The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Motherís day can happen anywhere, on any date. In Tamil Nadu, it has just happened. The government there has decided to go against the tradition of children invariably taking the first letter of their fatherís name as initial. Instead, it is listing three options. The traditional form can be retained, but the motherís name can be given equal importance if so desired. A child can take the first letters of the names of both his parents, placing the initial from his motherís first and that from his fathersí second, or, even more unconventionally, use just the first letter of his motherís name as his only initial. Since this will be accepted on school admission forms, it would remain his name for all official purposes. That this issue should be raised in 2003 may be an implicit comment on the status of mothers ó and women ó in India, but that is not to take away from the level of awareness displayed by the state governmentís decision.

The system of naming is culture-specific, but the broader implications this decision has for a motherís legal and social identity mark a small step in the slow process of empowerment for women in India. The mother-figure, glorified in myth, legend, and anecdote, is imbued with the values of self-effacing sacrifice and ever-forgiving love, with silent strength, limitless patience and uncomplaining fortitude. That makes virtues of eminently exploitable attributes, a social sleight-of-hand that is both fed and perpetuated by economic arrangements advantageous to a system evolved through a male perspective. The mother is the fount of ďfamily valuesĒ, ideally secluded from questions of ownership and lineage. The child is the motherís at home and the fatherís outside it. Only when equal recognition is given to the mother as parent on official documents, both the childís and the motherís identities undergo a change. Obviously, this is extremely heartening for single mothers. But the decision has much wider ramifications. It tends towards altering the social arrangement itself, through a change in mindset. When guardianship is equal, the identity of the father or the fatherís family alone no longer remains the sole official and legal marker of the childís background. And the motherís position acquires a new dimension within the family as well.

No social change takes place in a day, nor can legislation by itself effect the change. The many supportive laws and rulings by the courts regarding gender justice as in dowry prevention, inheritance, alimony and so on have not yet shown the hoped-for results. But such provisions act in two ways. One, they are an indication of what society should aspire to be and two, they are there for women who need them. By suggesting the possibility of empowerment, they also increase it. A few years earlier, for example, a long fight with the court ultimately established that the motherís signature would be sufficient to open a minorís account in a bank. It is only by such small steps that empowerment can come to Indian women, because the quality and extent of their disempowered condition are still intricately tied in with the dominant economic, political, social and ideological systems of the country.

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