Parents are Illegitimate, not the Child

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I am furious today. Furious at yet another incidence of the sort that was reported a few weeks ago – the Indian judiciary, usually at the vanguard of reforms, change, and justice in a society where such values rarely benefit the common man. It is exasperating to note that ‘child of an unwed mom must name father in passport’ as says this link here . By ‘father’ here, it means ‘biological father’.

Apparently, the Ministry of External Affairs had clarified on November 1 after such a case first popped up earlier, that the mother only needed to produce a birth certificate of the child and submit an affidavit that she was a single mother, also saying that the slot for father’s name may be left blank. But, this view is apparently not being supported by some of the judiciary and the Central Government. The case cited here is anyway about a mother who had a child with a man who refused to take responsibility, but the lady not only brought up her child single-handedly but also married another man who accepted her as well as her daughter. Now, the judges have asked the mother to include the name of the child’s biological father, rather than the stepfather who is actually performing the role of a ‘father’ to the child.

My thoughts go back to the Mahabharata. Krishna, who was born to Devki but was brought up by Yashoda. Karna, who was born to Kunti but lived, got famous, and died as a ‘Radhey’ and not Kounteya.

My view is that it is downright abominable for a civilization to call itself civilized by divesting a child of its right to care, respect, love, and opportunity. My fury rails against this tradition of rewarding paternity, and only paternity – where even a matrimony is subservient to paternity. In my eyes, having children i.e. in very bare terms procreating is one thing and being parents, worthy parents, responsible parents quite another.

Kunti gave birth to a child but was unprepared to be a mother. Ironically enough, Karna’s father was the Sun-God, the one who gives life to us all, our entire world depends on him. And yet, Karna would have been considered illegitimate. Whatever the interaction between the Sun-God and Kunti it may have been, in its current form the epic is unequivocal about laying the responsibility for the encounter on Kunti’s teenaged shoulders. There are messages in there I wish not to analyze for the time being.

Yashoda, did not give birth to Krishna, but fulfilled the role of a mother. And, this also must be said, Nanda fulfilled the role of a father. In fact, there are hymns and poems and songs composed to describe Yashoda’s love for her son.

So, I cannot, for a minute, fathom this very Tess-of-the-d’Ubervilles sort of disposition of the Indian political, administrative, and judicial system. To label a child born out of wedlock as illegitimate, to divest him/her of love, affection, respect, growth, and opportunity is inhumane. After all, it is not the child who made a choice. The choice was made by parents. The parents were not ready to assume their responsibility after committing actions that led to the birth of their child. In the light of this matter, who is illegitimate, really? Is it the child or the parents? Our society rains scorn upon such children but it begs logic and rationality! I see that here, we are doing the same thing as with issues of sexual harassment — we blame the victim.

The courts have already made space for the so-called “illegitimate” offspring when it comes to inheritance (Remember N D Tiwari’s case?), so why this reserve when it comes to doing justice to mothers? Why is a mother being obliged to state “how” she conceived her baby, asking her to clarify if she was raped, when she herself does not want to, or when the father refuses to take responsibility.

I chanced to look at the definition of the word ‘illegitimate’. The meaning given here is: 1) Not authorized by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules 2) (of a child) born of parents not lawfully married to each other. 3) a person who is illegitimate by birth.

Do you see the incongruity here? The parents, who may be unable to assume parenthood of a child they have created, for whatever reasons ranging from not being married to a one-night stand to being underaged and therefore not being married, not being married on account of some degree of fraud or cheating on either end, or rape even, just whatever the reasons may be!, the act undertaken remains just the same. The act is not sanctioned by the society but the nature –  that great equalizer – does not differentiate. Thus, it is the act and the actors that need to be scorned, looked down upon if at all. If. At. All. The child, never. It is the parents who become illegitimate, by not being ready to shoulder the responsibility of the life they created.

I hope someday to see this definition.

P.S. I am no fan of the term love-child as a satisfactory replacement for illegitimate child – I am sure the political correctness bandwagon waved a stick there. If the child’s creational circumstance dares to be existential it should perhaps occur to us to label ‘ignorance’ child for children born to mothers – another child – too young to know what’s happening to them as in the case of child marriages that are rife in our rural areas. There can be many more such epithets, you see…

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