Gazette Name change A Record Breaker in Maharashtra
A Hindi expletive startles as it escapes the so-far refined tongue of Pramod Dhamankar, who is perennially signing papers over a slanting table in a room full of slant in! shelves. “Ch***a,” says the 52-year-old publication manager Charni Road's Gazette office, referring only to one of those unfortunate surnames that sometimes jump at him from the weekly records of changed names in Maharashtra
To escape the insult gifted by their identity, the bearers of such names and last names tend to log on to the state government's website, upload documents and pay Rs 523 each for a fresh name. They form a tiny chunk of nearly 2 lakh change-of-name applicants who've made Maharashtra richer by over Rs 8 crore in the last financial year.
Ever since name-changing became an online-only application process in July 2014, Dhamankar has seen the number of applicants go up steadily on the computer screen even as the window behind him began offering an unobstructed view of the sea across the road. In the tediou analog era of name-changing three years ago, this scenery hid behind a serpentine queue of men and women who would come from as far as Latur and Aurangabad and wait from 10 am to 4 pm clutching ration cards and marriage certificates. “They used to come in thousands, sometimes 4,000 in a day,” recalls Dhamankar. Thanks to e-filing, Dhamankar now only gets the odd walk-in visitor now-adays–chiefly unlettered men who are not tech-savvy or maybe unaware of the process being on line-only. They come for reasons ranging from marriage to escaping the stigma of caste. He directs them to one of many Maha-E-Seva Kendra in the city–there are 4500 all over Maharashtra–which guide them through the process for a fee.
Apart from the ease of e-filing, name-changing has become a game-changer for the state for another reason. In March
2015, the change-of-name application fee went up from Rs 120 to Rs 523 each. So, compared to the sum of almost Rs 4 crore it got from over l.31 lakh applications in 2009-2010, Maharashtra is now earning double the amount from just a small jump in applicants this financial year. Interestingly, th application fee for those belonging to the scheduled castes tribes and OBCs is around Rs 270, and many of the applicants–chiefly aged 20 to 40–tend to belong to the lower end of the totem pole if not the middle classes, says Dhamankar. But “after digitisation, we are seeing more applicants from the upper classes too,” he says, referring to businessmen who swap initials and add vowels into their
names to lure profits into their lives. A Kanojia, for instance, recently became Kannojiya.
Besides, men tend to outdo women in terms of sheer number of applications. Between January 2016 and March 2017, there were over 90,000 male applicants and just over 60,000 women applicants. Apart from factors such as
change in religion (Tiwari turns into Ricardo), spelling errors in official documents (Twinkal to Twinkle), women tend to alter their surnames, drop their middle names and even shed first names after a marriage or a divorce while monetary concerns seem to drive men to apply. Adoption too is a factor in the case of applicants who are minors. Then “there are even men who have turned into women,” says Dhamankar, referring to trans women applicants. In an edition from April 2015, we found a Kavya who had morphe into Aaditya.
Every Thursday, the week's changed names line up serially the weekly gazette. For a deceptively boring document, it hides many moments that chorus: “Hey, it's a free country.” Here, for every man who replaces his pet name with his full name in the ration card, there may be one that does just the opposite, finds Dhamankar. So, if Raju becomes Rajesh, a
whimsical Saban turns into Bablu. An edition showed one ‘Nagabhushanam' had opted to shorten his cumbresome name to ‘Nagesh'. Then, Dhamankar, whose surname reveal
his native village, has even seen men named after their villages drop their surnames.