The problem was not that she was about to deliver a baby, the problem was that she was unmarried. Though being unmarried and delivering a baby is not a crime in the eyes of law, but it is one of the most heinous crimes in the eyes of society in India. The crime becomes a little more intolerable when the woman who is unmarried and about to deliver a baby comes from a lower caste of the society. In such a case, everyone gets to say something about the vulgarity and unacceptability of the act. I wonder at times, if it is encoded in our genes to reproduce in order to make sure the survival of our species, why does the act of reproduction, be it having sex without marriage or delivering a baby without being married, happen to be such a big taboo if it is not performed by the consent of the family members or the society?
Bindiya’s case was a little different. Even before Bindiya could figure out what was wrong with her, she was three months pregnant. Sulakshana, her mother, took her to a local dispensary when Bindiya complained of missing her periods for the third time in three consecutive months.
“She hasn’t been eating anything at all madam. How will she lose blood if there is none in her body? Am I right madam?” she asked the lady doctor who was doing a routine check-up on Bindiya.
“Is she married?” the doctor asked.
Sulakshana laughed loudly and said, “What do you say madam? She is only fifteen. I am not that sort of mother who will get rid of her daughter as soon as she begins to become a burden on the family. I can take care of her madam. I can take care of her very well”, there was a hint of pride in her voice. Bindiya was constantly looking at her feet other than opening her eyelids wide when told to do so by the doctor.
“Take this”, the doctor handed over a small strip to Bindiya, “Go to the bathroom and urinate on this strip. Don’t throw it. You understand? Bring it back after urinating on it.” Bindiya nodded her head and went towards the bathroom.
“What is wrong with her madam?” Sulakshana asked out of curiosity.
“We will know soon enough”, the doctor replied in a calm tone. Such cases were not new to her. She already knew what the issue was.
Bindiya came back moments later and handed over the strip to the doctor. She took one look at it and a faint smile appeared on her face. She shook her head, heaved a sigh and threw the strip in the dustbin below her table. She asked Bindiya’s name, wrote it at the top of the medical examination sheet and started to scribble her pen.
“What happened madam?” Sulakshana asked again.
“She’s pregnant”, the doctor replied casually.
“What!” Sulakshana shouted. Bindiya was once again looking down at her feet. She wasn’t reacting to the situation at all. It was as if she knew what was wrong with her. “This is impossible doctor. This has to be a mistake. My daughter cannot be pregnant!” Sulakshana said with expressions of surprise and amazement on her face.
“She is. I have written some more tests and I am giving the basic medicines which she needs to take from today onwards. If you say she has missed her periods from three months, I am afraid the child cannot be, should not be aborted. An abortion at this stage will create lots of complications for her later on. There would still be complications though. Her body is not ready for motherhood yet. She is underage. She is weak and I believe she is anaemic as well, I mean she has less blood in her body. She needs to eat well and she needs to relax. Do not put any sort of pressure on her or you might end up losing your daughter. I know your concerns about her future. Who will marry her? There are orphanages that adopt infants, try getting in touch with some. They will help you out. But, I warn you, do not choose to abort the child. This may result in causing more harm than good to your daughter”, the doctor exchanged so much of information and Sulakshana was finding it difficult to come out of the shock.
“Bindiya!” she shouted at her. Bindiya looked at her mother and a slap hit across her face.
“Hey! Not here!” the doctor shouted at Sulakshana.
Sulakshana caught Bindiya’s hand and dragged her out of the dispensary. As soon as they came out, the slaps and the punches began to land on Bindiya’s back. Bindiya stood there with no expression at her face.
“Shameless! What have you done? I told you to be careful. I told you not to fall in love. What will we do now? What will I tell to your father? He will kill you and me both if he got to know about this. What have you done? Who did you sleep with? Tell me! Who did you sleep with?” Sulakshana’s anger was pouring down in countless slaps across Bindiya’s face. Tears trickled down Bindiya’s face.
“I can’t tell you amma. I can’t”, she managed to say.
“Why can’t you? Name him! I will take him to the police. I will make sure he goes to jail. I will make sure he is hanged to death. Name him! I say name him!”
“He will kill us amma. He told me he will kill all of us if I ever uttered his name to anyone.”
