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In a country like ours where women are judged for every aspect of their lives, how tough is it being a single mother? Here are the stories of 5 inspiring single moms in India.
‘‘You’re not a real family!”
“Oh, she must be easily available!”
“Let’s avoid her because she’ll poach our husbands!”
These are some of the common things that a single mom in India has to hear. Imagine doing the job of both the parents with the utmost strength and grace and still being treated like this by people around you? Having been raised by a single mother myself, I understand the huge obstacles such a woman must overcome almost on a daily basis. Can’t we as a society be a bit more open and understanding to these courageous women? Let’s find out what five single mothers have to say about their experiences in the Indian society.
“Time, attention, and patience are far more valuable gifts for your children, than dresses and vacations.”
Though Pooja got divorced around six months back, she and her husband have been separated for a couple of years and she’d been raising her child alone since then. Her daughter is nine-year old now. She says that single or otherwise, parenting in itself comes with a lot of challenges. However, what’s tougher for a single parent is that there’s no day off for them.
Pooja suffers from a painful condition called fibromyalgia* and hence being a single mom comes with further challenges of having to manage her mental and physical pain. However, she still feels blessed to be raising a child all by herself. She says that the bonding is stronger between the child and the mother because they only have each other. Pooja’s father was a wonderfully supportive and a feminist parent and the bond she shared with him inspires her own parenting methods.
Pooja doesn’t think that single parenting is special rather she says that in today’s age, conscious parenting is a challenge. “I’m against the glorification of motherhood. My father was a brilliant parent, better than a lot of mothers. My parenting comes from him. Your gender is immaterial. What matters is how evolved you are as a parent. I’m just a facilitator in her growing up process.”
Pooja discusses everything from menstrual hygiene to masturbation with her daughter. Not only does her daughter understands these natural aspects of human life, she is also aware of her mother’s physical limitations and helps her out at home. She had been raised in the Montessori way and is a self-sufficient child.
Pooja says that time, attention, and patience are some of the best things you can give to your child. These are more valuable than material presents like dresses, vacations etc. These things help in processing their feelings. She believes that talking to a child as a friend works wonder rather than the process of intimidation.
*Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
“After divorce, though the man has the option of moving on, most of the times, the woman doesn’t.”
Lakshmi Priya doesn’t think that she deserves the title of single mom as she is grateful for all the support she gets from others in raising her ten-year-old son. She and her husband separated on amicable terms and he helps with the child when she has to travel. She is happy for her parents who live nearby to offer her support. She says that the bitterness of separation is gone, and she is in a sweet spot, currently. However, even though co-parenting is a great option after divorce, Lakshmi says that there’s also a flipside to this. Lakshmi and her husband have different parenting philosophies and that is a cause for conflict at times, even after the divorce.
There’s also the challenge that she faces as a woman in the Indian society. Though her ex-husband is getting married soon, for her, even the thought of marriage is like a distant dream. She cannot think of something because of the co-parenting issue and also because her husband is bearing a part of the financial burden of the house that she and her son currently live in. “Had I had a traditional divorce, things would be different,”she says.
Her parents don’t want her to get married till her son is grown up enough. “Though I don’t want to, it does bother me, he is moving with his life, but as an option also, it is not available to me.”
Another flipside of her amicable divorce is that she is not allowed to move cities. She wants her son to move abroad for his higher education but for her husband, it’s less about the child’s future and more about his interaction with his son.
But still Lakshmi says that at the end of the day things are much better for her right now. “All said and done, I am still living a very good life. I am doing whatever I like to do. If you’re in an unhappy marriage, don’t stay in that marriage. We need to raise children without scars. If you don’t have kids, you’re as good as dating each other, so that’s all the more reason for you to not stick to a bad marriage.”
“Please respect a single mother, she’s going through a lot.”
Ruchika was a simple, homely, and docile girl of 21 when she was married off by her family. She got pregnant just after a couple of months of the marriage. The problems started immediately. Her husband would drink, physically abuse her, and flaunt his relationships with other women. Her in-laws weren’t supportive of her and created issues claiming more dowry. Ruchika still tried to be in the marriage for 4.5 years but once when her husband drove her out of the house, she finally decided that she’s had enough.
She says that she has been extremely lucky to have a very loving family. Her parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law were all supportive of her decision to end the marriage. Hence, she came back with her young daughter to start a new life. The husband’s family didn’t even return the dowry and jewellery that they’d taken from the poor girl’s family.
Ruchika built her life almost from scratch since then. She started as an in-charge of a short hand and typing institute and slowly she learnt enough to become a teacher in that institute. She began her career with a paltry salary of Rs. 1,200 in 1998 and today she is working with the well-known industrialist, Mr. Naveen Jindal. She says that her boss, Mr. Jindal, has been very supportive in her professional journey.
However, she’d faced people in all her workplaces who thought that she is easily available just because she is divorced. She is really disappointed by the way these people think even in this day and age.
