After days of putting it on the back burner, I decided that I will get a work done with for once and all. The work was nothing extraordinary. I had to go to the police station and report a lost passbook (a document used in many banks to keep log of banking transactions). I have crossed this particular police station near my home many times before and observed all kinds of people lining up in front of the station. Some looked harassed, may be they were there to lodge a complaint. Some certainly looked like they had done or were associated with something criminal. There were rowdy, bully sort of people, who could care for nothing. A police station is not a place a woman would ever want to visit in India. That is the primary reason I was putting off my visit for a month now.
Finally, I mustered the courage and went to the police station yesterday. There was a cop sitting and working at his desk. He noticed the perplexed look on my face. He took a look at the draft of the complaint in my hand and directed me to another officer. I walked into the room next door. There was a cop working on his computer and reading a newspaper. It looked as if he was typing something off the newspaper. There was another one sitting behind a pile of files and folders (unsolved cases perhaps). A few people stood in the room waiting for their turn to discuss their matter. They were being made to wait because the cop has all the authority and no one else dare challenge him, even if the cop was doing nothing. There was an awkward silence in the room, interrupted by the occasional sound of the wireless walkie-talkie every now and then.
One of the cop looked at me and said, “Madam, What do you need?”
I handed the draft of my complaint to him. He asked for a valid ID proof, I handed that as well. He then read the complaint (called FIR in India) and said to me, “Please, add you husband’s name to the report.”
“Why do you need my husband’s name? My passbook is lost. Not his.“
“We cannot file it without your husband’s name. We need his name for your identification.”
That definitely did not make any sense. Sounding a bit furious, I asked the policeman, “If my husband lost his passbook, would you need my name in the report for identification?”
The people who stood in the room let out a laugh.
The policeman got severely annoyed. He looked at me, furious, I could tell. “That is the rule. This is how it has been happening for years. If you want to file this complaint, we need you husband’s name on the report for your identification.”
A woman in many government documents in India, still needs to have a person assigned who is responsible for her, a father or a guardian if unmarried and the husband if she is married. This is after presenting a valid ID proof of her own. A police station in India is not the right place to argue about the validity of such requirement. To avoid being mistreated, very unwillingly I wrote my husband’s name in the report and it was filed.
This incident happened a day after the world celebrated International Women’s Day. The celebrations seem almost ironic since we still cannot respect the existence of a woman by herself. Women’s day and all the talks around it, seem like a joke. Every woman encounters such challenges here on a day-to-day basis and nothing is still being done to correct it.
In the face of reality, all this talk about equal place for women in the society, just falls flat.
Written by : Sonali Banerjee, our regular storyteller. This is based on a real incident that took place this week, just a day after International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2015.