In several cultures across the world, family is regarded as a core central institution that plays a significant role in people’s lives and people are expected to regard their family, taking care of them and supporting them as their life’s biggest priority and focus. This is particularly evident in the Indian culture, which emphasises collectivism over individuality together with loyalty and interdependence towards family members. Additionally, getting married and sustaining this family unit by having children is not only considered non-negotiable but a mandatory rite of passage, an evolutionary step and a sign of maturity into the next phase of life according to religion and social norms. Despite the overpopulation together with the prevalence and popularity of anti-natalism in India, the cultural and societal norms and expectations to reproduce and transitioning into parenthood still take precedence.
Throughout Hindu mythology, religious stories and in movies, TV shows and advertisements, Indian women are portrayed predominantly as mother figures. Add patriarchy and pro-natalism as the basis of Indian culture, it is unsurprising that the equivalency of womanhood to motherhood is stronger than ever here than most other places in the world.
Women are thrust with the biological, moral and societal duty to have children, become mothers and carry on the family name. Deviating from this path, due to infertility or extraneous circumstances or choice is considered sinful, degrading, shameful, and immoral and can lead to a lot of judgment, criticism, ostracism and in extreme cases, even honor killing of women. Their worth, identity, value and role in society are questioned and jeopardised heavily as a result too.
Despite Indian women becoming more financially independent, career-driven, ambitious and taking up leadership positions in the workplace more than ever before, not fulfilling their duty to procreate is viewed as a failure for and by women in society.
This begs the obvious question of the consequences of my choice to be childfree Indian woman on my life, acceptance in society and amongst family members, forming friendships, relationships and creating my future.
Being an only child and not growing up around my extended family or having strong ongoing connections with them made it easier and less pressure for me to make a choice that conforms to their expectations from me. Additionally, being a fiercely independent and individualistic person who has always taken the road less travelled and gone against the grain in most areas of my life, my choice to remain childfree aligns with my unconventional life choices that heavily defy cultural and social norms.
My parents are incredibly happy with and supportive of my choice to the point that they are willing to fund my permanent sterilisation procedure should I choose to pursue that path. Friends, peers and acquaintances are surprised but by and large respectful and applaud my bold choice. Family friends and people in the Indian community tend to misunderstand me, assume that I will change my mind when I meet the right person (haven’t we all heard that before) and show their concerns as to who will date or marry me as a result since having kids is the next phase of a committed relationship in their model of the world. However, I am firm about my choice, sticking to my guns and have embarked on a life calling which was bestowed upon me at the tender age of 10 to live a childfree life till the day I die.
As far as dating is concerned, I only date men who are accepting of my choice, have made the same choice and are firmly committed to living a childfree life just like me, a “no” from them on any of these things becomes an immediate dealbreaker for me. My involvement with the childfree community since 2017 has empowered and equipped fence-sitters, especially women, to make the right choice for themselves and I intend to continue my work in this area to help people have a voice or say in this matter.
While I’ve seen five pregnancy announcements on my Facebook this week, I am planning on getting my second tattoo, which will, of course, be a childfree one, to get people to hopefully and finally take my choice seriously. Am I the ultimate icon and is my choice the ultimate act of rebellion? You bet and I’m damn proud of it too!
Shweta Ramkumar @srinthehouse