Law, Gender, and Parenting Stereotypes: Kerala High Court Upholds the Right to Retain Mother's Name Only in Documents

 Law, Gender, and Parenting Stereotypes: Kerala High Court Upholds the Right to Retain Mother's Name Only in Documents

Kerala High Court Upholds the Right to Retain Mother's Name Only in Documents_ichhori.webp

The Kerala High Court has ruled that it is everyone's right to have their mother's name only appear on identification documents including birth certificates, Adhaar cards, and other documents. If the person so desires, the name of the father need not be mentioned in the paperwork.

This decision was reached after a petitioner informed the court that he was born into the world when his mother was still a juvenile and that he wanted to have his father's name removed from all of his official records because they were estranged. The applicant requested that a new birth certificate be issued with just his mother's name on it. The first petitioner mentioned that his mother, the second petitioner, had been unexpectedly impregnated by an unidentified person. The petitioner further stated that while his father's name appeared in several documents, his mother's name was consistent throughout.

In his ruling, Justice P. V. Kunhikrishnan discusses the need to respect unmarried mothers, single parents, sexual assault and rape victims, and their children since they have the same rights to live in dignity, freedom, and privacy as everyone else in the nation. As a result, no authority should prevent it, and everyone is free to decide not to include their father's name in the paperwork.

The court emphasized that their fundamental rights should not be violated and that the state must protect all citizens, including rape survivors, while also acknowledging the "emotional suffering" of unmarried women's children and children of unmarried women.

The court brought forth a letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs in which it was stated that all chief registrars of births and deaths were to issue birth certificates without asking or investigating the father's name in cases of single mothers or unmarried mothers who provided an affidavit. The high court also cited an earlier ruling of the court that called for the creation of a separate form without any fields for the father's name or other related information.

Justice P. V. Kunhikrishnan also highlighted a passage from the Mahabharata's story about the character Karna. Karna was anxious since he was unsure of his parents. The court implied that there shouldn't be any figures in our society like Karna. Justice Kunhikrishnan said that the new age "Karnas" will be protected by the Constitution and the courts.

The Delhi High Court similarly decided in 2021 that every child has the right to use their mother's last name. The father does not own the daughter, the court said, therefore he has no right to pick the last name she will use.

Except for a few communities in the southern region of India, the patrilineal norm of inheriting the father's name is highly prevalent there. The father is regarded as the family's most significant member. One's caste and class identities are inexorably reflected in their last name tradition, which frequently exposes them to prejudice.

Most institutions have a very strong patriarchal tradition that even permeates laws. Men are viewed as more "worthy" or valuable in all respects when women are compelled to use their names as surnames, hence the nomenclature of surnames is also a form of social pressure.

As the father is the "head" of the family and his lineage is to be continued, it is customary for us for children to take on their father's last name. Most of the time, the mother and her role are ignored. In India, last names transcend the boundaries of religious communities and are used to characterize a wide range of personal details.

What happens after this decision?

This verdict marks the beginning of something very important. Single, divorced, and/or unwed mothers suffer a great deal from shame and stigma. Due to the absence of the father, the mother is criticized and questioned often about how she would care for the child(ren) on her own while juggling work and home.

Their unsuccessful marriages are also attributed to being single mothers. The legal snag requiring the father's identity would just make matters worse because it is already difficult for lone mothers to survive mentally and emotionally. Thanks to this important decision, mothers and children can simply complete the administrative and legal tasks necessary to express their parental identity without suffering consequences.

For mothers who are alone, divorced, or live apart from their partners, this judgment gives them a sense of confidence and independence. They may be able to put aside some of the guilt that society forces them to feel about the parenting or child-care decisions they make and how they couldn't do it without the child's father (ren).

This verdict is enabling for mothers since, despite being the majority of the primary caregivers, they frequently struggle to exercise their parental rights. The ability of single parents to raise children successfully has been demonstrated time and time again.

When one parent is raising a child, conventional parenting responsibilities are also called into question. They must assume the traditional roles of both parents. Consequently, it promotes a sense of parental equality. There is just one responsibility that parents have for their child, not one for the mother or the father.

The same parent or someone else to whom the parent assigns the responsibility changes diapers and drops off children at school. Similarly to that, this decision establishes an analogy. When asked to do so on forms such as those found in schools and identity documents, children can write out their mother's name without hesitation. Prejudice or indecision has no place here.  

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