Ruchika has emerged from a docile to a powerful woman, living her life by her terms now. She says that gender is just a reference, a state of being a man or a woman, but that does not stop her from reaching her career goals. Her daughter, whom she has tried to give the best education, is 24 years old now and is working with Medtronic after her BTech in Biotechnology.
“I had no exposure at all, but life had taught me so much. Please respect a single mother, she is going through a lot,”she concludes.
“Give yourself a chance and come out of a toxic marriage.”
Lakshmi belongs to an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family and she happens to be the first single mother in her family. Even though her father has accepted her divorce now, her brother is still coping with the same while the rest of the world, she says, still considers her a slut. She has been a victim of domestic abuse for 11 years and still held on to her marriage thinking about ‘log kya kahenge’. She finally decided to step out after reflecting upon the kind of impact this violence might be having on her daughter’s psyche.
Lakshmi left her marriage without a single rupee of support from her husband and has changed cities to live a life of dignity and peace. She currently supports her daughter through her freelancing job. As a single mom, Lakshmi has faced constant problems everywhere – starting from documentation requirements to searching for an accommodation. Currently, she lives in an apartment whose owner herself is also a single mom.
Lakshmi is disappointed to see the level ignorance and bias even among educated women regarding single mothers. She lives in a gated community where the women have weekly lunch parties. When one of the women from the group wanted to add her, the others protested saying that she doesn’t have a ‘family’.
Lakshmi received incredible support including financial help from some of her friends during her separation. Her own father knew of her separation only after three months since she’d actually separated. It’s been a year and half now and she’s yet to complete her divorce formalities.
Lakshmi’s husband physically abused her to the extent that once when he hit her (in front of their daughter), her jaws got dislocated. Her husband’s family was nonchalant about the violence. Her mother in law would even advise her to apply concealer on her bruises and go to work!
Even when she wanted to separate, her husband and his family made her life extremely difficult. They even alleged that she was unfit to be a mother because she smoked and occasionally consumed alcohol. The only reason her husband finally agreed to the divorce is because she didn’t ask for a single penny.
Even in the court, she says that the judges will form their own opinions about a woman who wants a divorce. As she appeared in the court in jeans and tees as opposed to Indian clothing, even the judge showed his bias against her. Lakshmi’s deceased mother has been a police officer and despite all the connection, she had to fight tooth and nail to separate from her abusive husband. She wonders what other women without connections might have to go through.
But all’s well that ends well. She and her daughter are in a happy, loving home now where they’d even adopted two dogs and a cat. Lakshmi says that even if her story inspires one woman to leave her own toxic marriage then she’d consider her job done.
Her message to all women is to support each other rather than judging one another. She is an avid blogger but says that most people only create a show of being empowered and liberal on social media platforms but deep within, their thoughts are backdated and regressive. To such women she says that it is only when we stand together are we strong, and to the women suffering in abusive marriages, Lakshmi says, “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in a toxic relationship, the rest of your life is ahead of you. Give yourself a chance to a better life and come out of such relationships.”
“You don’t need a man in your life.”
Rimli, a Bengali Hindu, married a Syrian Christian from Kerala when she was just 20 years old. Her husband’s family was against their marriage and they soon converted her to Christianity after the marriage. Despite being highly accomplished academically, Rimli went through extreme physical and emotional abuse. Her in-laws and husband reduced her to a maid where she was expected to finish all the housework herself. Her husband suffered from catatonic schizophrenia and slowly she started getting afraid of him. She even tried committing suicide during which some of the neighbours rescued her. Her husband went abroad for a job after 5 years of their marriage, but he didn’t take her with him. After 8 years of marriage, they had a child and he was not even there when her water broke. She was taken to the hospital by her mother.
He created problems about having a girl child and then demanded sex from Rimli even while her stitches from her C-section were raw. Her husband left them and went abroad for work once again. Rimli supported her daughter and herself and put her in a good school because she realized that her daughter’s education is of paramount importance. When her daughter was 2.5 years, her husband came back after losing his job and demanded Rs. 1 crore to start a business. It was then that she finally walked away from her marriage. He ultimately gave her a divorce without any alimony.
Rimli’s daughter is 10.5 years now and Rimli has taken all the struggles to raise her alone. Starting from her daughter’s school requirements to her medical issues, she takes care of everything. Rimli even had three surgeries herself, including a gall stone removal and a spinal cord operation, where she was all alone in the hospital.
However, despite all her struggles and even after managing a career and her daughter, Rimli still finds time to pursue her passions for writing and dancing.
To all the other women, Rimli says, “Don’t marry so young. Think carefully before marriage. If it’s an inter faith marriage and the family seems more inclined towards your religious conversion than you as a human being, then consider it to be a red flag. Do not give in to domestic violence-lodge an FIR immediately. I took a long time to speak up. Do not wait for so long. You don’t need a man in your life. “
Single moms in India face a lot of judgement and discrimination, and things are far from easy, even though there is change, slow to come, but sure. Maybe we can do our bit by supporting them all we can?
Header image source: shutterstock
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