as an important news piece and many media houses published it without verifying any details about the same.
On the issue of name change, the instructions by Passport Seva on the application form clearly states that, for a woman who has retained her maiden name (the name a woman is given at birth) after marriage, nothing changes. Only those who have even “marginally changed” their name, have to specify the same, irrespective of the gender of the applicant.
Testimonies of several women in social media suggest the same, at the same time many women complained of harassment from passport officers because the women didn’t change their surname.
Wasn’t that the case for many years now? I haven’t changed my surname post marriage & had no issues with that when I renewed my passport. https://t.co/4iDW2ocKEX
— Renuka Shahane (@renukash) April 13, 2017
It’s never been mandatory. I have a passport with my maiden name. Got it after getting married. https://t.co/Az3EIJ6Qei
— Accidental Writer (@accidentlwriter) April 13, 2017
Bombay High Court Order & MEA Stand On It
Furthermore, to enable transparency in the law on a woman’s name after her marriage, the Bombay High Court in 2011 had amended a crucial rule under the Family Courts Act to prevent a woman from being compelled to file any marriage-related proceedings only in her husband’s surname.
A woman can file proceedings either in her maiden name, her name after marriage, or any other name she may have adopted, as long as it is officially registered in the gazette.
In his statement, PM Modi also said that “women need not submit marriage/divorce certificates for passports.” The Ministry Of External Affairs has introduced modifications in the rules for issuing the Passport in December 2016 which states that
“Married applicants would not be required to provide Annexure K or any marriage certificate,” the notification reads. “The Passport application form does not require the applicant to provide the name of her/his spouse in case of separated or divorced persons. Such applicants for passports would not be required to provide even the Divorce Decree.”
Only while applying for the passport of a minor, the notification says that it is mandatory to add the spouse’s name, in case it’s not already added in the past.
The Logical Indian Take
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated already existing laws and rules while announcing that women need not change their maiden names in passports after marriage. And PM cannot even pass a directive on it or any law as such. It is just a redundant announcement.
We understand that there have been cases where women have faced difficulties in passport application after marriage, but that is because of the mentality of people sitting at these offices and not because of the law.
Employees in public offices are a part of the same mindset that attaches a stigma to a woman retaining her maiden name after marriage, as the Indian society expects a wife to take her husband’s name. However, under no law is she required to do so.
PM Modi’s statement should have attacked that stigma.
He should have encouraged men and public officers to not compel women to change their names after marriage. Saying that “women no longer need to change their names” points to the fact that at some point they did. However, changing name/surname after marriage is purely a woman’s choice and not a legally binding requisite. Nowhere in our constitution or by any law, women are expected to change their surnames.
Furthermore, the law also gives a woman the right to divorce her husband in either her maiden surname, her married surname, or any other name she may have adopted and officially gazetted. Even after the divorce, she can continue using her maiden surname.
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