|HER WORLD||Sunday, September 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Adapting to the idea of adoption
I feel strongly
A recent recommendation by the Justice Malinath Committee to the Law Commission of India states that if a woman has been in a live-in relationship for a reasonable period, she should enjoy the legal rights of the wife. It is said that if the government accepts this recommendation, the term ‘wife’ may be redefined in law, says
ARE you aware of the term ‘common law wife’? This is one of the oldest terms in legal terminology, which indicates that a woman living with a man without a lawful marriage can still be considered to have rights similar to those of a legal wife. Her children can claim similar rights to the property of their father as those born of a legal marriage. The phrase ‘common law wife’ has its origin in British law. In India, the custom of men and women living together without marriage has been in practice for millenniums. In olden days, rich men, zamindars, princes and nawabs in India not only had several wives, but also several live-in women in their zenanas. It was not at all considered ‘immoral’ for men to have live-in relationships with women outside their marriage. Indeed, in all parts of India, it was common for a man of means to maintain an additional household for his entertainment and relaxation away from his responsibilities.
This mindset changed in India to a certain degree when Independence came and the era of princes, nawabs and zamindars came to grinding halt. With monogamous marriages becoming the order of the day, less and less men could pursue their earlier lifestyles. The spread of education among women and their new awareness of their rights and dignity also contributed greatly to the decline—at least among the middle class-of the extra-marital-live-in lifestyle of men.
However, as the last decades of the twentieth century passed, a new avatar of the live-in lifestyle emerged. Men and women in Western society began to experiment with ‘living in’ with each other without marriage. This happened more often in the last 50 years after World War II, when the value system in Western societies suffered a serious setback. Religion took a back seat and the old moral codes became dysfunctional. Short-term joys became more attractive than ever before. The reasons were many. The trauma of the war had broken down the strong Victorian moral codes. Casual sex, snatched pleasures, more explicit sexual literature, films, books etc. hit the market and held the pleasure-starved, war-torn populations in a trance of hedonism. Many couples lived ‘in sin’ in the post-war years. Some claimed that they did not want the responsibility of marriage. Others said that marriage as a legal bond held no sanctity for them and their self-designed bond was far more acceptable. yet others found it convenient and less expensive to run one household and spend more time with each other than meet each evening. Living in is no longer considered an ‘aberration’ in most Western societies today.
Indian society however, did not approve of ‘living in’ arrangements for several reasons. The most important among these was the tradition that Indian women are expected to remain virgins till they marry. In fact, chastity is a major issue in the social behaviour of a woman. A woman with pre-marital sexual experience or with a history of ‘living in’ with a man has almost no chances of being accepted in normal society or becoming the wife of any respectable man.
Secondly, most Indian women, even today are financially dependent on men and hence, have to accept a very low status if they agree to a ‘live-in’ arrangement with a man. Social criticism and stigma are a third reason why such arrangements are avoided by young men and women. Almost always, the families of both partners wash their hands off the young couple, leaving them to face the ups and downs of life on their own. A woman, when abandoned by her ‘live-in’ partner, is rarely accepted by her family. Further, any children born of such arrangements are tainted with stigma and ignominy.
This is not to say that ‘living in’ is not common in India. If it is common in rural areas or small towns, it is because women get drawn into such arrangements by circumstances. It is visible in metro cities when the media highlights the lives of celebrities from the entertainment industry. It is, however, to be noted that hardly any people from the world of industry or politics publicise their ‘live in’ arrangements if at all.
A recent recommendation by the Justice Malinath Committee to the Law Commission of India states that if a woman has been in a ‘live in’ relationship for a reasonable period, she should enjoy the legal rights of the wife. It is said that if the government accepts this recommendation, the term ‘wife’ may be redefined in law. Many people think this is a step in the right direction in a fast-changing society. Others feel that India is not yet ready for such a law because most women who are in ‘live-in’ relationships are victims of male arrogance and oppression. "It is very well for celebrities to publicise their private lives. But in reality, women in such relationships are not widely accepted in Indian society," say social observers.
