The Indian society is one that is intricately woven with threads of traditions, values and culture. A culture that is impregnated with the notion of the 'ideal family'. A culture that reveres, and glorifies motherhood.
For a majority of the female population in our country, the Indian dream amounts to finding the perfect life partner, making babies and looking after them. In India, for the longest time, a woman's worth has for the most part been determined in terms of her home-making skills and her ability to bear a heir to the family she is married into.
The Indian society deems that motherhood is a woman's destiny, the only way a woman's being can be rendered whole.
We women have thrived in the inherently patriarchal setup for decades now, fitting into the mould of the ideal bharatiya naari. Of course, there is no denying the fulfilment that comes along with being a mother, building a beautiful, functional family. But as more and more women are becoming financially independent, with the onset of the modern-traditional dichotomy, a large number of women are breaking out from the status quo.
Married Indian women, in harmony with their partners, are making the informed, well thought out decision of opting out of motherhood.
Being child-free is a reality for married women in India today, and the reasons cited for this seemingly drastic measure within the Indian setup are indicators of an empowered mindset.
Child Free by Choice India is a blog that chronicles the accounts of Indians who choose to remain childless, connecting people with similar experiences, and initiating discussions on a variety of topics like "being pro-choice, the social stigma, fear of old age and even loneliness". It is a refreshing, emancipating movement that has been brewing in the nation.
Featured on the blog is Indrani Mukherjee's account (originally published in Tehelka Magazine), where she says "For urban middle class couples, having children is no longer a must. Women are unwilling to carry the burden alone and find happiness without the patter of little feet."
Amidst the stigma, shame and raised eyebrows that this decision to remain childless draws, urban women cite a variety of reasons to steer clear of motherhood. And considering motherhood to be a hindrance of one's career is not the central reason that triggers this resolution.
In a report published by The Hindustan Times, social scientist Amrita Nandy, who wrote a paper titled Outliers of Motherhood, broke down some of the reasons cited by women to remain childless. “Most were driven by concerns about the ecology and cultural environment, put off by high levels of pollution, consumption, materialism and crime. They all wondered why they should bring another human into this mess”, she says.
In the same report, family counsellor Gauri Dange was quoted to say “As we move towards a more individualistic society, with more nuclear families, the decision to have children is no longer made by the extended family, but by the couple. In the past few years, what it takes to raise a child has been defined,and there are enough women who just don’t want to do it.”
“To my mind, motherhood feels like a form of bondage, in that there is so much responsibility, guilt and emotion that you are in danger of losing your logical self,” says a Mumbai-based marketing executive.
“I want the freedom to work on myself,” she adds. “I used to sing as a child, and I would like to pursue formal vocal training. I want to learn new things, pursue a PhD in mythology, maybe eventually teach it someday. Knowing me, every time I had to give a passion up for a child, I would probably end up resenting him or her.”
What needs to be realized is the fact that these women have taken charge of their own lives, defining their own purpose and setting their own standards of fulfilment, without blindly conforming to what society deems appropriate.
Another crucial factor that comes into play when it comes to bearing a child is that it needs to be a well thought out decision. Speaking to Amrita Mukherjee for her blog AmritaSpeaks, Suchismita Dasgupta, a Calcutta-based costume designer highlighted an inherent problem associated with bearing children that modern millennial couples often face.
"Everyone should have a reason to have a child. A child should not just ‘happen’ to you because that’s the way you have known things to ‘happen’. Some of my friends and acquaintances have given birth to a ‘bandaid’ child; they gave birth because they think the child will save their relationship", she says.
It is time we widen our horizons and appreciate the fact that women have the right to exercise their choice of not having children.
If a couple mutually decide against having kids, or a single woman chooses to opt out of motherhood, instead of writing them off as anomalies, it is pertinent we understand that motherhood is not the only means of deriving gratification in life as a woman.
In closing, Urvashi Buthalia's words as they appeared in liveMint resonate the truth of what it feels like to choose to be a child-free modern Indian woman:
"So what do we have in the end? The ‘naturalness’ of motherhood? The ‘curse’ of childlessness? A life filled with lack, with loss of what might have been? Or just another way of living?", she asks.