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The Supreme Court Judgment About Single Mothers That’s Breaking Taboos

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By Ankita Ghosh:

My friend Diksha (name changed) has never known her dad. Her mum has always made up for the absence of a male parent, very commensurately, alternating between twin roles of mother and father. Having been very close to the family I remember her as one of those rare few parents that sat her kid down when she was 11 and explained to her how babies were made while I was facing hell with puberty. Diksha understood with the unobtrusive innocence of a pre-teen that she was born ‘out of wedlock’, and while she could ask her mother on rainy nights about what Baba liked for breakfast, she never needed him around to make her any. Mother and daughter lived with surprising clarity until she had to go to junior school. There they had a hard time getting her admitted because the ‘father’ field had to go unmarked and reality hit home for the first time. Mrs. Roy was using her maiden surname without making apologies for it but when little Diksha asked her what a ‘bastard’ meant and why an older child from the neighborhood had called her that, Roy cried in her bed.

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Single mothers are systematically shamed in a society that still goes by archaic patriarchal notions of identity. Single parenting is undoubtedly harder than raising a child conforming to the social institution of marriage and twice as much demanding. Studies reveal that it’s usually harder for lone mothers than single fathers as the former are more likely to be blamed, ostracized and face destitution. Globally one-quarter to one-third of all families with children have mothers as the sole care-givers including unwed, divorced and widowed women. And yet there are many women today that go ahead with childbirth and subsequent rearing, without a man, simply because they haven’t met one they fancy for fathering their child and won’t settle for someone only resembling Mr. Right. Several single women today are adopting children or opting for planned childbirth through surrogacy or Assisted Reproductive Technology, or simply making a choice against aborting a ‘love child’.

The Supreme Court in early July overruled the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956 awarding legal guardianship of children to their single mothers. This has been a laudable effort towards ensuring legal security to the likes of Mrs. Roy and a healthy psychological environment, where mother and child aren’t ridiculed. Anindita Sarbadhicari, a filmmaker based out of Kolkata who gave birth to a biological offspring through Assisted Reproductive Technology is glad because, “….it’s not just that our society has moved light years in terms of breaking taboos, but the state also validates this change.” The still pending ART bill can ensure a low cost-incurring and a favorable legal environment for commercial surrogacy in India and at the same time help single women/men or couples in live-in relationships to have kids.

The July ’15 judgment has marked a watershed moment as the Supreme Court cleared up the mire around rights of guardianship to single mothers that had up until then mandated disclosure of father’s identity. This was following a 2011 approach for appellate justice by a plaintiff, whose plea was ruled out by Delhi High Court, when she filed for guardianship without wanting to disclose the name of her child’s father. The judgment explains that an unwed mother can be legally authorized as her child’s sole guardian without bothering with the father’s consent. The ruling made explicit recognition of a woman’s fundamental Right to Privacy and withdrew mandatory requirement of father’s name on birth certificate, passport and school paperwork. Additionally Section 11 of Guardians and Wards Act seeks to repeal the stigma of ‘illegitimacy’ borne by children lacking one parent. The SC mentions that, “…Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act intends to bring about social reforms, conferment of social status of legitimacy on a group of children, otherwise treated as illegitimate…” hinting at children of live-in relationships. Despite this landmark decision, laws governing identity of children not born out of heterosexual/marital relationships still have operational ambiguity like in matters of inheritance, banking, investment and insurance.

While America fought Biblical opposition to abortion almost half a century ago, in India a woman’s rights have come to concentrate around the right to abort or terminate the life of an unborn child. Rights of a woman to willfully keep a child, despite the biological father having taken off, or to explore alternative ways to natural pregnancy are conveniently ignored. Adoption becomes a crusade through government offices, while adoption agencies prefer married couples over single women, and require a minimum of 30 years of age and a difference of 21 years with the adopted child. Legislations are only part of the battle won and with society’s searchlights trained on the two, the real trials begin once baby is united with mother.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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