Four people talk about why they want to remain childless and why that’s a difficult decision to make while living in India
The year is 2015 and yet our Indian society wants all of us to behave in a certain manner. Be it complaining about the comedy group All India Bakchod’s roast video (which compelled them to take it off YouTube eventually) or political parties like Hindu Mahasabha going on record to say that they will make couples out on Valentine’s Day marry each other—more and more things these days make me wonder if we are actually moonwalking backwards and regressing by the day.
Similarly, Indian society seems to judge people who decide not to have a baby ever. Why are they looked down upon and their choices not respected—considering we are a democratic, free nation? With changing times, career choices, gender equality, urban lifestyle pressure, more and more people are consciously deciding to not have a child—but why can’t our society let those people BE? Four people share their stories of why they have taken this decision and by all means, plan to stick by it.
Varun Grover, 35, stand-up comedian, Mumbai
“My wife and I both have some common reasons and some independent ones, for not having a child. For me, the emotional baggage that comes with being a parent is too much. Creatively I’m in the best years of my life and want to be free of any commitments of parenting. I want to travel, write, spend my time reading and watching movies, and I know that with a kid, all this will have to stop (or come down drastically) for at least the first 5 years. And, I am not the kind who will leave everything to my wife (as most of the Indian males do) and have fun.
“The issues me and wife share are the ethical dilemma of raising a child in today’s world full of conflicts, space issues, and a highly polarized society. We both grew up in small towns and had an upbringing in lots of open spaces. We can’t imagine bringing another life to this cramped-up planet and letting him/her grow up in a f***ed up city like Mumbai. And the fact that my wife has not felt that ‘motherly instinct’ which everybody keeps telling her about, it was an easier decision than many would believe.”
So does he think that India is regressive when it comes to this issue, and pat comes the reply. “Yes, very much. Many relatives are still living in the hope that we will change our minds someday or maybe an accidental kid will happen. But it’s impossible for them to imagine that we can choose not to have kids. For the first 2 years, we answered our parents, the next 2 years, we answered other random relatives, and the following 2 years we answered our friends. Now, when we are in the 8th year of our marriage, even strangers have started asking.
“I remember this particular incident when the Census 2011 guy came home and was taking the family details. He was surprised that after 5 years of marriage, we still had no kids. I told him that it’s by choice and he said, ‘Call your wife, I will convince her.’ It was ridiculous, funny, and surreal! I think Indians have very little sense of personal space. But hopefully with our generation growing up, the idea of individual liberty will gain more currency.”
Sandy C, 34, software engineer, Hyderabad
“For me, this is a choice that a person makes, rather than a problem that needs to be solved. I’m single and yet I can guess how intrusive people can get in this matter—especially near and far relatives, friends, colleagues, basically every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to poke their nose in it.
“I had a very casual discussion with a person about this topic, and the responses ranged from, ‘Oh, you don’t want to spoil your figure?’, ‘Is there some physical problem?’, ‘But who would agree to all this?’, ‘Everyone wants to continue their gene chain, you SHOULD have a child’, ‘Omg, what would your friends say? to ‘Then whom do you earn all this for?’
“While growing up, I had understood that parents play a vital role in developing their child’s personality. Parenting is an art. It needs one to be mature enough to handle all the pros and cons of the child, and help in guiding them. If one is not a painter, then there is no point in pursuing a painting course. One can only learn it but can never actually paint by themselves. The moment, I realized that this is not my forte, I made up my mind very strongly.
“I have not yet disclosed this to my family members except my younger brother. He is very mature and I can discuss such topics openly with him. I’ve planned not to tell my parents, because they will create a ruckus and make my life hell, but I have decided not to give in to pressure. As of now, a partner search is going on for my marriage and I have not discussed this with anyone I’ve met so far. There are many other filters that I am concerned about, and I’m sure, if even one doesn’t fit the criteria, then discussing this topic would be like pushing them into a hot volcano!”
Aditi Kumavat, 28, lawyer, Mumbai
“My partner and I are both divorced, and my divorce came through 2 years ago. He’s 38 and he’s been divorced for about 8 years now. Both of us are understandably a little averse to the idea of marriage and kids. For a while, after the divorce, I thought I’d make a good mother and I even considered adoption. I still think I’d make a great parent, but I’ve realised that I’m not ready for this responsibility.
“Marriage itself weighs you down to a large extent and a child, more so. My partner and I have unanimously agreed that we are not okay with bringing another person into this world. I personally feel that today’s world is a toxic environment for a child to grow up in. So there’s that added reason too. I’ve not been subjected to too many questions about this. Mostly because we live in a supposedly progressive part of Mumbai and people don’t really care. I’m lucky to have a non-meddlesome family. My maid does chide me occasionally though, and asks me to quit smoking so I can have a healthy child!
“Couples in towns and villages in India might find themselves under pressure to have kids while those living in metro cities are mostly left to their own devices and their decisions are respected. I’d like to add though, my mother-in-law had suggested having a child when my marriage was going through a particularly difficult phase. I’m very thankful that I didn’t take her up on it. I shudder to think what my life would be then. Today I’m a successful independent lawyer in a city like Mumbai and I don’t think I’d have made it this far so soon if I had a child to take care of.”
Amit Manikoth, 35, technical writer, Bangalore
“My wife (also 35) and I, both felt we are not suited for parenthood. We’ve known each other since college and for as long as I can remember, we’ve never wanted to have children. Raising a child seems like a lot of work and to be worth that effort, one must really like children. While we’re both reasonably fond of children, I guess we’re just not that fond of them to make the 20+ years of considerable physical, emotional, mental and financial effort worth it.
“While we’re certainly a society that is geared towards families with children, I’ve never felt that India is regressive on this matter. Of course I can only draw on my personal experiences; I’ve heard horror stories of young couples being subjected to immense pressure to have children as soon as possible. A couple we know were pressured by their parents into going for several ‘fertility’ tests just a year after they were married to see ‘what was wrong’ with them. Thankfully, we’ve never been subjected to any sort of subtle or other sorts of pressure. I guess we have chilled out families, or perhaps it’s because we live separate from both our parents and siblings and get to see them only a few times in a year. Or perhaps it’s because we’re both the younger children of our parents and have been indulged more. Or perhaps it’s a function of the city and circle we live in. Sometimes an odd non-family or non-friend asks us about it, but nothing rude or intrusive so far—only well-meaning.
“I guess we should let people be in many things, not just about the issue of issue (see what I did there?). Plus, I don’t know if our country is particularly different in this regard—US and UK-based forums are full of similar posts about people without children being asked to justify their decision. I know friends who are wonderful parents and still lead full lives with great careers, hobbies and volunteering time. I know friends who don’t have children and still can’t find the time to do anything but work and complain. It boils down how each person deals with their choices. And yet, this is an important topic to get publicised because I also know far too many couples who had children simply because it was ‘expected’ and they didn’t realize that in this day and age, not having children is also a perfectly viable option.”
From having a dozen children to 3 children to just 1, to adopting a child within the family in case one couldn’t conceive, to adopting outside the family, to sponsoring another child, to not wanting to do anything with children at all—we have come a long way. And with time we can only hope that people become more tolerant of other people’s choices and decisions.
(Note: This post of mine was originally published in Yowoto on 19th March 2015)