Celeb journo and TV anchor Barkha Dutt raked in the applause when she argued (convincingly) on a videshi forum for the need to stop stereotyping India as the land of rapists and woman-baiters. “In the West, people are still arguing over rights to abortion…whereas that’s not even a debate we have in India,” she said, bringing home India’s great victories – but that’s only partially true.
We are a country (where at least on paper) the woman has a right to her womb. This brings me to the point of writing: if it’s her right to have kids (or not), doesn’t she also have the right not to be forced to explain the same either? For that matter, so does her partner.
Unfortunately, it’s not the lack of legislation that’s the problem. It’s the lack of cultural sensitivity. When someone’s been married for an X number of years and doesn’t have kids, it’s everybody’s business to find out just why.
We, Indians, are inquisitive, friendly, warm … and child loving. Also, our basic social fabric is woven closely around lives around us … a little too close for comfort. And it’s time things changed in some regard at least.
Lives today are complex enough and to have kids or not is a couple’s choice – and their doctor’s business. Information is available and so is medical advice. Umm … so where does that leave ‘concerned’ friends and neighbours? Nowhere actually. But do they recognize that? Sadly, no.
Across barriers of education, class, gender and age, they continue to dole out both: Unwarranted sympathy and advice. Sure, most people mean well, and that makes it worse.
Ask anyone who’s been at the receiving end – and the pattern is familiar. “What’s the problem? Is it you…or your hubby? Have you tried IVF yet? I know just the clinic for you.”
Or “I know Dr X and X. He’s a magician, I tell you…”
No matter how high-tech the advice, it comes from the most primitive space: that having kids is proof of one’s normalcy. That not having them means something is wrong, very wrong.
In some cases, the choice is taken away from the couple for various medical reasons. That decision is not theirs to make – nature took the call for them. In most others, the choice is around – only deferred, maybe due to careers and cash crunches or plain old bad timing.
In both scenarios, there is a clear boundary line guarding this space – for those who bother to look. A boundary line that makes no exceptions: not for friends and not for family. ‘Worried’ or not.
Not unless advice or information is explicitly asked for.
As for gyaan on whether or not a childless couple should adopt, once again, this is tricky territory. There are responsible agencies and support groups to take the couple through the paces – should they choose to act in that direction. All in their own good time. Chances are they are considering it. Chances are they aren’t. But one fact is almost a given: they’re going through a lot. Asking them ‘what’s wrong’ and compelling them to confide in you is not the thing to do.
Understand that, if you can, and cut them slack by not gossiping about them or telling them what to do. Believe it or faint, there are quite a few ‘childless’ ones who actually resent being misguided and miserable. Even those in their late thirties who still haven’t felt the biological urge to go forth and breed…
In an age where making colonies on Mars is a none-too-distant reality, it’s tragic to continue button-holing and reducing people to the sum total of their reproductive choices or limitations!
Especially the woman. Guess what? It is her womb – and her life. While the law isn’t debating either, society still has its doubts and even the most skilled spokespersons for India can’t talk their way out of this one!