Posted by Sadhika Saha
When is the last time you heard your mother make any demands for her own well being? More often than not, she does not, because our mothers are meant to be strong, right? From providing for all of our needs and sacrificing her own joys in the process, she has always chosen to prioritise us. An invincible figure that has sheltered us throughout. This is the mother whose glory we find in every second poem recited by children of age five or the one shown in Bollywood classics or commercials aired on the TV on Mothers’ Day and Women’s Day that show happy moms breaking their backs to make sure her family is doing well. That is exactly the problem this article intends to highlight.
This culture of glorifying the sacrificial aspect of motherhood has led to mothers being put on a pedestal verbally while simultaneously erasing the fact that she is ultimately human and has needs just like every other person in the family. Should the strength of endurance be compared to the mental strength of a person? More importantly, is it even voluntary endurance when she does not have a choice but to adhere to the expectations and labels the society has set on her?
When you look at this objectively, the sari you bought for your mother with your first salary does not satisfy the level of endurance she has shown silently through out the years. Mothers should be treated like humans every day, instead of being pampered on specific days their offspring accomplishes something. This is especially because motherhood is not the only identity a woman should be bound to and her worth definitely does not depend on how accomplished her child is.
According to The Swaddle, housewives accounted for the second-highest percentage of all suicide victims in India in 2018. In other words, every sixth victim of suicide in India is a housewife. To put things into perspective – women occupy around 20% of India’s labour work force according to Catalyst.org as of 2020. Since it is Labour Work Force, one may assume that they belong to the rural background and rural population makes up 65.53% of India’s total population as stated by the World Bank in 2019. Only 9 countries have lower female participation than India. Hence, most women in India are housewives. Rural women often start childbearing in their adolescents and hence most of the housewives in this context are mothers.
Whether a working mother or a housewife, whether a mother from a rural background or urban, this pandemic has revealed the intense pressure mothers are burdened with. National Women’s Commission recorded a distinct spike in the number of calls from victims of domestic abuse in 2020. The conclusion most people jump right into is: She should have left the family. A National Family Health Survey revealed in 2015 – 2016 that one-third of Indian women experienced domestic violence. Practically speaking, leaving is never a solution for women who continue to be denied educational and employment opportunities and rights to ancestral property, leaving most of them dependent on their husbands/sons/fathers. Therefore leaving is not exactly a solution.
Moreover, it should not come as a surprise that India prefers dead daughters over divorced daughters. The taboo is not restricted to the rural population or the daily soaps on television which demonise divorced women. It has a clear presence in the urban society that even extends to nonsensical notions such as divorced women bring bad luck in weddings and feminists cause divorces. Here are certain quotes by single mothers as told to Scroll.in, on the stereotypical notions held against them by the society:
- “I find that people often think single mothers are on the lookout to get their babies new fathers. That is usually far from the truth.”
- “Single fathers are seen as poor stray puppies that need to be looked after and taken care of. They aren’t expected to do it all alone; they need to find a partner to take care of them, and their children need a mother. This might have nothing to do with how the single father himself behaves or wants things to be, but it is how society mostly responds to them.”
- “Another strange thing I encounter is that women often start telling me about how they are also almost single mothers, because the husband is so busy. This really annoys me, because they have no idea what single parenting entails. No financial support, no emotional, moral or physical support. You’re a friggin’ one-woman army.”
Does that mean that an urban, married mother who works has it easy? The reality says otherwise. A considerable percentage of women quit their work after bearing a child if not right after marriage. Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO, had stated in an interview:
“A woman’s career clock and biological clock are in total conflict. If you somehow managed to get back to work post-maternity, that innate gut-wrenching guilt of not being a good enough mother will ensure you give up your career for your child. In progressive societies, there is very little family support and more so today given the increasing instances of nuclear families. Hence the dependence on outside help to take care of their little ones is more stressful for new mothers. This is further complicated when the spouse is not supportive.”
But is it true? Do working mothers create a void in her child’s initial year? According to a study by University College of London, “Mothers do not harm their young children emotionally or socially by going out to work, according to research that offers reassurance to women worried about juggling jobs and family responsibilities. In fact, girls seem to gain from being in a household where their mother works, according to an analysis of families with children born in 2000. In a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, a team from the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London found no evidence of detrimental effects on the young children of mothers working part-time or full-time.”
However, the notion persists. According to a report from 2016, the participation of women in the workforce in India had declined by 27% by 2014, ranking at 16th lowest in the world. In a country like India where gender disparity is at large, women often have to compromise their goals and aspirations. When one takes away a person’s financial freedom, the person automatically becomes dependent on others for their needs and that affects a person’s mental health.
Majority of present day religious customs and practices are unfair to women and is centred around the “purity” of a woman. Baseless practices are nothing but a tool to enforce patriarchy. In a national consultation on the theme “Impact of Religion and Culture on Women’s Empowerment – An Indian Perspective” conducted by Streevani, discussions by several academicians took place on how India uses religion as a tool for manipulation of the masses where the harsh consequences are endured by women. Questions have been raised against the dominance of Manusmriti where women have been viewed in derogatory light and preaches that lives of women should be controlled by men. It further talks about how women internalise scriptures focusing on “impure” women as sinners which further pushes them to endure abuse. Pope Francis also hesitates retreating from the gendered mindset even though he occasionally talks about expanding roles of women. Questions were raised on the ban of triple talaq and how gender justice has been manipulated for political gain.
Therefore, one can conclude that religion acts as a disadvantage to mothers as they want to mould them to certain specific stereotypical roles only.
Hence, in a system that is completely rigged against mothers of all backgrounds and constantly shames and blatantly labels divorced mothers as home-wrecker of sorts even as openly as displaying them as villainous in daily soaps on the television, is it not high time for the State to intervene? The State has failed miserably when it comes to women safety in general. The constant exclusion and alienation of single mothers, the taboo, the depictions on television all need to change.
Even though research has proven that the mothers’ professional commitments are not directly related to children growing up with emotional deprivation, somehow it is often the most widely quoted reason to shame mothers into giving up their jobs and hence economic security. This idea stems from the belief that a girl child is born with the responsibility of sacrificing herself for every joy of the family, especially after marriage. This mental step-up not only sends the mother guilt-tripping if they choose to continue their career but also looks down upon husbands who contribute to household responsibilities.
More often than not, women have to now manage both the house and her professional life. Women who choose to be a housewife because also, ironically, get shamed by the society for not building a career and contributing financially to the family. Their household work is not perceived as a legitimate work but a duty or a responsibility marriage brings with it. The type one cannot complain about nor should try to get rid of.
In recent developments, a proposal is being considered by the Women and Child Development Ministry which will make men share a percentage of their income with wives if she chooses to be a housewife. Even though the idea seems noble, it is hard to imagine that a man will pay his wife in a household where she struggles to survive every day due to violence of various sorts.
Needless to say, that the State has to be more active in providing for mothers of this country. The rates of abuse, the neglect of mental health, the consequences of taboo and the rate of suicides of housewives in India are alarming. The pandemic has only made the circumstances worse.
Sadhika Saha is an aspiring poet and writer based in Kolkata with a keen interest in psychology who is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Business Administration. Her published works are a reflection of how these disciplines complement each other in shaping the consciousness of the society and portraying how it affects the marginalized in our community. She can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.