Rashi Aditi Ghosh/Zee Research Group
Motherhood is a beautiful experience for every woman. However, it can become an unbearable curse if conceived out wedlock in the Indian society. Moreover, the definition of illegitimate pregnancy under the eyes of law itself lacks clarity.
What’s worrying, many mothers decide to end their lives due to illegitimate pregnancy which has shown an uninterrupted growth over the years in Indian society. A Zee Research Group analysis of crime data reflects that suicides due to illegitimate pregnancy have increased from 141 in 2009 to 184 in 2011. The burden of illegitimate pregnancy increasingly being borne out solely by women is the other alarming trend.
Blaming social intolerance and boycott as a major factor, Professor Arvind Agarwal and Sociologist from Indian Sociological Society says, “Eminent French sociologist David Émile Durkheim had aptly said that suicide exists independently in society, and is caused by social facts. This suggests that a woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock kills herself as society boycotts her completely.”
The analysis also highlights acute gender disparity in suicide pattern over the years. In 2002, illegitimate pregnancy was a matter of disrespect for both men and women, as the proportion of female victims of suicide due of ‘Illegitimate Pregnancy’ was 97 per cent and eight men committed suicide because they were held responsible for the illegitimate pregnancy.
In 2011, men have managed to move out of the shame while women continue to be treated as the only guilty. In numbers, it implies the proportion of female suicides due to illegitimate pregnancy has become cent per cent.
To ease the taboo, many Bollywood movies like Salaam-Namaste, Fanaa, Kya Kehna, Teree sang, Kabhie-Kabhie, Eklavya, Fashion, Heyy Babyy and Om Shanti Om made sincere attempts to bring society’s acceptance towards “illegitimate pregnancy” but a country that almost feeds on Bollywood and gets inspired with every next movie, showered ample acceptance to the reel drama but showed no empathy to the real life incidents.
Talking on societal perspective towards the issue, Anjali Pawar, President of child right’s NGO ‘Sakhee’ says, “Since ancient times, pregnancy without a marriage was never exampled as a taboo. If we refer ‘Mahabharata’ we can see examples like Kunti. But unfortunately with onset of modernisation perception and tolerance towards unwed mothers and their children is getting worse in India.”
Reference to Indian law on the illegitimate pregnancy based on the Supreme Court’s version in Jinia Keotin vs Kumar Sitaram Manjhi [2003 (1) SCC 730] order says that , “A child born out of a legally invalid marriage could claim right to inherit his father’s property alone and not lay inheritance right over ancestral property, which legitimate children could.”
Mentioning children born from live-in relationships, where no marriage has taken place the Supreme court in SPS Balasubramanyam vs Sruttayan [AIR 1992 SC 756] further said, “If a man and woman are living under the same roof and cohabiting for a number of years, there will be presumption under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, that they live as husband and wife and the children born to them will not be illegitimate.”
Focusing on legal frame work and empathizing with the rights for the children who are born out of illegitimate pregnancy, advocate and solicitor Atul Chaubey from Delhi says, “Though Indian law has become sympathetic regarding termination of such pregnancy, the rights of such children are still under criticism. Legal provisions on the right of a child born out of such “walk-in and walk-out” relationship where a DNA test proves the biological relationship between the child and the father though the mother was in a subsisting legal married relationship with another man is yet not answered under the law.”
Atul further adds, “Law very clearly specifies that even if one applies the 1976 amendment to Hindu Marriage Act, then the mother of the child must first claim marriage to bestow right of inheritance on the offspring to the father’s property.”