Why ‘ben’ & ‘bhai’ are thronging passport office


AHMEDABAD: Deepaben Shah, 49, a healthcare professional, recently made an application to the Regional Passport Office (RPO) and approached local newspapers for a name change, thanks to the ‘ben’ suffix in her name that proved a hurdle when she applied for a visa to travel abroad.
“My parents had added ‘ben’ in my name — my mother’s name also has it, and my father’s name has ‘bhai’. So, all my earlier documents had my name as ‘Deepaben’ whereas the college-onward documents, including my Aadhaar, have ‘Deepa’ as my name. When the documents reached the visa stage, I realised that it would cause problems,” she said, adding that once her name change is formalised, she will apply for the passport afresh.
Deepa’s case is by no means uncommon. A large number of people of Gujarati origin face the problem as it’s a cultural norm to add ‘ben’ to the names of women and ‘bhai’ to men’s names as a mark of respect. Be it Dhirubhai Ambani, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, or the state’s first CM Anandiben Patel, names are not complete without suffixes.
Officials at the RPO said that it’s an extension of the nature of speech common to the region. However, it creates roadblocks when the same is not uniform across the documents required for passport and visa.
Wren Mishra, RPO Gujarat, said they get about 4,000 applications a day of which one-fourth or 1,000-odd are related to change of name, change in place of birth or change in date of birth. Passport officials said that of these, around 800 are related to the addition or removal of suffixes including ‘ben’, ‘bhai’ and ‘Kumar’.
Due to such a high number of applications, the passport seva kendra (PSK) in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot are empowered to make the necessary changes if the documents are in place. “Earlier the work was carried out by the RPO,” said Mishra.
Officials said that compared to urban centres, the practice is more prevalent in semi-urban and rural pockets. Some of the documents required for the passport include the school-leaving certificate, Aadhaar, PAN card, and photo ID card such as the driving licence.
It’s not just about the removal of ‘ben.’ In one instance, said officials, a woman wanted to change ‘behen’ after her name to ‘ben’ to simplify it. The applicant, said ‘behen’ just added another layer of issues for her as there was no consistency in spelling it.
Kamlesh Shah, partner in a city-based advertising agency, said that on average, they place 20-odd advertisements daily in two newspapers according to the norm. “Majority of the name change applications are related to the removal or addition of suffixes. Another major category of name change is of a woman after marriage if she adopts a new name,” he said.


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