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Here Is Why We Think Neena Gupta Is Wrong About Single Parenting Today

Posted: January 16, 2020

Neena Gupta must certainly have struggled with a child out of wedlock back in the ’80s, but does that mean that only heterosexual couples in a marriage should have kids?

Neena Gupta has recently spoken up about her struggles of having a child out of wedlock in the late 80s, in an interview to Mumbai Mirror.

She had her daughter Masaba Gupta with ex-West Indies cricketer Vivian Richards who was already married back home in the late 80s, and had decided back then to raise her daughter alone. Being asked if she could reverse time to the decision of having Masaba she said, “I would not have a child outside marriage. Every child needs both parents. I was always honest with Masaba, so it did not affect our relationship, but I know she suffered.”

While we completely understand where she is coming from, she could speak only for herself, for her individual experience, especially if one takes into account the decades when she was a new mother needing support. We cannot prescribe this norm for parents today.

Talking about their struggle

Masaba is now an ace fashion designer in India and Neena has been an actress in Bollywood. This successful and independent mother and daughter duo have an almost ideal parent-offspring relationship, and credit goes to Neena for raising up Masaba so well alone.

After Masaba’s divorce last year with filmmaker husband Madhu Mantena, her single mother Neena had raised concerns about how broken or uncommitted relationships affect women. Neena had said in an interview earlier last year, “I am very much aware that I am considered a ‘strong woman’. And I am also aware that that is only because I had a child outside wedlock.

In the same interview Masaba had also admitted to her mother’s shock when she was bullied for being a ‘love child’. She says, “I got scr**ed in school because I was a love child… I vividly remember being called a b***ard child by one of my classmates. I was in Class 7 then.”

Life wasn’t easy

Masaba has also spoken up earlier of not having life easy. She looked different because of her African genes and had said, “First it was famous parents and then looking the way I do. There were boys in my class who would stick pencils in my curls, and say ‘oh it’s like a cushion’ and laugh at me. Even my body type was very different from the other girls in my school. So I grew up thinking that I don’t look good enough. I was miserable and had low self-esteem. Those are things that stick with you for a very long time.”

As recently as 2017 Masaba was trolled as an ‘illegitimate West Indian’ and her retort was a reflection of her strong personality and good upbringing. She said “Go ahead and continue calling me these names if it makes you feel glorious. But know this… I’m a proud Indo-Caribbean girl who does not know how to shrink and crumble in the shame of something you and your society cannot crumble. It’s just in my ‘illegitimate genes’.”

Families are not made only by married heterosexual couples

It is wrong on so many levels to peddle the ‘two heterosexual parents family’ as a norm in this age and times when there could be same-sex parents or single parents who have alternate sexual identities. Having said that, I’m not undermining the fact that everyday life could still be much more difficult for these families that don’t conform to the norm of the ‘father-mother-child’ norm.

Research has been scanty about household headed by single mothers in India still related research asserts that, “….it is important to question whether children in single-parent families are necessarily at psychological risk. As has been said, they may be quite well adjusted and the risk may be just in our ‘minds’ either because of our preconceived notions of a ‘broken family’ being ineffective in taking care of children.”

A function of her times?

While single parents and particularly mothers face a lot of discrimination and lack of support in the Indian society even now and pre-marital sex is still a stigma, her regret could well be perceived as the outcome of all the suffering and struggle over the years.

Especially in the society of the ’80s, most single mothers wouldn’t have found support for raising kids alone, but fortunately for her Bollywood has been liberal and ‘tolerant’ in this regard. There have been more women in her shoes in later years like Sushmita Sen, Ekta Kapoor, and even men like Karan Johar and Tusshar Kapoor who have opted for single parenthood as a choice, in spite the inherent challenges it entails.

Feminists speaking up

Ever since the recent interview by Neena however there have been opinions flying both in support and condemnation of her POV.

Author of the book Status Single Sreemoyee Piu Kundu in a Facebook post has condemned this regressive stance about single parenting particularly single motherhood: “I am personally disappointed with Gupta’s candid confession and how she probably espouses the main reason so many women I know and talk to, daily, still stay silently suffering and suffocated in abusive, sexless, respect less, dysfunctional marriage tolerating cheating partners and emotionally and financially irresponsible husbands, citing that a child needs a mother and a father.”

On the other hand there are tweets like this one celebrating her words.

Ms. Gupta’s and her daughter’s personal lived experience must not be shamed or discounted. But they must not be considered the norm for other single moms and their kids, as it is time we become more accepting rather than critical of life-choices like single motherhood/parenting, despite the social hurdles in their way.

Image source: YouTube

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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.

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