October 4, 2023
By Maryam Missal
The Directorate General of Immigration & Passports (DGI&P), has requested a fortnight to submit their response to the petition lodged by Advocate Khadija Bokhari in the Lahore High Court. However, the judge has only allowed a week’s extension, emphasizing that this will be the final opportunity. The request by the department was made on on Monday October 2.
The Lahore High Court had summoned the federal government, the Director General of Immigration and Passports, and the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to respond to a petition filed by Barrister Khadija Shah. The petition challenges a policy that mandates married women to include their husbands’ names on their Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) for passport issuance.
Khadija Shah, a legal professional known for her advocacy for women’s rights in the reputable organization Musawi, brought this matter to light after her passport renewal application was rejected. The basis of this rejection seemed to be her CNIC, which listed her father’s name under the “daughter of” section rather than her husband’s name under the “wife of” column.
Despite Khadija duly updating her marital status with Nadra after her marriage, she expressed surprise at the requirement imposed by the passport office. The policy, as communicated to her, necessitated a CNIC displaying her husband’s name to obtain a passport in her name.
Arguing that the rejection was both arbitrary and legally questionable, Khadija emphasized that public authorities must operate within established legal parameters and cannot unilaterally impose additional restrictions. She contended that the policy in question contravened articles 8(1) and 25 of the Constitution and called for its invalidation on these grounds.
Article 8(1) of the constitution reads,
“Any law, or any custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent with the rights conferred by this chapter, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.”
Article 25 of the constitution of Pakistan establishes that laws which discriminate amongst genders shall be void.
“All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law, there shall be no discrimination based on sex and nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the protection of women and children.”
DGI&P has submitted a draft of a policy change to the Ministry of Interior of Pakistan that allows married women to retain their father’s name on passports after marriage. The draft has awaited signatures from two interior ministers so far, but like most women’s rights issues, it has been neglected and pushed back, allowing patriarchal policies to dictate identities in the region.
Khadija’s Experience in Court
In an interview, Bokhari shared her journey to court with Voicepk.net. Bokhari had gone to register her marriage and get her CNIC updated in April 2022. “Their attitude was discouraging towards me pursuing my maiden name after marriage,” Bokhari shared while recalling her interaction with NADRA workers.
Despite the discouragement and advice from NADRA employees, Bokhari went ahead and took on her father’s name as her second name with pride.
A few months later, she was met with a bigger challenge in the Passport office built in the vicinity of Lahore High Court.
In November 2022, Bokhari visited the passport office with her family hoping to get her passport renewed before it expires in the coming six months. There, she was challenged and opposed to her choice regarding her name.
Bokhari was told by the female employees of the passport office that the passport office follows different policies than the NADRA office which makes it obligatory for women to change their maiden name after marriage because there is no other way to display their marital status on the passport.
“This should not be happening… this is wrong,” Bokhari questioned the policies of the DGI&P. “You are not allowed to retain your father’s name,” she was told. In shock of what was happening, Bokhari refused to get her passport renewed at that time.
Despite a discouraging experience at the passport office, she revisited and confronted the authorities. She was told that a draft of policy change has been sitting on the table of the interior minister for more than two years now. A sign on that document will alter the policy and she will be able to carry her father’s name as per her choice.
Bokhari waited another year for the policy change, despite having the urgency to have her passport renewed. She refused to quit and had the patriarchal values of society dictate her identity.
She dropped the last straw of her patience when she was told in the middle of the year 2023 that she should wait another six months for a policy change or have her name or marital status changed in NADRA as well.
“They suggested that I go to NADRA and declare myself unmarried, have my CNIC renewed and get the passport made under my same name… it all sounded ridiculous to me,”
Taking advantage of her legal background, she decided to file a petition against NADRA and DGI&P so she could take charge of how her identity should be documented.
“I paid for the passport I never got made, the money went to waste and I am still struggling,” Bokhari remarked.
Patriarchy in Documentation
Zainab Durrani, a Pakistani citizen with a background in Law and Digital Rights in Pakistan, recounted her experience. Durrani got married in the final week of 2021, having renewed her CNIC two months before her marriage due to its expiration.
Upon visiting the NADRA branch at Shimla Pahari in Lahore to register her marriage, Durrani was met with unfamiliar attitudes and entrenched patriarchal mindsets. During the registration process, she was informed that she would need a new CNIC card with her husband’s name listed as the second name. The person at the counter asserted that they couldn’t proceed if she wished to retain her father’s name.
In response, Durrani questioned, “If I am not changing my name, address, or any other details, why should I get a new card?” To support her argument, she presented a statement made by the then-chairman of NADRA in October 2021, Tariq Malik, who announced a policy change stating that women were no longer required to adopt their husbands’ surnames after marriage.
However, the staff at the Shimla Pahari NADRA office claimed they were not made aware of this policy change. Deciding not to press further, Durrani withdrew her plan to register.
Later in October 2022, Durrani visited a different NADRA office. There, she presented her nikah nama and expressed her desire to keep her father’s name after marriage. This time, she encountered no resistance, and the marriage was successfully registered. Durrani was told that she could be documented under her preferred name, although it was noted at the back end of the system that she was married to X.
Durrani questioned the need for a new CNIC, as only the back-end data required an update, not her personal information. Despite recently providing a new photo, she was told a new picture was necessary. While Durrani didn’t find this concerning, her husband only needed to update his marital status, unlike her need for an entirely new CNIC.
A new aspect of the problem emerged when Durrani’s husband received a message after her experience at the NADRA office, informing him that Durrani had designated him as the head of the family. This took both Durrani and her husband by surprise, as they had not provided consent for this particular detail. Durrani shared her experience on the social media platform ‘X’, formerly known as Twitter.
Durrani’s account garnered significant attention, prompting a response from NADRA’s former chairman, who explained that this policy was implemented to combat fraud, but citizens were free to nominate anyone they wished as the head of their family. Durrani informed Voicepk.net that despite this policy, her consent was not sought, and she was simply informed that her husband was now the head of her family.
Many other women have raised their concerns and struggles faced in the process of documentation in Pakistan over social media. Women like Khadija Bokhari and Zainab Durrani are the ones who had the benefit of social media to express their concerns but many succumb to these policies despite unwillingness.
Several attempts were made to reach out to NADRA and DGI&P on the matter but the calls remained unanswered.