Media outlets, including The Quint, widely misinterpreted a comment by Narendra Modi during an address on Thursday. The assumption was that the Prime Minister said women can retain maiden names in passports after marriage, when that wasn’t a requirement in the first place.
“From now onwards, women will not have to change their names in the passport after marriage,” Modi told a gathering of the Indian Merchants Chambers’ Ladies Wing, Livemint reported.
Times Now, too, published an article titled: “Women can retain their maiden names in passports, announced PM Modi”. NDTV wasn’t far behind.
The misreading of Modi’s comment invited reactions from several women on Twitter.
As it turned out, the Prime Minister wasn’t even talking about maiden names for married women on passports. The maiden name was to do with single parents who want to apply for passports for their children.
A clear transcription of the relevant portion reads:
“Now women won’t have to give their divorce or marriage certificates while applying for a passport. It will be up to a woman on whether she would like to use her mother’s or father’s name.”
Let’s break down the two different things Modi was talking about.
No Divorce or Marriage Certificate Needed
In his speech, Modi announced that women will not have to submit divorce or marriage certificates while applying for a passport.
Here, Modi was referring to the changes in the passport rules notified by the External Affairs Ministry in December 2016.
“Married applicants would not be required to provide Annexure K or any marriage certificate,” the notification said. “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.”
Hence, Modi’s statement that the current government has simplified the passport rules and removed the mandatory rule about submission of marriage certificate or a divorce decree is true. This is not just for women, but is equally applicable to men.
Use Either Father’s or Mother’s Name
The second half of the statement made by the Prime Minister was, “It’ll be their discretion to use their father or mother’s name in the passport.”
It is entirely up to the woman to choose between her mother’s and her father’s name in the passport. The statement had nothing to do with retaining her maiden name.
“In fact, the PM’s statement was about another change in the rules made in December 2016. The change was made to make it easy for single parents to obtain passports for their children. Unlike earlier, the passport application form now requires the applicant to provide the name of father or mother or legal guardian, i.e., only one parent and not both. This would enable single parents to apply for passports for their children and to also issue passports where the name of either the father or the mother is not required to be printed at the request of the applicant. Earlier, it was mandatory to mention both the father’s and mother’s name in the passport application. Again, this rule is not just for a woman, but for any single parent.”
Hence, Modi’s remark had nothing to do with allowing married women to keep their maiden name as that practice is already in vogue. A woman has always had the choice of whether or not to change her name post marriage.
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