Even with the advent of a seemingly progressive society aiming to be inclusive; there is one section of individuals who have been hitherto sidelined — adoptees. Especially around Rakshabandhan, obsolete comments on adoption masquerading as “jokes” come back in vogue, atrociously so, and that only manifests a paucity of sensitivity and responsibility towards adoptees by those who have biological linkages with their families.
Be it brands making commercials showing a sibling berating the other by stating that they were picked up at the railway station by the parents; or family members disparaging a kid about being adopted if the kid does not comply with the pre-decided customs of the family; or social media pages using the line “You’re adopted” and considering it a “meme”; demoralising comments on adoption have been erroneously considered humor, instead of being denounced as discriminatory derision.
Media propagating negative connotations about adoption
Advertisements referring to unadopted siblings as adopted; in a form of an insolent statement; alienates the one onto whom the insult is directed. It is unjustly used to inform them that they do not belong in that place, it is used to isolate them against the idea of a family which is then defined as an association of biological linkages; and not a confluence of the ones we choose to love.
Such comments take away the agency of the adoptee and the family who has chosen them. Additionally, they can also be used to make the child feel deceived, that even though they have been adopted, the parents have not informed them of the fact. This makes the kid question their own existence and disesteem themselves.
In the context of adopted children, these statements manipulate them into believing that since they were abandoned by their birth parents or have lost them; they are “unworthy”; that someone somewhere didn’t want them and hence chose to “discard them off”; or maybe they have been punished by the universe.
In certain patriarchial societies, families leave the girl children at railway stations, garbage cans, or hospitals because they want a boy. In countries with a one-child policy, parents step back from upbringing their girl children and prefer a boy. In myriad heart-rending cases, parents abandon children with disabilities. When children who have been deserted at birth finally endeavor to have a better life with their adoptive parents and the media makes them view such distressing comments, it could further cause them mental health issues.
Using identity as a form of social exclusion
“When I was adopted, I was four and a half, going on five,
not even in school yet so I didn’t know how to write.
They told me to write my name on this line.
I didn’t know what was going on and
there were all these new people and they’re like
okay, you’re going to go home with this lady today.”
– Reina M. Sanchez, Youth Perspective on Permanency
Though there are myriad cases of illegal adoption agencies running an illicit nexus of child stealing and there are umpteen cases of adoption gone wrong; in a considerable number of cases, legal adoption is done with the optimism of a bright future. The decisions are made by adults and the child does not have much say. They are assigned an identity for life. To then use this identity to deride a child is oppressive and tyrannical.
Also, normalising derisive comments about putting up kids for adoption is insensitive since many birth parents are compelled to put up their children for adoption due to a deficit of resources to bring them up; or due to an unjust social system.
Adoption happens on grounds of caste and race
In 2014, only about 2500 children were legally adopted in India, as per the Central Adoption Resource Authority, though, India has about 30 million children who are orphans — the pandemic has exacerbated this disparity.
While the regressive society still whispers negative connotations about families bringing up children who are not related to them biologically; still, some conversation has commenced about adoption in the public domain. And while earlier only inter-family adoptions were the norm, now more people are looking forward to adopting legally. However, like all social and personal processes, adoption too, manifests casteism, racism, and colorism propagated by the privileged whites and oppressor-castes.
In India SCs, STs and OBCs earn 21%, 34%, and 8% less than the national average. 82% ST, 81% SC, and 64% OBC female migrant workers respectively, are engaged in professions such as construction work, domestic work, and brick kiln work. Brahmins and other upper-castes earn 48% and 45% more than the national average. This data is a repercussion of how the productive-marginalised castes who run the country by their labor are exploited while the oppressor communities thrive using exploited inherited wealth and surname networks.
This analysis exhibits that it is mostly the upper-castes who are financially in a position to adopt children legally. However, given these oppressor castes would stress upon knowing whether or not their partners, neighbors, or roommates are SCs, STs, or OBCs; there is almost negligible chance of them adopting an individual whose caste origins are unknown to them.
Reports indicate how the oppressor castes prefer adopting someone from their family network because then the parents know the caste of the child; and hence, the oppressor castes claim to maintain the self-proclaimed superiority of what they flagrantly label the “undiluted blood”. Contemplating the discriminatory extended family and societal prejudices that the child would receive; myriad progressive couples and individuals also refrain from adopting kids.
Additionally, Indians discriminate against adopting children who have mental and physical disabilities. Reports also show how Indians prefer adopting a fair-skinned child. Adoption in India, thus, compounds into a complex nexus of casteism, colorism, ableism, sexism, bureaucratic lax, and excruciating administrative processes where the oppressed are oppressed further by the oppressors.
It has been found that dark skinned children are considered to be “too different” and “lowest in preference” for adoption, a strong indication of blatant racism that continues to prevail.
While many countries have rules prohibiting international adoption; they make an exception only for children with disabilities, so as to send the children away from the country. While adoption might definitely bring in a heartening future, this act of solely facilitating the movement of children with disabilities is ableist because it propagates the notion of these children as “undesirable”; as something to get rid of.
Also read: A Letter To My 17-Year Old Feminist Brother
Humour cannot be used as a tool of tyranny
After comprehending the grave grounds on which adoption functions, to make mockery of adoption is acerbic and pernicious. Humour can never exist on the grounds of denigration. And when adoptees resist and question such comments, they are trivialised and dismissed as being “overly sensitive”. It then becomes grueling for adoptees to feel loved when they are surrounded by perpetual trepidation, and hostile targeting, and are being behaved with in an unwelcoming manner.
Comments on adoption, such as those based on one’s caste, race or gender, can only be made comical by those who own that identity. If an adoptee wishes to make a joke on it, that is their right and space to speak, since they are coming with a lived experience. And it is for the other adoptees to decide their comfort with it.
However, in a society where adoption becomes the anticipation for a sanguine future for umpteen children; non-adoptees using this identity as a form of deprecation is discrimination. Being adopted is a lawful term, a legal state, an identity, and an existence, and should hence, not be made a matter of insult or pejoration by those on the other side.
To base humor on the denigration of identity is disrespectful — wilful neglect amounts to abuse and purposeful derision is tyranny.
Featured image source: news18.com