Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for September, 2021 is Parenthood. We invite submissions on the many layers of being parents, having parents and navigating the social norms of parenting throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to email@example.com
If one was to dive into Indian English literature, one would probably come across Bhisham Sahni’s renowned short story – Pali. Set against the backdrop of the partition of India, Pali narrates the story of a young boy (the titular character) who gets accidentally separated from his family as they leave from the then newly formed Pakistan and make their way to India.
Stranded and scared, Pali desperately tries to find his parents at the railway station and hopes to return to the safety of his family. He is soon found by a man who sells chinaware for a living. The man takes pity on the boy and brings him home to his wife. The kind couple then decide to adopt him and raise him as their own. Though this story touches on the many political aspects of the partition like religion, love, loss, and family, it also explores the emotion of belonginess in adopted children.
In India, there is a taboo around the concept of adoption. Firstly, our society puts immense importance on the idea of a woman conceiving and giving birth to a child. Since times immemorial women are repeatedly conditioned to believe that one of the most important purposes of their being is to give birth to a child.
Women are taught that failing to comply with this expectation will put a stain on their “femininity” because motherhood is positioned as the ultimate role that “completes” a woman. The inability to bear a child is considered to be a ‘curse‘ and often renders the lady socially ostracized, as well as branded ‘inauspicious‘. The reinforcement of this idea puts enormous pressure on women who face difficulty in conceiving.
Moreover, the couple who are facing such problems consider adopting a child to be their last resort. A study showcases that couples who are not able to conceive a child prefer to remain childless rather than adopt. Additionally, the narrow, proprietary notion of, “Khoon Khoon hota hai” (Blood is thicker than water) is another problematic thought that further stigmatises adoption in childless couples.
We have put so much emphasis on ‘biological parents‘ that now it has become the ‘normal‘, alienating couples who wish to adopt due to medical complications, as well as those who simply do it out of their will. To maintain the ‘purity‘ of the bloodline, families emphasise on birthing, and believe that adopting a child will taint their lineage. They constantly ‘educate‘ others about the benefits of having their ‘own‘ child and promulgate this notion.
Therefore, adoption is not even considered to be an option. However, there are many families who have adopted kids but struggle under the psychological stress of navigating life in a society that constantly questions their choices.
In Bhisham Sahni’s Pali, we come to see how Pali is found by his biological parents after many years and taken back home to India. But what people don’t seem to understand is that now he is a different person. He was given a new name by those who adopted him and was brought up in a different religion.
His habits and mannerisms are all different, due to the difference in the environment that nurtured him so far. Moreover, though he remembers his biological parents, he feels closer to his adopted parents and respects the care and love they gave him. Taking him back home and expecting him to amalgamate into a new life once again, confuses him and puts him through a scathing identity crisis. He does not know where he truly belongs in his new, displaced circumstance.
There is a piercing analogy between Pali’s predicament and the concept of ‘belongingness‘ in adopted children. In our day to day lives, we often come across the importance a biological child is given. Conversations on how the child looks and acts like the parents is often a conversation starter and bonding point at social gatherings.
Thus, a heteronormative, ‘blood family‘ is positioned as the yardstick of a perfect household. Those who fail to achieve this ‘perfection‘ are often outcast and called different. Hence, many families who do adopt children tend to hide this fact as they believe it will bring shame upon them and traumatise the child.
Due to propagation of such notions, adopted children often face identity crisis. They desperately try to look for a place where they do belong. Moreover, parents who have adopted a child tend to believe that they have are flawed because they have not given birth. We must understand that these types of socio-cultural norms alienate and isolate people. The very concept of a standardised, ‘perfect family‘ is flawed.
As the saying goes, “Art imitates life and life imitates art,” these notions are also normalised and validated through multiple TV shows, movies, and books. In popular culture, we see the importance a biological child is given over an adopted one. Movies and shows once again emphasise biological parenting by claiming that though adopting a child is a noble act, having a child of your own is the true gift.
All these beliefs and perceptions are something families who have adopted kids have to deal with all the time. But it is paramount to recognise that these choices are entirely personal, and nobody is allowed to dictate what type of family is a “true” or “real” family. A family is made of similarities and differences. It is composed of arguments and agreements.
A true family does not necessarily mean a blood family. It is time we stop discriminating between various kinds of families and let go of our conservative ideas on how families must exist. We must bring in different types of families into the discourse, so that we may learn, understand, and refrain from alienating individuals and their private choices about the fluidity of their own families. The time has come to reinvent the concept of family itself, the way we have been conditioned to perceive it.
Featured Image Source: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India