Others like television star Jaya Bhattacharya (Payal in Kyun ki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi) say that this law is not necessary. "I choose to live with my partner Mazahaar Rahim because it is convenient to do so. I don’t want ties or children. I want to earn lots of money. So this arrangement suits me admirably." Most women with celebrity status feel that ‘live-in’ is a convenience-based relationship.
However, in India, where even the break-up of a legal marriage puts a woman at a disadvantage, the woman in a ‘live-in’ relationship suffers even more with a break-up and becomes an ‘abandoned’ woman. "Such an arrangement gives a man the freedom to walk out any time. Few if any, women are equipped to pick up the pieces and walk out successfully from such relationships," say social observers, "Past experience has proved that co-habiting couples have more conflicts and are unhappy even when they eventually marry. The rejection of families and friends is hard to bear and creates stress in such relationships."
ON the night of August 14, when I was stuck on the 18th floor of a building in Manhattan, when I did not have the courage to go out through the dark hallways, down the stair-well that was pitch dark, I tiptoed back to my room and sat in bed like a scared child. I tried to look down from the window, at the street. I could see nothing. It was pitch dark—no people, no whizzing cars just the ominous siren of police cars tearing apart the darkness. I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. When I opened them, this time less anxious, I saw a clear cool light caught in the flaps of my window’s Venetian blind.
It was not a flying saucer but was indeed a heavenly object, a moon, the same blue moon which lights even this world and ours. Perhaps in a long time the New Yorkers were experiencing their first night of the full moon. Without the brazen myriad lights turning night into day the moon now had its finest hour. Its light played gently on the waters of the East River that seemed calm but still dark. Without the shimmer of reflecting street lights, without the lit boats crossing. The view of the river lulled me. From another shore, from another time came trailing the clear slow overtones of a voice that was of Jawaharlal Nehru making his tryst with destiny.
On a night such as this perhaps, on August 14, 1947, it was freedom at midnight in India. It was the hour of a promised dawn. More than 50 years later, it is midnight again. It is August 14, it is dark again. But the dawn seems distant. I am in New York city in the worst black-out in U.S history. It is not a darkness that is natural, the kind that descends when the sun turns red from gold and deceives the world briefly with a roseate glow before it dips down the horizon urging out a metallic blue, then grey, then black, slowly, in stages. But this darkness, so black and sudden is eerie, not a colour that the city knows or understands. It is charged with a simmering tension. Is it a terrorist attack? That fear is uppermost in the mind of every New Yorker. I am used to black-outs but not the kind that reduces the most powerful city in the world to a total stop that makes life seem so vulnerable, so uncertain. I live in a city where power-cuts are a way of life. I am accustomed to sitting in my home in Delhi sweating and cursing the heat, freezing and shuddering in the cold. But I do not live on the 18th floor. I can step out on the street and feel the dark. It is less awesome. I am also used to living without running water, using a half-filled mug to brush my teeth, another few mugs to bathe. But there are always large plastic buckets around waiting to be filled.
However, in my friend’s home on the 18th floor that has splendid views of New York city and the East River, there are no buckets to be filled. I can’t imagine those large ugly containers cluttering the polished bathrooms that serve as meditation spaces for my friend who spends hours talking on the phone, her way of releasing tension. To have empty vessels for emergency purposes such as a black-out has not yet occurred to her. She did though stock her drawers with flash-lights and candles after 9/11. That date was a water shed in the life of even the most invulnerable Americans. My friend, who dared taking the subway to the World trade Center minutes after it was blown up to help distribute food to the hungry and wounded now keeps cans of food stacked in the kitchen cupboard.
"We have lots of tuna cans" she says. But what about tomatoes I want to ask. In her fridge on the night of August 14, there are no fresh vegetables, no fruits, not enough milk. Water is running out of the fridge and the food has begun to rot. The left-over Chinese noodles and string beans, limp now in the garlic sauce, ordered two nights before from Miss Saigon, the corner Vietnamese restaurant, have begun to stink in the cardboard containers. It is better to say NO then be sorry advises the city’s Mayor on the radio.
