Passport office asks divorcee to revert to maiden name
A woman, who divorced her husband eight years ago, was in for a rude shock when she approached the passport office only to be told that she no longer can use her marital name in the passport.
In a judgment passed in 2010, the Bombay High Court ordered one Neelam Shewale to give up her husband’s surname after divorce. The passport office seems to have implemented the judgment as a blanket rule and claims a divorced woman can no longer retain her husband’s name.
“I was married for over 25 years and all my documents, including PAN card, Ration Card, driving license etc, had my husband’s last name. For the last eight years, I have been divorced but I continued using my husband’s surname without any hassle. Last month, when I approached the Regional Passport Office, they refused to issue me the passport and insisted I went back to my maiden name,” the woman said.
She has now filed a series of RTI applications to find out if the RPO had received any order from the Central government regarding the issue. “I wrote several letters to the officer asking if a law exists which requires a divorcee to revert to her maiden name. There has been no reply so far,” she adds.
Last year, the High Court had ordered Neelam to stop using her former husband’s surname. But that was a stray case, legal experts say.
“In that case, the High Court upheld the order of a family court. However, there is no such blanket rule so far. The court in its judgment did not make any observation in general where women have to give up their husband’s name after divorce,” said Women’s Rights Lawyer Flavia Agnes.
The passport office said it was unaware of any such incident. “I will have to look into the case and find out what had happened,” said Regional Passport Officer Vinoy Kumar Choubey. However, he added, ever since the High Court order, passport office has been overly vigilant and forward such issues to its legal department.
This is not a one-off case. Another divorcee faced similar problem last September when she approached the office to get her passport renewed. However, after she confronted the regional officer, her passport was renewed retaining her husband’s name.
“It’s the woman’s wish to continue or discontinue with her married name. After using my husband’s name for a decade, it’s not easy to change it overnight,” the woman said.
With no guidelines in place and no reference to the High Court order, lawyers feel the order has been misinterpreted and causes unnecessary hassle.
“Until the husband raises an objection, there should be no reason for officers to deny any woman her right to use her married name. It’s arbitrary,” says Flavia.