This may sound a story of betrayal; of love, loyalty and family values. The story goes like this. A young married woman in Kerala made her husband and his family believe that she was pregnant and in the 9thmonth she went to hospital accompanied by them and from there she went missing. The panicking family filed a missing person case with the police and in a couple of days she was found in another town. She broke down before her husband and family and revealed that she had an abortion by the third month and fearing the anger of the family she went on pretending that she was pregnant till the ‘due date’. The young woman is all of 20 years old. Any family would be agitated to know such a thing done to them by their daughter in law. However, she should be congratulated for the illusions and acts that she had put up throughout the nine months to fool the concerned eyes of her husband and relatives.
An apparent story of deception and cunning, it has something poignant behind it that often we refuse to address. What makes a young woman to go to such extent in order to make her husband’s family believe that she is fertile and is capable of making a baby? She was pregnant and there was an abortion. One could easily say that the things that she did since the abortion are because of her lack of awareness about pregnancy and its risks. One could also believe that had she been informed of the possibility of abortion in any pregnancy she wouldn’t have done such a drastic act of deception. I hope she has been forgiven by her family by now and is reconciled with her husband with a promise of no insulting based on this one incident. But the question remains; why her own family and the nuptial family (at least the women in those families) failed her and failed themselves by not preparing her for pregnancy and child birth?
It is not just a case of lack of awareness of the pregnant girl nor is a question of callousness by her families. It has happened because of a major social fear. She might have acted in this way because of the possible torture and ostracism that she would face upon undergoing a pregnancy which is highly valued by the families. Kerala is hailed to be a hundred per cent literate society where women, compared to other states enjoy social and familial freedom. A twenty year old woman is a person born in 1998 by the time India had entered internet era. All these factors do not seem to have helped this young woman in understanding her pregnancy and a possible abortion. Even if she has understood, she couldn’t have withstood the social as well as familial pressure that she would undergo due to an abortion.
Let us ask this simple question: why did she feign pregnancy after an abortion? My conjecture is that she must have had undergone a sex determination test of the baby by the third month of her pregnancy and must have found out that it was a baby boy. This news must have brought a lot of happiness to both the families and the sudden abortion would have put her into disgrace. Or her husband’s family must have given over importance to a male/female heir and in the conversations must have filled the would-be mother with the horrors of having an abortion. Another possibility is that there must have been adjustments problems between the girl and the in-laws and the pregnancy must have turned out to be a thing of contention. They must have been chiding her on her lack of care and so on. A fall of fetus in this condition would have been seen as a major crime committed by the girl. There could be a dowry related scuffle at home, which she thought would have been subsided for the time being if she was bringing a bundle of happiness to the family. There could be a hundred of social issues pertaining to the pregnancy than it being a normal reproductive health occurrence. Pregnancy is not an illness, says the medical expert but its ramifications are just symptoms of our social illness.
A young woman’s fear of the possible torture from the society for not being able to keep a ‘healthy’ baby in her womb has to be a thing of concern for all the families that want to keep a healthy relationship with the married girls and the possible mental and physical changes happen to them during early days of marriage, initial symptoms of pregnancy, pregnancy related healthcare during the trimesters. The importance of child birth in most of the families even in the internet age has grown to alarming proportions. While there is a cantankerous desire to have a baby boy in most of the households for the perpetuation of family values (most of these values are degenerated and needed to be imperiled in fact), even the arrival of a baby girl has become a thing of joy and concern at once.
The act of deception done by a Kerala woman in order to hide her abortion (which in my knowledge is not a new thing in the state) is nothing but a result of implementation of the patriarchal values in the life of a young woman. Her pregnancy is no longer her decision; it has become a ‘choice’ of the family of her husband and at times the choice of her own family. Indian patriarchy almost abandons a girl child once she is married ‘off’ to another family as if a burden is handed over to someone else’s shoulders who in turn does not see it as a happy burden but an unavoidable burden that has to be borne for socio-familial reasons but definitely with a price attached to it. Hence, a girl’s life is still treated not as her own life but as a currency of the male values. In this, a girl loses her real life value and enters into a symbolic order in which she does not have any power or agency to alter those values.
The deceptive young woman in Kerala is not a betrayer of family values but a victim in captivity who wanted desperately to escape the possible punishments of patriarchy for having failed to bring forth a child from her womb. This woman’s case may be exceptional only when we come to know that she has been reconciled with the family without much damage but rest of the girls in our society may not be that lucky. Pregnancy and child birth has always been an extension and reflection of patriarchal values in Indian society and to our shock we realize that its ugly grip has not loosened up a bit from around the throats of the girls who happily and dreamily enter into marriages only to face an absolutely different tune. For the healthcare section of our society, the corporatization of healthcare has made pregnancy is a thing of worry to be paid through insurance, compensated and reimbursed. None cares what happens to a girl and her pregnancy in the process; it is just a reason not for medical transaction but finance transaction. The burden is further weighed down upon the girls when they are made to fulfill the male value not only through their daily toiling but also through their ability to reproduce a healthy baby boy (and at times girl). The focus has to be now shifted; to call ourselves modern human beings, we need to be much more careful and concerned and sympathetic to our girls who are pregnant and no pressure should be imposed on them at all.
(Images for representational purposes only taken from the internet)