There is a lot in the NAME!

(The story by Dr Nidhi Chaudhary won the 1st prize in "Social Entrepreneurship Storytelling Contest" organised at School for Social Entrepreneurs India, Gurgaon by AL Services)

Guest Post by Dr Nidhi Chaudhary- A Moving Story

When Shakespeare wrote “What is in a name”, clearly he was blinded by Romeo and Juliet’s romance and did not have the Indian subcontinent in mind. Had he for a minute thought about it, knowing the genius he is, he would not have penned the famous lines and would have rather agreed with me on this.

In the scorching heat of May 2006, I had been visiting the villages around Lucknow as an enthusiastic Routine immunisation Officer posted by UNICEF. On one such typical morning, I happened to visit a village hardly 30 minutes drive from the city in my chauffeur driven Indica taxi. The purpose was to monitor the vaccination sessions that were to be organized by the area Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) in the village Anganwadi centre. Luckily, the ANM had reached the venue and was arranging her things at the session site while the Angan wadi worker (AWW) had gone to call children and pregnant women. 

Soon the mothers starting lining up with their kids and some of them who werepregnant had come for their own checkup. Just then walked in a lady clad in a printed saree, her baby bump just about visible. She looked pale and tired and sat down on the floor waiting for her turn. She quietly waited for her turn for the next 45 minutes.

As her turn came, the AWW informed ANM didi that this lady was 6 months pregnant and had come for her first checkup. So ANM didi had to register the first time clients and make their cards. She asked the lady, “What is your name?” for registration on purpose. After a long pause, she asked again, and this time again there was no reply. Now this was becoming irritating for our busy didi. Third time she was louder and there came an expressionless low toned reply from the pregnant lady – You can write anything you like. No she wasn’t being sarcastic, she really did not care. 

For someone whose name was kept by her parents, got changed by inlaws at the time of marriage at 15 years of age, was referred to as wife of so and so (“Ramesh ki bahu”) and then as the mother of her son (Lallan ki amma) by the family and community, she practically had no name and no identity. There was no anger, no laughter, no sadness but just an emptiness in her eyes. The Anganwadi worker chipped in that during her last pregnancy hardly over a year ago, ANM didi had entered her record as Susheela. The lady added, “Yes you can write the same again.”

Sitting two feet across her was me, someonewho gets annoyed by people who misspell my last name (Chaudhary is a common surname spelled in a hundred different ways!!). Unconsciously I began to compare my life with hers. In contrast to her illiteracy I was a doctor, educated, independent, employed in job that paid me money while she worked day and night at home, tendering to cattle and on her family piece of land and is unrecognized for her efforts. I was married and had one four year old son. She was few years younger and had three children and was pregnant again. I was speechless that day and had a restless night. Thinking of the contrast of our two lives created by chance, my fortune of being born few hundred kilometers apart gives me goose bumps even today.

Scene two - A decade later, September 2016, I wake up on a Sunday morning and happily sip tea as I read through the Sunday Tribuneedition. On the center page is a news piece from Mewat region of Haryana titled “Return their names, dignity”. The write up highlights the plight of hundreds of women in the region who are bought from other states, apparently married into families and sold multiple times like cattle. They have lost their identity and are known with accused moniker “Paro”. While these women have no social, economic or even political rights, they are used for sexual gratification, bearing children and as farm labourers. One of them, now 60 years of age, says – “Nothing can change my life after these many years but I want to have a grave inscribed with my name, and not Paro.”

I wonder what an excellent piece Shakespeare would have written had he witnessed the two scenarios. Certainly, he would have agreed, “There is a lot in a Name. There’s a lot in a NAME!”.

Brief Profile

Dr Nidhi Chaudhary is a medical doctor with over 16 years of experience in public health. She has worked on issues related to women, children and adolescent health through her work with national and international NGOs and World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Dr Chaudhary is the Founder and CEO of Navya Tarang Foundation, a registered not for profit social enterprise. Navya Tarang endeavours to make affordable quality health care accessible especially for the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.


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