My survival instincts groomed through years of living in a Third World are sparked as I just manage to retrieve a box of white rice. With nothing more than two eggs and a chopped onion I turn it into a Indian-style fried rice. But my friend has no salt in the house. She eats saltless diets. Sugarless tea. But she has a pile of Chinese fortune cookies that taste sweet and amuse her with promised good things. But now they all seem distant. Sitting in a dark apartment, gazing at New York’s brooding skyline we do not believe the wise men who packed wisdom in bits of paper to woo the eaters with tasty fortunes. Secretly, I bless my rice-eating ancestors who conditioned me into the culture of rice. When everything fails, a bowl of rice elevates the morale. For millions in India there is always rice with at least a green chilli or an onion, for Cubans cut off by years of sanctions, it is rice and black beans, for millions in Vietnam where a war-ravaged and poisoned expanses of fields there were still patches of paddy around each home. The Vietnamese reverence for the staple is so high that they bury their elders in the green paddy fields with the belief that the spirit of the ancestors will strengthen the grain. That thought spiked our own sagging spirit as we sat and ate the leftover white rice packed so tightly in a white box by a Vietnamese chef.
The rice we hoped will
give us the resilience to face this dark hour as it must have to
millions of Vietnamese doomed to many more years of darkness and hunger.
The rice did sustain us through part of the next day, helped my friend’s
spirit from not sagging and gave me the strength to finally walk down 18
floors with a flash light, with the hope that I will touch the ground
Adapting to the idea of adoption
When it comes to adoption, there are too many questions asked and doubts and apprehensions expressed in the Indian context. The predominant fear of the couple is the level of acceptability of the child as far as the joint family is concerned, says
A female elephant takes care of an orphaned baby along with its own. It gives milk, takes care of it, trains it and generally looks after its adopted child. Leave alone bringing up children along with one's own, Indians find it difficult to adopt children even if they don't have any. In the Indian context, there are too many questions asked, doubts and apprehensions expressed. The fear about the level of acceptability as far as joint family is concerned is predominant.
" Adoption is a very noble thing," says Dr. Ritu Kohli," Parents are doing good to themselves as well the child. A point of concern is the background of the child, i.e nature verses nurture. Scientists will argue that an individual will turn out what his genes will make him into. However, the second outlook is that it is the bringing up of the child that matters . The training ,the values taught will decide the nature of the child. I think the truth is somewhere in between the two. Intelligence can be genetic but its development depends upon the kind of training imparted to it." The chromosomes undergo mutations all the time and environment definitely plays a part in shaping the personality of the child.
Essentials for adoption: Acceptance by the family and that includes grandparents or whosoever is to be in close association with the child.
A comfortable income so that the child does not lag behind in education for want of finances.
The presence of both the parents (however, some institutions give babies to single parents as well).
Specified age of the mother (generally 40-42 years.) The basic education of the child should be at least matric. If acceptance is not there within the family then the child is at the receiving end. The absence of any one of the parents, be it mother or father can create a void in the child.
The fears of some couples are unfounded. The truth is that each parent is trying to do the best for his child, adopted or not and nobody can question it. There is an increasing awareness amongst couples to relieve themselves of the trauma of emptiness by adoption. Deepali (name changed) is a successful architect. After eight years of trauma which included many IVFs, the couple decided to go in for adoption. "The outlook of people has changed. I am happy to say that each member of our family supported our decision. There has not been any problem in acceptance. Once the child comes it makes a place for itself. This was the right time to adopt. If we kept on hoping, the yearning as well as age would only have increased. The maternal and paternal instinct are the same In fact, I might go in for a second adoption next year so that our daughter does not feel lonely. There is a friend of ours who has adopted three children and says he wants five. Another went in for adoption after only two years of marriage when they found that it is not possible for them to have children.. My suggestion to all such couples would be to accept the facts as quickly as possible and go in for adoption instead of undergoing so much struggle needlessly. The mental blocks are there only so long as you allow them to be there."
