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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Women don’t need advice from politicians, spiritual leaders on childbearing

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

columns Updated: Apr 11, 2019 12:44 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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 mainly 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. Spiritual leader Ramanandacharya Rambhadracharya follows in their footsteps with advocating that women produce more children to bolster the Hindu faith. One such leader said that Krishna had 16,108 wives from 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 really 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 all the right inputs for a healthy life? Or for that matter 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 so-called spiritual leaders so uninformed, especially when they bandy these concepts of mass reproduction around so casually.

In fact, we are a nation obsessed with childbearing. In the conservative parts of India, which are considerable and vast, 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. On a more worrying note, in a society as conservative and patriarchal as ours, childlessness brings with it a sense of failure and exclusion from normal social interactions. 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 or that faced with growing unemployment, he came up with this solution to deflect attention from the real problem.

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.

Twitter: @LalitaPanicker

First Published: Sep 16, 2017 14:44 IST

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