Many a time, we fail to win against the system even though our objective is rational. Despite repeated pleadings and court cases, the government turns a deaf ear to our implorations. But there are a few people who do not give up. No matter what happens, they make their demands heard and finally bring about a change.
Meet 47-year-old Priyanka Gupta whose online petition has made it easier for thousands of children with single mothers to obtain a basic necessity — passport.
Girl child? I’m leaving
Priyanka’s husband abandoned her and their daughter Garima when she was born. The reason was simple; he did not want a girl child. He never looked back and didn’t even care about all the moments they had shared with each other. But life had to go on despite the void created in the family. Priyanka and her child could keep themselves afloat, thanks to her job at the Embassy of Iceland in New Delhi.
Going through the numerous paperworks without a father’s signature during her childhood was heartbreaking for Garima. When all her friends could attend the annual functions with both their parents, she only had her mother to look up to. Notwithstanding the tears behind closed doors, she and her mother kept moving on in life.
In 2016, when Garima turned, Priyanka applied for her passport at the Delhi passport office. But to her utter shock, the application was rejected as the father’s name wasn’t provided. This was despite the fact that Garima did her schooling with her name as a guardian. Her voter ID card, Aadhar card, and bank account also had Priyanka’s name.
“This is despite the fact that I had attached documents of my divorce. Also, I took out clippings of court rulings on this matter, which had clearly mentioned that a mother’s name should be sufficient in the case of a divorcee. But the authorities at the passport office didn’t recognise it,” says Priyanka.
Leaving no stones unturned
The mother-daughter duo tried to convince the passport officer. They wrote numerous letters, met senior officers, and did everything under the sun but even then, their request was denied. In the end, they were forced to include his name. But distraught by the incident, Garima asked her to challenge the norm. She realized that it was high time India looked beyond a male guardian and accepted single mothers.
However, Priyanka wasn’t keen on fighting another legal battle after her divorce. It was then that a friend of hers suggested starting an online petition. Priyanka did as told and came across Change.org in May of 2016. Instead of beating around the bush, she directly addressed it to the central government.
Her petition went viral in no time and she started receiving support from thousands of women who were sharing the same fate as hers. Soon, her petition received more than one lakh signatures and managed to gain the attention of Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi.
Internet helping the cause
Subsequently in December 2016, Maneka wrote to Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of India, and a three-member committee comprising officials of the two ministries was constituted. Months later, the Ministry of External Affairs announced the revised set of passport rules and declared that the name of only one parent was enough and that married applicants will not have to produce a marriage certificate and share their spouse’s name if they were separated or divorced.
Priyanka barely had any hope when she started the petition because like most people, she too believed that nothing would change.
“But the power of the Internet is massive. It connected me to so many faceless women who had similar stories,” she says.
Priyanka’s efforts were hailed by the Women and Child Development Ministry early this year and she was felicitated as an agent of change, a title given by the ministry last year to 10 women pioneers fighting for social causes
Her next fight is for changes in PAN card rules which make it mandatory to cite the name of the father.
Though this change might seem something menial which should’ve been addressed by the government a long time ago, there are other deeper reasons for such changes. Insisting on providing father’s name reiterates patriarchal norms of women and children as belongings, and looks down on alternative family structures while giving undue importance to the institution of marriage.
It is high time we move away from such an outdated thinking and usher in more and more changes that give equal power to both the male and female sex.
Share Priyanka’s efforts that has brought in a huge change and spread the word with other single mothers. Tell us your views by writing in the comment box below. We read each one of them.