By: Neena Haridas
The court’s ruling on cohabiting couples should extend to single mothers.
The Supreme Court judgment which ruled that the children of a live-in relationship could not be termed illegitimate must be hailed as a landmark. By upholding a previous judgment of the Madras High Court, the apex court has done well to break the traditional link between children and marriage. Our society continues to act as though any childbirth that is not preceded by a wedding ceremony falls outside the pale.
But the time has now come to take the issue forward. For decades, feminists have fought the good fight for a woman’s right to choose. Fortunately, in India, abortion does not present major legal difficulties, so that fight has been largely won. But the Supreme Court ruling points us in the direction of a battle that has still to be fought: the woman’s right to give birth.
According to the existing legal and societal framework, the only children who are entitled to legal recognition are those who are born into a relationship between a man and a woman. (After the Supreme Court judgment, that relationship need not be one within the confines of marriage.) Children born to a single mother, however, still occupy a moral and legal grey area. Put simply, we are willing to grant a woman the right to have a legitimate baby with a man she is in a relationship with. But if she wants to have the baby without being part of a relationship then, as far as we are concerned, that is completely unacceptable.
In this respect, we are behind the rest of the world. In much of the Western world — France, the UK, the US — both society and the legal system recognise the rights of the single mother. If a woman wishes to have a child without entering into a relationship with a man then she has every right to do so. How that child is born is largely her business.
In India, unfortunately, the concept of a woman’s right to choose has become a euphemism for abortion, for a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. Should she decide to carry on with the pregnancy without the involvement of the biological father, or to get pregnant on her own, society and the law both turn their backs on her. Even the simplest methods of raising a child are closed to her. If she seeks to adopt, most adoption agencies will be reluctant to give a baby to a single mother, preferring to ask a married couple to raise it.
Given that we recognise the woman’s right to choose when it comes to abortion and given also that the Supreme Court has now ruled that marriage has nothing to do with continued…