Arts, Culture & Media

Why some Indian women are saying their husbands names for the first time

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A bride gets her makeup done before her marriage ceremony in Kolkata, India. 

Credit:

Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

In many parts of rural India, it's normal for a woman to avoid using her husband's name. As a sign of respect, a woman is expected to abstain from using the name under all circumstances. However, men are free to speak their wife's name. 

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Now a small group of activists is seeking to question the convention, along with other traditions that they consider sexist. Video Volunteers have filmed women saying their husband's names out loud for the first time in public. In the video, the experience produces embarrassment, laughter and amusement. 

According to the BBC's Geeta Pandey, the tradition derives from the idea that women should regard their spouse as a god, as well as the economic provider for the family.

"It's a sign of respect — a husband is not God's gift, he is the god itself. That's how it is in the pecking order," she explains.

To avoid breaking the taboo, women are used to finding ingenious alternative ways of addressing their husbands. In some Hindi speaking communities, a wife might call her husband baba-ji, or "father" — the same name that the couple's children would. It is also common for the husband to be addressed in terms of his job, or in terms of his family relationships.

According to Pandey, the latest activist videos are unlikely to change much, but they have served to draw attention to how language reinforces gender inequality in much of Indian society. 

To hear more from the BBC's Geeta Pandey on this waning tradition, listen above.