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Verve People
July 20, 2018

Mum’s The Word: Urvashi Butalia Makes A Strong Case For A Woman’s Right To Remain Childless

Text by Meghna Pant. Illustration By Dhruv Tyagi

This feminist publisher strongly believes that being a mother is not the only role women can play in society

Not A Walking Womb

Urvashi Butalia, 66, Feminist Publisher

“No one asks men why they did not marry, or whether or not they wanted children, but that question is always put to us women,” says Urvashi, dismissing the notion that being childless cripples a woman’s existence but not a man’s. “The moment you ask someone who does not have children why they are childless, you set them up as something away from the norm, and you set up marriage and children as the norm. But for many people, and certainly for me, marriage and/or children was never the ‘normalised’ necessary path of my life.”

Yet, making this decision leaves women with an overriding fear. Urvashi agrees, “The fear, for those women, is very real. And it’s complex: fear of loneliness, fear of social pressure and opprobrium, fear of parental pressure, fear of old age, the desire to love and be loved in return (so many women, and men miss this in marriage). Our society offers few ways to deal with it, and holds up few other options.”

Despite loving children, motherhood was not something Urvashi was drawn to. “I am happy the way I am. This does not mean I dismiss women who want children; that’s their choice, and many women are drawn by the wonder of giving birth.”

The lack in judgement is not sometimes reciprocative. “Judgement comes in different ways,” Urvashi admits. “My friends could not believe that I had any home pressures. How odd, I used to think. I run a business and look after my parents. When my mother got close to 90, it was I who was the mother and she the child. But somehow the idea of being ‘fully’ preoccupied and involved with your life is closely associated with only marriage and children.”

Urvashi concedes that families will not change easily. “Why would a patriarchal institution like the family be open to its own withering away? There is no question that this will change. At least in the middle classes, more young women are opting to stay single, many are choosing not to have children, and as that becomes normal, it will also become more acceptable.”

This preoccupation with the family as the central unit of society is a very middle class and upper-middle-class thing, she adds. “Across India, especially among the poorer classes, the family is not so sacrosanct. It’s time we started recognising this and giving it the importance it deserves.”

Actor Jennifer Aniston has said that women are treated like ‘walking wombs’, that a woman is somehow less of a woman if she’s not a mother. “Society is blind to the other major contributions women make to society and to the economy. It’s such a loss, and so disrespectful towards women. It’s as if being a mother is the only role women can play. That’s really a load of rubbish. Just because you have a piece of anatomy, you get assigned a role in society. How would men feel if they were treated as rapists at large just because they have penises?”

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