Anita Mishra is a 31-year old working woman. Confident, competent and caring, just like any other modern woman. She is a mother. And a father. With a failed marriage behind her and two twin- children, she describes how it was during and after the divorce.
The fight for respectable existence is a hard one for most single mothers in India. They may be widows, walked out on or divorced, or simply spinsters, the society’s view is still very narrow-minded regarding them. Like Anita says “‘Where’s the father/husband?’ is an extremely common question, from school admission to places like supermarkets. Every legal document requires information on my husband. On knowing the truth, Government officials change their mannerisms. From behenji/bhabhiji, it is now Anitaji. And their behavior exhibit mannerisms likened to a predator surveying its prey. I have no man in my life, true, but that doesn’t mean that I have no support or that I’m easy prey. I can very well take care of myself.”
She also described an experience that happened to her. A man stalked her for 3 months and even offered to marry her. On further investigation it was found that he was already married. “Since I am a divorcee, it is assumed that I am craving for a man in my life or that I’ll grab the first opportunity that comes along. Nothing can be more wrong, there are many single mothers who are happily bringing up their children and excelling in doing so.”
On asked whether she has ever had moments where she felt bouts of self-pity, she replies “Of course, you do sometimes, especially when you are fresh out of your divorce and there are happy couples around you. The reaction of people regarding you and your status in the society changes overnight. People pity you, your children, your parents, grandparents. The older generation, even your own family sometimes, they blame you, call you a woman of no morals, threaten to take your children away, even call you incapable of handling them because of your divorce.”
“Furthermore, my children also face the brunt of the society. Gown ups I can manage, but facing my twins’ questions is something I still have to learn get used to.”
There are many NGOs and upcoming organizations for single mothers in India that help single mothers cope with change, society and also rehabilitate the rural widows.
“When I joined the NGO, I was apprehensive, but now I consider it to be the best decision. Not only do I get to help other women like me, I have made a support system of single mothers for myself. I learned from working there that I had really got off easy. My situation is nothing compared to the women we have rehabilitated, especially those in the rural areas where widows are treated as bad-luck. Not just that, they are believed to have brought upon the death of her husband. Widows are still not allowed to participate in any ceremony including those of her children!” she tells, out of breath with indignation.”
And what about unmarried single mothers?
“Well” she says “An unmarried woman is an easy target for gossip and discrimination, those who want to become mothers have a very hard time. Adoption is quite a problem for them, and even after that, they don’t get the due respect. It’s not only a case of turning deaf ear to the gossip; it is also about answering uncomfortable questions which are sometimes downright rude. My friend once had to answer questions about her sexuality just because she was an unmarried woman who had an adopted child. People also believe them to be of low character, as to why, I am still unable to fathom”
Not everyone is a Sushmita Sen, the fight for a respectable identity in the society for single mothers still has a long way to go. But that said, I respect Anita, for being a mother and a father. For facing everything with a smile. For doing everything for her children without ever being bogged down by the society. For being what a woman is supposed to be- A separate and independent entity. A good, sound human being that the her children can lean on.
*name changed on request