Does Janamasthami signify more than a festival? Is it also about how over-rated motherhood is as a woman?

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

Earlier in the week, a close friend and I were discussing motherhood, its pros and cons and how modern women have so many medical options. 

She doesn’t want kids of her own, my friend, unsure of her maternal instincts. And I wish I had a hundred, one of my most enduring regrets of being single at 38. 

We laughed and shared our own personal heartaches and failures, my friend, a married woman, always being probed on why she was still childless and also grappling with her own journey to deciding she wanted none. 

The way I am often asked if I dread my old age, being an only child, the fear I personally nurse, of my personal history dying out in the absence of my own child. 

We went on to discuss parenthood, talking about how so many couples were unworthy parents in real life, my friend going on to cite an example of how she had often seen angry, impatient mothers beating up their kids mercilessly in the Metro on her way to office, just because they had scored a little less in their exams, or stories of fathers abandoning their child and refusing to take up any responsibility later. 

We talked of common women friends trying desperately to have kids, their own, mainly. And how despite all the progressive talk, and so-called empowerment that education is supposed to lend, most were actually adoption averse, wanting their own genes and a biological brilliance, perhaps. 

I reflected on our chat this morning, as my WhatsApp was flooded with colorful messages on Jnamasthami, the day traditionally celebrated as a festival that marks the birth of Lord Krishna, one of our most beloved deities. 

I think of all the songs sung in honour of his mother, Yashodha, equally venerated as a symbol of divine love and worshipped far and wide, and how she wasn’t his real mother, but an aunt of some sort entrusted to rear baby Krishna and keep him safe, somehow. 

How she was essentially a care-giver, first. I thought of how history has forgotten his natural mother, Devaki, and how apart from bearing him and birthing him in a dull prison cell, her contribution and remembrance are limited. 

I think of all the kids begging at street corners, orphanages teeming with abandoned children and hospitals where infants are often dumped at the gates, of children found in dirty trashcans. I think of how much love there is to give, inside us all. And why motherhood and family is an emotion and not merely duty bound. 

What if we could bend the rules? If women had the moral courage to tell their spouses they don’t want another IVF and to subject their bodies to another bout of medical experimentation, but want to adopt a child. Of single men and women taking the plunge and not being restricted by marriage, social norms and gender. 

In the end, how we can all be a mother, a sister, a friend, a family, to someone. Like Krishna and his mother, Yashoda, his muse, his mentor….

I remember reading a recent news report where Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, the Women and Child Development Minister pointed out that the adoption rate of 800 to 1,000 per year in India, which has around 50,000 orphan children, is “shameful” and how she wants 15,000 children to be adopted per year failing which the worst performing adoption agencies will be shut down immediately.

“I am actually appalled by all of you. I have found bottlenecks, idleness, unconcern, deliberate lying… in this process you have destroyed thousands of lives. When I joined in 2000, the adoption rate was 1,500-1,200, which tumbled to 400-800 per year. In a country that had got 50,000 orphans that can be adopted, it is shameful that the number is 800 to 1,000… and it continues to come down. We have found, for instance, the child welfare committees do not do home-checks up to two years. By that time the child becomes unadoptable. We have found that you are lying, you say there is no child, when your orphanage is full of children” she was quoted in the piece.

I try and co-relate this with the latest news report that the government has unveiled a draft law to ban commercial surrogacy, a move to block homosexuals, single parents, live-in partners and foreign couples from hiring Indian women to have a baby. 

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj saying yesterday that the new law would prohibit prospective gay parents as homosexuality went against the country’s values. 

“We do not recognize live-in and homosexual relationships … this is against our ethos,” she was quoted as saying in leading mainlines today. Swaraj also said that foreigners, including non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) were barred from opting for surrogacy, as ‘divorces are very common in foreign countries.’ Only infertile couples been married for at least five years could seek a surrogate, who must be a close relative. “There will be a complete ban on commercial surrogacy,” she added.

I wondered why this blanket ban? And was the announcement of an extended maternity leave recently, just a hogwash really, given that we are somewhere tacitly endorsing the view of the natural birthing process and parenthood as sacred, even from a legal perspective? 

Would this ban in any way promote adoptions – or would we see the same conservative, closeted mindset there again?