Bindiya did not tell her mother who spoiled her youth, who used her body for his pleasure, who was the father of the child growing in yet another child’s womb.
The very same evening, Sulakshana shared the news with her husband. She slapped Bindiya once, as if it was her fault to become pregnant. She was taken out of school and made to stay indoors all the time. She was told not to play with her friends anymore until the problem was taken care of. She was being prepared for motherhood.
Time passes like a flowing river, drop by drop and yet all at once. Five months passed. One evening, Bindiya complained of slight pain in her abdomen. Her mother feared it the most. The doctor had warned her about premature delivery because of Bindiya’s age. Sulakshana’s husband hadn’t come back from work yet. In the fear of matter getting worse, she decided to take Bindiya to the hospital. By the time they reached hospital, Bindiya couldn’t walk because of the pain. She was taken to the labour ward on a stretcher. A lady doctor walked in and asked for her medical reports. She went through the reports, examined her for few minutes, and asked some questions about her pregnancy period. She finally asked about who was accompanying her.
“Amma!” Bindiya shouted from inside the labour ward.
“Bindiya! My child!” Sulakshana walked into the labour ward and held her daughter’s hand, “This will be over soon my child. Stay strong.”
“I need to talk to you, come outside”, the doctor said to Sulakshana.
“Amma no! Don’t leave me here alone!” Bindiya shouted again.
Sulakshana couldn’t stop her tears by seeing at her daughter in pain. She said to the doctor, “Madam, please don’t make me leave my daughter. Tell me what you want to tell me here only, in front of my daughter.”
The doctor, unable to see a way out, said, “As per the reports, the girl is weak and so might be the child, there is substantial risk of losing one of them. If there appears to be such a situation, what do you want us to do? Save the mother or the child?”
Sulakshana and Bindiya replied in unison, “Save my child.”
The doctor looked at both of them, trying to understand the situation.
“Save my child”, Bindiya said again, Sulakshana was speechless. Her daughter was about to experience the joy of motherhood and there was no fear in her heart to lose her life in order to save her child’s. Mothers, no matter how young or old, are the most selfless human beings on the face of earth.
“This is not a joke. I am serious. The situation is very complicated. I cannot guarantee the safety of both the mother and the child”, the doctor said.
“Madam, please let me talk to my amma for a minute”, Bindiya requested.
“Two minutes only”, the doctor said and moved on to the next woman on the stretcher and began to study her reports.
Sulakshana held her daughter’s hands and said, “Bindiya, my child, everything will be fine soon. You will be ok. These doctors have a habit of making small issues appear big. So many women become mothers every day, not every one of them dies. You will be fine. We will have normal lives once again after all this is over. I promise.”
Bindiya made a big effort to smile at her mother despite of all the pain she was suffering and said, “Amma, I want to tell you who is the father of this child.”
Sulakshana was sitting dumbstruck outside the labour ward. It was around midnight. The hospital was still abuzz with people coming and going. There were those who were distributing sweets in the maternity ward at the birth of a child. There were those who were not at all happy at the birth of a female child. There were those who were waiting for the good news outside the labour ward. There was Sulakshana who held a baby girl in her arms. The doctor had just told her that Bindiya couldn’t survive the toll on her body. She was weak and had lost lot of blood. The doctor said she was sorry. But Sulakshana couldn’t have felt sorrier herself. She was sorry that she bore a female child fifteen years ago. She was sorry that she couldn’t take proper care of Bindiya during her untimely and unwanted pregnancy. No mother wants to lose her child. The doctor had given her a form to fill up. Sulakshana didn’t know how to write even her name. She was sorry that she couldn’t read or write.
After few minutes, the doctor came back. Seeing Sulakshana sitting dumbstruck, she sat next to her. She placed her hand on Sulakshana’s shoulder and said, “Shall I help you in filling up the form?”
“I don’t know how to read or write.”
“Let me fill it up for you”, the doctor took the form from Sulakshana and began asking for details.
“What was your daughter’s name?”
“What was her husband’s name?”
“She was unmarried.”
The doctor looked at Sulakshana for a moment but quickly composed herself. She continued, “Do you know the name of the father of this child?”
“Do you know this man?” The doctor asked out of curiosity.
“Yes. I know this man for the last fifteen years”, she looked at the doctor and completed her sentence, “He is my husband.”