CHILD­BEAR­ING IS NOT A DUTY, IT’S A CHOICE

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - - Ht Think! - LALITA PANICKER lalita.panicker@hin­dus­tan­times.com

The pro­duc­tion of chil­dren is a prized theme with many of our po­lit­i­cal wor­thies. The lat­est and most sur­pris­ing per­son to sug­gest that more chil­dren be pro­duced so that ro­bots don’t take over more jobs is the sup­pos­edly tech-savvy Andhra Pradesh chief min­is­ter N Chan­drababu Naidu. A strange piece of ad­vice if I’ve ever heard one. And an anti-women one at that com­ing from Naidu who should surely know bet­ter.

He now joins a long and il­lus­tri­ous line of “have more chil­dren” pro­po­nents most of whom are Right-wing rab­ble-rousers. Sak­shi Ma­haraj and the VHP’s Pravin To­ga­dia have ad­vo­cated that Hindu women have as many as 10 chil­dren to counter the Mus­lim growth rate in its tracks. One such leader said that Kr­ishna had 16,108 wives with each of whom he had 10 chil­dren. We have no scrip­tural ev­i­dence of this but since when does that mat­ter all that much.

What is galling is this easy ad­vice to women to pro­duce chil­dren as though this were a pain­less rite of pas­sage and the duty of women. And this is what is wrong with the whole ap­proach to pop­u­la­tion sta­bil­i­sa­tion. It is all up to the wo­man who in­ci­den­tally has lit­tle say in her fam­ily size. Women, who are de­prived of many rights, are sup­posed to fight for Hindu dom­i­nance when it comes of the imag­i­nary crunch, with their child bear­ing weapons.

This is in­tru­sive and rep­re­hen­si­ble to say the least. Can any of th­ese peo­ple as­sure women that th­ese vast num­bers of chil­dren they are to pro­duce will be given the right in­puts for a healthy life? Or will the wo­man be given the sup­port she needs to take care of th­ese chil­dren in the form of mon­e­tary as­sis­tance and health­care? No, no one talks about that. I find this most anti-women at­ti­tude on the part of politi­cians and ‘spir­i­tual lead­ers’ so un­in­formed, es­pe­cially when they bandy th­ese con­cepts of mass re­pro­duc­tion around so ca­su­ally.

In fact, we’re a nation ob­sessed with child­bear­ing. In the con­ser­va­tive parts of In­dia, which are con­sid­er­able, if a wo­man does not pro­duce chil­dren within months of mar­riage, she is con­sid­ered in­fe­rior and sub­ject to taunts and threats. I re­mem­ber fac­ing a few caus­tic re­marks from those in my own “pro­gres­sive” fam­ily when I did not have chil­dren for over two years after mar­riage. The kind­est of th­ese would be “Is every­thing all right, don’t hes­i­tate if you need a good doc­tor, I can give you some num­bers.” It never oc­curred to any­one that this might be my choice.

Women who pro­duce more chil­dren are seen as those who are more ful­filled, the epit­ome of fem­i­nin­ity and grace. A man in a re­la­tion­ship is rarely blamed for a cou­ple’s in­abil­ity to have chil­dren. The wo­man who is un­able to bear chil­dren is of­ten also sub­ject to abuse as good for noth­ing as com­pared to other women in the fam­ily who have ful­filled their role as proud moth­ers to chil­dren, es­pe­cially sons. One com­mon re­frain is that the child­less cou­ple will have no one to look after them in old age though we know well that chil­dren are no guar­an­tee of old age se­cu­rity.

To come back to th­ese calls for pro­duc­ing more chil­dren, the same politi­cians are also those who pre­scribe strong fam­ily plan­ning mea­sures, again aimed at the women in the form of ster­il­i­sa­tion with ap­prov­ing nods to China’s ear­lier co­er­cive and cruel pro­gramme. So, the mes­sage is that while a smaller fam­ily is a de­sir­able op­tion, when it comes to nu­mer­i­cally out­strip­ping other com­mu­ni­ties, the Hindu wo­man must mind­lessly pro­duce chil­dren. In Naidu’s case, we can only as­sume that he sim­ply doesn’t know what he is talk­ing about.

Ei­ther way, it is stag­ger­ing in its ab­sur­dity. Child­bear­ing is not a wo­man’s duty — it’s her choice, and cer­tainly we don’t need some politi­cian or spir­i­tual leader to make those for us.

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