What’s in a name? Patriarchy teaches a woman, early on, to settle for a slender grip on the primary block of identity — her name. It changes with marriage, as several women take on their husband’s family name to mark the transition from one social unit to another. Some communities are known to go further and rename a new bride entirely. In India, it is tied with the persistent cultural belief, affirmed by rituals, myths, music and cinema, that girls are paraya dhan, destined to be wrenched away from their ties and rights in their maternal home, to cede the space they once owned in it.
And so, the push by the district administration of Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal to encourage families to put up nameplates bearing their daughters’ name on their houses is a refreshing step. In doing so, the government hopes to create awareness about gender rights and women’s right to own property. Indeed, that Indian homes struggle to make space for women’s names is an indication of a harsh economic logic — that marriage is an institution meant for the aggrandisement of male property and family wealth, not women’s financial health. Progressive changes in law have not been enough to dent that logic. Even if women have the right to claim a share in their parents’ property, there is little social legitimacy for such an assertion. But, as studies have shown, the ownership of property makes a spectacular difference to women’s resilience, bringing down levels of domestic violence and poverty.
The administration of Pauri Garhwal, also struggling with a falling child sex ratio — a warning that female worth has been found wanting by a ruthless social calculus — hopes to prod families to see their future in girl children. A nameplate on the door might not lead to a newer home within, but it is surely an aspiration worth seeding for the future.
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