June 3, 2023

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Fears and hopes of young mothers in India, the world’s most populous country

Saranya Narayanaswamy (R), who is six months pregnant, greets those attending a ritual ceremony for her unborn child in Chennai on April 26, 2023. afp_tickers

This content was published on May 06, 2023 – 06:54


India was named the world’s most populous country by the UN last month with 1.43 billion people, at a time when young mothers have high hopes and fears for the uncertain future their children face.

The population record was broken despite declining birth rates that have gone hand-in-hand with strong economic growth in recent decades. Currently, Indian families have an average of two children, up from six in the 1960s.

But many citizens face difficulties finding work, housing or a reliable supply of electricity, which is set to worsen in the coming decades.

AFP spoke to five women who have just given birth or are pregnant in different parts of the country to find out about the aspirations and concerns of the new generation.

– “I need surgery” –

Sita Devi was illiterate. Aged 22 and with two daughters, she and her husband are hoping for a boy this time around.

“Our father could not educate us. We were five sisters and he was the only earner in the family,” says Devi in ​​her village in India’s poorest state of Bihar.

“He was poor” and “couldn’t feed, clothe or educate us,” she explains.

Her husband now earns a meager salary as a daily wage earner, and she spends the day taking care of her 2- and 4-year-old daughters and taking care of household chores.

Most of his neighbors have three to five children. But she wants to stop at the third, and considers tubal ligation, the most widely used method of contraception in India.

“Whether I have a boy or a girl this time, I will undergo the surgery. “I hope that we teach and educate our children so that they can thrive and live well.”

– “Too many problems” –

In Goa, music boomer and Shobha Talwar’s hundred guests enjoyed a feast of chicken rice, roti and sweets in the courtyard to name their baby.

Talwar’s older sister whispers the name Sreyansh into the month-old baby’s ear and the girls lull him to sleep with their songs before the guests shower him with gifts.

“We are going to have a lot of problems. We don’t have our own house yet and we have to think about the child’s schooling,” says the 29-year-old new mother.

Little is the tenth resident of a modest one-story house with his grandparents, his parents, his uncle, two aunts and two cousins.

Father Siddappa Talwar, 30, who runs an ice cream business with his father and brother, says the baby’s gender gives him peace of mind.

“He’s a boy. That makes me happy,” she says, adding: “I’m not worried about his future. As long as he has a roof over his head, as long as he can fend for himself, he’ll be fine.”

– “A sweet little doll” –

Women in India are often seen as a financial burden due to the long-standing dowry system, which requires parents to pay large sums of money to their daughters when they marry.

But Indu Sharma, 25, from the hilly northern state of Himachal Pradesh, says she will be happy regardless of the gender of her child.

“Actually, my husband wants a daughter, a sweet little doll,” she told AFP, as she sat on a chair in her two-story home after a visit from her parents.

“Society is changing. We are three sisters and my father never worried that he didn’t have a son,” she says.

“She raised us with love, so there was no pressure to have a boy.”

Indu Sharma believes more needs to be done to encourage more childless families.

“The government should go to every town and explain the need for small families,” he says. “A small family is a happy family,” he asserts.

– “Blood, Sweat and Tears” –

Writer and journalist Shreyosi, 30, has been married for five years and says that like most things in her life, the pregnancy was “not planned”.

But Arya’s birth in March was “one of the most beautiful journeys” she’s ever been on.

“It’s my own blood, sweat and tears,” explains Shreyosi, who does not give her last name, at her home in Bangalore.

But he argues that people should not have more children because of overpopulation and the problems it creates, including climate change.

“I think there should be a limit on the number of children you can have,” he proposes.

Beijing’s sometimes brutal one-child policy is one of the reasons why India has overtaken China in terms of population since the late 1970s, now facing the problems of an aging population.

This writer doesn’t plan to have a second child, though she may change her mind if her “daughter needs a brother or sister.”

“But I have to make sure that my two children are brought up the same (…) there should be no difference,” she says.

– ‘Very good parents’ –

Saranya Narayanaswamy and her husband Sanjay offer petals and coconuts to their unborn child in a Hindu ceremony at a Chennai banquet hall.

Saranya, a computer expert from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, says friends and family sing around the ritual fire in this ritual to ensure the child’s well-being.

“The sounds, the smoke from the fire, all these are beneficial for the baby and the mother-to-be,” she explains.

Saranya says she is excited about the imminent arrival of her first child, but worried about the challenges ahead.

“We believe that the child should grow up well,” he insists. “We want to be good parents.”


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