About time children say, ‘‘I’m known by my mother’s name and I’m proud of it’’

To ensure that the name does not die after the woman’s demise it’s time that her children carry their mother’s name as well. Then and only then will this differentiation between the beta and beti end.

Recently, my son came to me and said, “Ma, my college is putting up my name on its ‘Wall of Fame’ and they have asked me to send in my details as the wall will carry my name, profession, designation, organization name etc.”

I was thrilled to bits as one can imagine. It’s something any parent would be proud of. But that got me thinking that the names of students would be there on the ‘Wall of Fame’ for all times to come, yet it would only be the father’s surname that would be up there on that wall. There would be no mention of the maternal family’s name. No matter how hard the mother worked to make the child the kind of person s/he is today, it would only be the father’s contribution that would be acknowledged.

Why is that? It’s just so unfair! Just think of it. A child is a creation of both, man and woman. However, it is the mother who makes the closest connection with the child as she carries the foetus for nine months in her womb. She is the one who suffers nine months of major pains and changes in her body. She undergoes a mental and emotional upheaval. Some even suffer career losses. And the less said about the experience of childbirth the better it is. Men cannot even begin to comprehend it.

Even before the world knows the child, the mother and baby are two souls in one body, two hearts that beat as one. Yet, from the moment the baby is born, the father and his family swoop in and lay claim to the child. Right from the surname to first rights on visitation of the kids by the grandparents, it’s the paternal family all the way. The mother’s family — except for the first few months when it suits everyone to let the maternal grandparents cough up the birthing fee and take post-partum care of the mother and the baby — has to take a back seat where rights over the child are concerned.     

I get that we live in a largely patriarchal society, but isn’t it time that things change for the better? Isn’t it time that the world collectively acknowledges the tears, sweat and blood of a mother that go into the making of an individual? Because, no matter how liberated, or educated or well off a family is, some things don’t change. And that is the mother has a larger role in shaping a child than a father does. And people can argue against this till they are blue in the face but the fact remains that even if both parents are working, the mother still spends more time nurturing her child, physically, emotionally, mentally than a father does. Because women are wired that way! Nurturing, guiding and mothering are some things that come naturally to them. And in the villages, too, the same is true. It’s not for nothing that society, especially in the Asian culture and almost all religious scriptures give the mother such an exalted status. So, everyone respects and acknowledges the duties of a mother, yet, when it comes to rights, it is the father who gets everything. The mother is forgotten.

It’s time that this changes. It’s time that the mother’s name also becomes a part of the child’s identity.

In the urban world at least, there are many women who don’t drop their maiden name when they get married. They just add the husband’s surname to their own. Which I feel is fair to everyone because the woman has grown up with her family’s surname. It is a major part of her identity and there’s a major emotional connect with it. So, why should a woman be asked to change her identity overnight and become someone totally different?

There are a lot of women these days who don’t even take up their husband’s surname for personal and professional reasons and that’s OK too. Men don’t change their name after marriage and everyone is OK with that, then why the different rules for women?

But coming back to the children, I think it’s about time that the mother is given her due where the child is concerned. THE MOTHER’S FAMILY NAME SHOULD BE THE MIDDLE NAME OF THE CHILD. So that society acknowledges the contribution of the mother in making of that individual. It’s only fair.

Progressive Governments and judgments by courts in India are already saying that a single mother’s name will suffice in a birth certificate or in the school form. Giving the child the mother’s name too will solve the identity crisis that children of single mothers or those born to single or unwed mothers out of intrauterine fertility treatments, face.

Plus, it will have another advantage too. In the Asian culture, by and large people crave for a male child. When a boy is born there is all round celebration. But when a girl is born there are forced smiles and “No worries, you can have another baby” are usually the words that the new parents get to hear. In effect what they are saying is “better luck next time in having a son.”

Why? Because they expect the male child to provide for the parents in their old age, add to the family income. But, in today’s day and age, a girl who has been well-educated, and given a profession can also add to the family income while she is with her parents and provide for the parents in their old age even after she gets married. There are girls who do that. Thankfully, slowly and surely this regressive way of thinking that “hum bhooke mar sakte hain par ladki ki kamai nahi kha sakte (we will die of hunger but we won’t allow our daughter to provide for us)” is changing and parents are accepting financial help from their daughters. And why shouldn’t they? Didn’t they invest as much time, effort, love and money in raising and educating their daughter as they did for their son? So why should they be embarrassed to take help from their daughters?

So what is it that still makes a male child more desirable than a girl child?

In a patriarchal society, the male child is valued more because he will carry the name of the family ahead, thus ensuring the continuation of the lineage. And that is why women are forced to give birth again and again and again till they produce a male child. No matter how badly it affects the health of the wife. “Who cares? If she dies trying to give us a male child we will marry our son off again” is the usual thinking behind this malaise.

That is why there is female foeticide and female infanticide too. Because the family needs a male heir to carry the family name forward, even if they haven’t done anything worthwhile to warrant such a huge ego.

So, if we really want to “bachao the beti”, then we have to eliminate this practice of women dropping their family name entirely after they get married. They must continue to use their maiden name and just add the husband’s surname to their own. This will ensure that the surname of the girl’s father continues even after he is gone. And to ensure that the name does not die after the woman’s demise its time that her children carry their mother’s name as well.

Then and only then will this differentiation between the beta and beti end. Then and only then will a mother get due recognition for the hard work she puts into shaping her child, only then will women stop dying in the bid to give birth to a male child. Only then will the skewed gender ratio be fixed and all problems associated with it gone. Only then will the birth of a girl be celebrated! It’s time that children say, “I’m carrying my mother’s name ahead, too, and I’m proud of it.”