New Delhi: A Hindu woman and Muslim man whose marriage so irked an employee at the regional passport office in Lucknow that he harangued them for their inter-religious union were issued passports on Thursday, 24 hours after they went public with their story of communal harassment by the official.
In a series of tweets to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday, Tanvi Seth, a Noida resident, complained that one of the officials who interviewed her did not approve her application and verbally lashed out at her for marrying a Muslim and not changing her name. Her husband said that the ministry of external affairs (MEA) employee also asked him to convert for their marriage to be ‘accepted’.
A day later, the MEA handed over their passports and promised “appropriate action” against the employee concerned.
Seth, who has been married to Mohammad Anas Siddiqui for 11 years, had applied for a new passport while her husband had submitted an application for a renewal. Both work in a private firm in Noida. They had been called for an interview on June 20. The initial process went smoothly, until they were directed to go to counter C-5.
In her tweet to Swaraj, Seth expressed anger and hurt at the treatment meted out by an official at the Passport Seva Kendra in Ratan Square in Lucknow:
@SushmaSwaraj hello ma’am I type this tweet with immense faith in justice and in you and ironically with a lot of anger / hurt and agony in my heart because of the way I was treated at the Lucknow passport office at Ratan Square by Mr. Vikas Mishra the reason because I marri 1/2
— Tanvi Seth (@tanvianas) June 20, 2018
@SushmaSwaraj 2/2 married a Muslim and not changed my name ever. He spoke to me very rudely and was loud enough for others to hear while discussing my case. I have never felt so harassed ever before. The other workers at the office acknowledged his rude demeanour.
— Tanvi Seth (@tanvianas) June 20, 2018
A copy of a letter tweeted by her husband gave more details about her harassment by the official, identified as Vikas Mishra. “Mr Mishra started checking my papers and the moment he saw the form, he exclaimed saying ‘Aapke saath to masla hai. Aapne Muslim se shaadi ki hai to aapka naam Tanvi Seth kaise ho sakta hai? (There is a glitch. You have married a Muslim, so how can your name be Tanvi Seth),” she wrote in the mail.
Seth pointed out that there is no law that forces a woman to change her name upon getting married and that her maiden name featured on all her legal documents. “He replied by saying ‘it is your duty to change your after name marriage. Every girl has to do that’,” she wrote in her complaint.
Seth apparently burst into tears when Mishra pronounced that she should not have married Anas. When she insisted that she didn’t want to change her name and that their families had no problem with this set-up, Mishra asked her to meet with the assistant passport officer (APO).
When she left to meet the APO, Anas said that Mishra turned towards him and shouted that he had to change his religion. “He asked me to convert my religion as Tanvi Seth is mentioned as my wife on my passport documents. He even humiliated me by asking me to convert my name, religion, do phera and said a lot of things related to this,” Anas told The Wire.
When the couple brought their grievance before the APO, the latter was sympathetic and asked them to file a complaint. “He (APO) said that this is not the first case that they have had like this. He said that my token went to the wrong man and that there have been many complaints about this specific person,” said Anas.
They were directed to return on Thursday morning, and Tanvi Seth was told to meet the regional passport officer in Lucknow.
“This is a clear case of moral policing/religious prejudice and lack of chivalry while talking to a woman. I was made to feel absolutely insulted and demeaned by Mr Mishra to the extent that I broke and had to use my inhaler because of the breathing problem caused by excessive crying. I never expected to be harassed like this at a government office like this,” said Seth in her written complaint to the minister.
She claimed that other employees at the passport office encouraged her to pursue the grievance since the concerned officer is “known for misbehaving”. “It is absolutely harrowing, insulting and demeaning when your case is being discussed loudly enough for other applicants to hear and laugh”.
Seth asked for the ‘hold’ on their passport application to be removed and action to be taken against Mishra.
After being tagged by an aide of Swaraj, MEA secretary (CPV) D.M. Mulay sought a report from the Regional Passport Office on Thursday.
@rpolucknow: Pl send me report on this tomorrow.
— D. M. Mulay (@CPVIndia) June 20, 2018
On Thursday morning, the couple were handed over their new passport booklets by the regional passport officer Peeyush Verma in front of the media.
— RPO Lucknow (@rpolucknow) June 21, 2018
Speaking to reporters, Verma said that a show cause notice was issued to Mishra and that appropriate action would be taken. “We regret the incident and will ensure it is not repeated,” he said.
It is not clear what action the MEA – which has yet to issue any kind of public statement about the harassment the couple were subjected to – has taken to ensure that such incidents do not occur again. “We hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else. In 11 years of marriage, we never faced this. Officials later apologised to us and we got our passports,” she said.
This story was updated on June 21.