Saturday, January 27, 2024

Mom Myths and Murder


Few things can shake us out of our collective apathy, but the death of a 4-year-old, murdered by his mother has done the job. Public fury continues to mount as gruesome details are dutifully doled out by the media around the clock. People find it impossible to process the fact that a mother could do this to her child. After all, in India, we firmly believe that all mothers are miracle workers capable of juggling a billion demands, candidates for goddesshood, and master chefs who can whip up mouthwatering feasts in seconds. We turn a blind eye to the fact that it is a thankless, gruelling job which requires superpowers that no woman is blessed with or that few if any can do it without breaking down on a daily basis or plotting desperately to open a portal into an alternate dimension where newborns become fully – functioning, toilet - trained adults within seconds of birth so that their moms can get back to having a real life.

Yet, murderous mothers are not as rare a phenomenon as we conveniently like to think. A quick Google search reveals that there are too many cases where children have been murdered by their not so loving mums. In 2023 alone, an unmarried teen mother from Navi Mumbai allegedly killed her newborn by throwing the baby from her bathroom window; an 8-year-old was poisoned and killed by his mother, for having seen her in a compromising position with their neighbour; in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli, a mother poisoned three of her children, following a domestic dispute; at Halvi village near Kurnool, a 3-year-old and 6-month-old were  killed by their mother following a domestic dispute. If one has the stomach to go back further in time, there are many such harrowing cases featuring killer moms. Some like Indrani Mukerjea (who allegedly had her daughter, Sheena Bora, murdered by throttling) are famous and far from languishing in prison may be spotted at literary festivals while others don’t quite manage to capture public fancy but may have also eluded the less than exacting arm of the law.

Murder by mom, is not the only issue plaguing our poor kids. Different forms of child abuse are prevalent with child pornography and sexual exploitation of minors for commercial purposes on the rise. Millions of children across India are denied access to education, healthcare, clean water, or a home that is not a biohazard. The issue of childcare and child rights hereabouts is lamentable at best and the situation gets grimmer by the day.

In the meantime, we are content to pretend that it is mainly a mother’s job to ensure the safety of her child and that ‘natural’ maternal instincts will suffice to work miracles and keep the forces of evil at bay. If that were not bad enough, we will also pressure people to bring forth babies by the dozen irrespective of whether they have the emotional or economic resources to do the hardest job in the world, uncaring that the stakes are too high, and we cannot carry on allowing children to pay the price for adult folly.

This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.

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