This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sumana Khan. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Hypocritical ‘Mother Tongue’ And The Dilemma Around It

More from Sumana Khan

Mother, an overhyped word with overhyped emotion. Shocked! Right? We say the mother is equivalent to God being present on earth in human form. She is supreme and the love she bestows on her child equates none. However, when it comes to giving the “mother” her right of simple shares, the patriarchy holds it all back with its insecurity. Right from the birth of a child to the end, the child along with the mother are bound to carry forth primarily the father’s “khandaan“, the ills, the goods, the whatever his last name would be attached with. The child becomes the “khandaan” ka chirag or whatever chirag’s female form is. One might argue here on the newly in vogue insertion of the mother’s name I say it doesn’t mean anything until it just remains as a middle name; and moreover, the mother’s surname too essentially is as an undeniable patriarchal root clinging on to it.

That is too far fetched, the basis of all the nomenclatures that the child is burdened to juggle with as it grows up amidst the plethora of expectations and never-ending desires of its parents is the dilemma of the term “mother tongue”. And, this holds especially true when the parents have different mother tongues. Those who still think that mother tongue is essentially the language of the mother may consider themselves as an utterly ignorant lot. Interestingly, the patriarchal society has not even granted this much to the most respected form of human on earth, “the mother”. The dictionary clearly reads out, mother tongue is the language which a person has grown up speaking from early childhood. However, upon searching any open source platform on the internet, one would be aghast to see how the majority of people assume the apostrophe after the word “mother” as hidden in the term “mother tongue” and hence interpret, it as “Mother tongue and Native language have similar, meanings and are often actually interchangeable, however, there is a subtle difference. Native language refers to the language of the area the person grows up in. … Mother tongue refers to the language of the family you grew up in.…..”. This interpretation has 2.2 k views. There are many more on the similar lines.

The simple yet a very intriguing point in question that has never been discussed in our otherwise patriarchy driven feminist world, is whether there must exist a clarity of the term “mother and mother’s tongue” or we let the hypocrisy continue with hoards of people under the impression that it’s the mother’s tongue whereas it is just another patriarchically rooted misguiding nomenclature with no connection to the mother of the child at all. Hardly, any of the self-proclaimed intellectuals have ever given their overused cerebral to this understated yet underlined concept. Probably, the “I know Everything” lot never dug deep into it to find more.

Today, I as a six-month-old pregnant woman stand at this predicament where although I remain untouched by the fact that because of this bigoted world, we can choose to let go of my last nameoff my child; but, the literal meaning of “mother tongue” and the ambiguous meaning associated with the term has left me paralyzed to argue further on the subject. A non-complicated solution to the this would be to just change the meaning of the term or henceforth ensure that column to mention the same uses “Mother’s Tongue” and not “Mother Tongue”.

When the khandaan“, the last name, the native place, the hometown, the religion (a handful of exceptions herein), everything is inherited of the father, why cannot we let this one thing be inherited exclusively just from the mother? And whereas the religion, caste, et al would affect the everyday life of the child, the “mother tongue” could at least be accommodated just for the heck of it, on pen and paper only; maybe just a treat to the mother’s eye.

And this, of course, doesn’t mean that the child would not learn the other’s language. Mothers, anyway being a conditioned generous lot, would take that extra step, as always to ward off the perennial insecurity of the father by letting the child grow up learning both the language of the parents and many more. In any case, it is a proven fact that the child which grows up in a multilingual environment has far better Intelligence Quotient than the rest. Take the example ofIreland which otherwise is known for its pride “The Guinness Beer”, also speaks five more languages Polish, French, Romanian, Lithuanian and Spanish through their natives. And studies in this country have shown that the skill to switch in between two or more languages gives the child’s brain a muchrequired agility and improves their attention, planning, memory and analytical proficiency. Worldwide too, evidence has proven that multilingual children are better in comparison to the monolingual lots when it comes to testing their cognitive dexterity.

Being born and brought up in different townships in the mines’ belt of India, I have experienced living amidst an eclectic population, representing different religions, languages, castes and communities. While I was not raised up being exposed to a sentiment of “us vs. them.”, the idyll could have not lasted any longer for me too. I have many friends who are into inter-caste/religion/language kind of marriage and almost all the female friends have happily learnt the language of the husband (in case it is different than theirs) with welcoming arms and a keen mind. However, hardly have I seen their respective husbands learning otherwise with such keenness and openness. And, mind you, these husbands are otherwise very “educated”, “modern”, “open” and prefer giving way to their female counterparts a lead. In one of the cases, although the husband and wife know each other’s language, at their own “house”, the primary language of conversation is of the husband’s one.

If this is the case then why not the other way round. So many uncountable centuries of patriarchy has led us all to this, I think it’s high time to break the stereotype with this tiny step of giving away this other-wise muchrespected “mother” her little “due share” of changing the dictionary meaning of the “mother tongue” to literally fall through the literal words it comprise of. This would also in a way, if not balance, put some weight on the empty side of the fulcrum and help brace your own little child to not to either succumb to the pressures of the patriarchal world when it grows up or impose the same on their counterparts if the child happens to be a male.

You must be to comment.

More from Sumana Khan

Similar Posts

By Imran Khan

By Shubham Singla

By Nitin Gulati

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below