Calling your husband by name for the first time

Media captionWomen practise saying their husband’s name (courtesy of Video Volunteers)

Millions of Indian women have never used their husband’s name – it’s a way of showing their respect for him. The tradition is strictly observed in rural areas, though much less so in cities. Now, however, some campaigners are urging women in villages to give it up too.

What’s in a name? A lot, if you’re an Indian wife and the name in question is your husband’s. I learned this early on in life.

My parents were married for 73 years until my father died last year. At the time of their wedding, my mother was less than 11 and he had just turned 15.

In the decades they were together, first in a tiny village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and later in Kolkata (then Calcutta), she never called him by his name.

When speaking to us children, she always referred to him as “babuji” – the Hindi word for “father” that we used. When addressing him directly, she always said “Hey ho”, which means roughly “Hey you”.

As teenagers when we became aware of the fact, we made fun of her. We tried to trick her into saying his name just once. But she never did.

All the other women in my home and neighbourhood also avoided saying their husband’s name. So did tens of millions of women across India, regardless of their religion or caste.

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