Maneka Gandhi’s letter attempts to redefine patriarchy that’s consistent in Indian families.
In the context of most Indian families, patriarchs are afforded a special space. They are considered as the provider and the protector of a family unit, even if they occupy the post of an emotionally and physically absent father. But these absentee dads’ limited efforts are vindicated by the law. Official state documents demand a father’s name and school intake forms require a dad’s signature even if the said parent has contributed little or nothing to their kid’s school admission. This is why Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi’s letter to HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar is important.
On Monday April 17, Gandhi wrote to Javadekar and asked him to remove the mandatory rule which requires a father’s name on degree certificates. She stated that several single and divorced mothers have found it difficult to obtain the certificate if it doesn’t include the patriarch’s name.
On the face of it, it appears as if Gandhi is making a humanitarian plea. But the minister’s letter is powerful for many reasons. It is an attempt to redefine a mother’s place in a family; change perceived norms of parenting, and finally, it recognises a new family structure that may not include both parents, but one that’s still functional.
For single mothers across the country, this letter identifies them as the potent parent who simultaneously takes on the role of a father and a mother whenever situations have demanded them of it. It recognises their dynamic place in the family, one that’s acknowledged in the privacy of their homes, but never in public.
More importantly, the letter attempts to remove the stigma surrounding divorce. In her letter, Gandhi asks Javadekar to take cognisance of families that have witnessed a separation or a divorce and by extension, display sensitivity to their trauma.
If there’s an underlining theme to Gandhi’s letter, it is this: this is a new India and women have a poignant role to play. It’s time we listened to what they want.