Sunidhi (name changed) explains, " I was told by my doctor that chances of my conceiving were very little. Instead of waiting for some kind of miracle we decided to go in for adoption . My son is now five years old and it has never crossed our mind that he is adopted. Even our maid welcomed the baby. Certain people think that an adopted child is some kind of specimen but what is the difference? Fine, you are not feeding the baby but so many biological mothers too are unable to do so. The rapport, the love, the identification of the baby with you is the same as in other cases. When our son is around eight I will tell him that he has been adopted. Instead of someone else telling him and that too when he has reached teens, it is better that it should come from us and at the right time so that there is no alienation."
In fact, revealing to the
child that he or she is adopted is very important and that too at the
right age, roughly around seven to eight years. There are instances of
children taking to drugs or fall into bad company if they are told about
it in their teens. The child is already undergoing physical, mental as
well as emotional changes. Another thing that the parents do out of
frustration when their child does not turn out fine is to start accusing
the child about his doubtful parentage. That is the worst damage a
parent can do to his or her child.
Saaniya (name changed) also comments that her child got a beautiful welcome when she brought him home. However, she feels that it is mentioned in the birth certificates of such children that he or she is adopted. "At every step when admissions in schools or colleges are taken papers regarding adoption have to be furnished. Even the passport is a reminder." One hopes the government does away with this formality. Even if society accepts, the government will not let us forget. Once the child is ours it is ours."
Society has changed and will change more but certain mindsets still have to change. People, especially from the North, tend to ask more for boys for adoption. It goes to the credit of recognised agencies that they first try to settle a girl child. The very fact that none of the above parents wanted their identities to be disclosed indicates that there is still some kind of reservation regarding the reaction of the people.
"The principal reason behind it is , says Ritu Kohli, " is that people are insensitive. The very fact that a couple has adopted a child indicates that it has already crossed a social boundar. It is actually the insensitivity of the people that they are trying to shield their child from." Our society needs to open up especially since the medical statistics show the rise of infertility in the present times.
You can contact:
Sister Superior, Missionaries of Charity in Sector 23-A, Chandigarh. (Tel:705156)
Kamla Sharma, Bal Niketan, Sector 2, Panchkula. (Tel:560780).
I feel strongly
THESE days I am enchanted by green fields and trees rather than by tall, dark and handsome boys. They give me back soothing and healing energy, while boys very often look dumb with their eyes casting idiotic glances towards me.
However, attractive they look, they do not penetrate mind-deep. They fail to stir your deepest core. Sitting by a flower, I feel drawn towards it. I want to feel it, smell it and let it become a part of me.
I want to imbibe the freshness of morning mist so that it becomes an inseparable part of me. As far as boys are concerned, they trigger in me an unending stream of thought, ruffling the nervous system. I feel restless as I deal with various questions that keep popping in my mind about them. This interest subsequently takes one towards a new direction.
One wants to judge them. Are they nice and understanding and will one be happy while interacting with them?
Unconsciously, I am trying to reach their level. Further communication puts you in greater dilemma. Is something wrong with him or me? Why did he behave the way he did. . . . . . Why?
And if you get into a friendly relationship, you are bound to be in for small subtle shocks. For the more sensitive ones, these ‘small nothings’ acquire a big dimension. It does not take long to realise that this relationship is neither nourishing nor enriching. On the contrary, it has gradually become both, a big drain and is painful too.
It is not so with flowers. They do not create ripples of thought waves in you. Instead, if you have any such restlessness, they gradually have a calming effect on you. They tend to make one stop if one keeps on looking towards them lovingly. After a while, you will feel a bit silent and if you make it a part of your daily routine, fulfilment is not far away. They do not give you emotional or mental baggage which relationships burden you. Stars, sky, trees and flowers exude a silent warm radiance. So when you feel your quota of love towards fellow human beings is getting depleted and trust shaken, come back to the garden and open green spaces. In many cases , I have observed that the input in terms of mind, body and heart is too much for the other party to understand. For most of the young men this does not count much as their eyes are set on more practical things such as status or money. Relationships are their third or fourth priority. No wonder when they grow old, deep inside they repent for disrespecting love. It may manifest in form of nostalgia, guilt or even social work. A few of them do realise that thinking over it is like crying over split milk Nevertheless, repentance makes them better human beings. After all, nature has its own way of teaching us .