Sunday, October 21, 2018

This is what I learnt from the ‘inter-faith couple’ passport drama – don’t show your nikahnama when it’s not needed

Yesterday, media was abuzz with the news that a couple in Lucknow was allegedly moral policed by passport officer in Lucknow, one Vikas Mishra, who allegedly harassed an interfaith couple. In her tweets to Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, one Tanvi Anas accused Mishra of speaking to her rudely and holding her and her Muslim husband’s passports on hold for not having changed her name after marriage.

She claimed that she has married a Muslim but has never changed her name. In subsequent tweets, she explains her ordeal to Swaraj how it is her personal choice not to change her name after marriage.

She accused that Mishra asked her to change her name after marriage as it is ‘her duty’.

However, after a huge social media uproar, Vikas Mishra, the passport office officer in question has defended himself claiming that Tanvi’s name as per nikahnama (Islamic marriage contract) was ‘Shadia Anas’, but she refused to get her name changed as per her nikahnama.

If the marriage is solemnised as per Islamic rituals, i.e. a nikahnama was drawn, instead of marriage under Special Marriage Act, Tanvi would have to convert to Islam. This would mean two things:

  1. This ceases to be inter-faith marriage.
  2. It raises the question on whether she changed her name to Shadia Anas as per her nikahnama?

Mishra, who is now transferred following Tanvi’s accusations that he asked her husband to convert to Hinduism, has claimed that he merely asked Tanvi to clarify whether she has ever changed her name. There is a column in the passport application form which requires you to fill in this detail. He claimed that the couple had gone from Noida to Lucknow, instead of going to the Ghaziabad passport office, to get the passport done on a short leave and got agitated when he raised an objection.

To this, Tanvi claimed that more than what Mishra said, she had a problem with the ‘tone’ he used.

Tanvi Anas tweets which she has now deleted.

Like everyone else, I got a little curious and did a bit of digging.

The passport declaration form [PDF] has a declaration that to the best of applicant’s knowledge, all information provided is true and correct. She has to mention her marital status in the form. If she has changed her name, she has to mention that as well.

Tanvi claims that she did not change her legal name to be the same as the name mentioned in the nikahnama because it is her personal choice. And that is true, indeed. However, the nikahnama is a valid marriage certificate as per Islam and even Indian laws (personal laws) and if the nikahnama has a different name, she is required to mention that. Hence, if there is a discrepancy between the name mentioned in the nikahnama and her legal name, the officer is well within his right to ask her to clarify and justify the discrepancy.

Interestingly, Modi government has relaxed the rules so much that woman need not provide marriage certificate for issuance of a passport. The standard affidavit which is required to be filed by a person who needs to get his/her spouse’s name added or marital status changed, does not need to submit any additional documents like a marriage certificate.

Annexure E for a standard affidavit for change of name. 

Tomorrow I could get my name changed on passport and in name of spouse I could also write Salman Khan and I don’t even need a proof for that. Of course, that doesn’t mean I would get away with it considering there are strict rules and any incorrect information provided in the passport is a punishable offence, but nothing really stops anyone from providing incorrect information in the first place.

Anyway, coming back to this curious case, we have more questions.

  1. Why did Tanvi and her husband go from Noida to Lucknow for a passport when they were required to file same in Ghaziabad?
  2. Did she and her husband mention their marital status in their passport application form?
  3. When it was not required by law, why did they provide the nikahnama, especially when the nikahnama had a different name than her legal name?
  4. If an officer raises a question when there is a difference in names provided, the query does seem valid.
  5. Did they get their passports on such short notice without police verification because of the tweet?
  6. Now that they both have received their passports, within hours of tweeting to Sushma Swaraj, will there be a detailed police verification, as required by law for normal citizens who don’t get passports by tweeting to the minister get theirs?

Perhaps I should tweet this to Sushma Swaraj for a quicker response.

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