Working Mothers

The most challenging aspect of the life of working women is to raise their children. This natural process is seriously impacted by the local traditions and has emerged as a new trend reshaping the family set-up, Nida Mehraj reports

Children walk on a wooden bridge during a cold morning in the interiors of Dal Lake in Srinagar.
KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

In Kashmir, suckling mothers, who are working women, avoid taking their kids to their workplaces. This style, rooted in tradition, impacts the holistic development of the child and the mental and physical health of the mother.

“Everyone goes office to work and not raise the children,” Dr Shaiqa, 38, a mother of two children, said. “In case, we take our babies with us, we would not be able to work properly.”

The doctor, who is raising her child for the last eight years, said the lack of facilities is yet another challenging issue. “If proper crèches or nurseries will be provided to us near our offices, we can definitely handle both of them appropriately and we can do our jobs conveniently,” she said.

Despite being projected as part of women empowerment, the governance structures have not been able to offer designated spaces within the offices for the suckling mothers. Even if they do so, it would still require care-taking facilities, as an add-on.

Maternity Concessions

Over the years, the systems have gradually offered some concessions to the working women for raising their children. It is now a package of three concessions – one being offered during pregnancy; one after the children birth and the third for raising the child. The last concession offering a two year paid leave for two children was extended to the working women a year before the BJPDP government collapsed.

Interestingly, the third concession can be availed by the women well before the children cross the sixteen years of age. “When this reform was announced, hundreds of women availed this concession and all of a sudden lot of offices looked deserted,” one former head of a department said. “Now it is being availed by quite a few women for unknown reasons.”

Despite having a good concession basket, the problem still remains about the suckling mothers who are supposed to report to their duties after availing six months of maternity leave.

Family Support

Kashmir’s working women avoid taking their children to their workplaces as there is no facility where they can keep the child.  Most of the government organizations do not have a crèche for the staff where they could feed their babies or where anyone could look after them while the mother would work.

Even if such a facility would emerge in the public sector institutions, there is no possibility of suckling mothers taking their kids to the workplace. It is rooted in the Kashmir tradition.

This tradition has evolved from the past when Kashmir would have a joint family system in vogue. Most of the Kashmir periphery has not changed a bit and the joint family set-up continues to be the dominant institution of the family set-up.

However, gradually the urban space has given up the joint family set up as the nuclear families proliferated but it has not changed the couple’s dependence on the parent families.

“I think the system of not taking children to workplaces does not exist in Kashmir because we still have a joint family system and family members take care of the child in the absence of parents,” a working woman said.

Nuclear Families

Some of the women who live in nuclear family set-up and attempt availing the parents’ family support are really exhausting themselves. Off this, this is showing disturbing results.

“Me and my husband live in Zakoora belt,” said Sabhiya, 35, a teacher,, in the old city, said. It is a nuclear family comprising a child and two working parents. “I have exhausted all the concessions that are there for a mother. Now, I rely on my mother who takes care of my child.” What is interesting is that she drives her kid first to Hyderpora on daily basis and keeping the son there and then goes to the school. Once she finishes her day, she collects her son and drives him home. “Working in the private sector means that she ends up indebted every month so the husband chips in. Her husband belongs to the Kashmir periphery.

Asked if she can take her son to a separate facility if it exists at her working place the young teacher refused point-blank. “If I have my son with me, it is impossible to keep him away and then I cannot concentrate on my duty,” she said.

For this very reason, countless families in Srinagar, have employed maids to take care of their wards in their absence. Interestingly the baby-sitters across the globe are being accused of ill-treating children; the complaints on this count are literally missing in Kashmir. The reason: no babysitting maid has the luxury of managing a kid without some sort of supervision.

Maternal Family

It is enigmatic but interesting that in urban Kashmir families a daughter’s child is supposed to be taken care of by her maternal family and not by her in-laws. This lacks a basis but this is the new tradition.

This trend is dictating a new family order. In a sizable chunk of urban families where the mother is taking care of her daughter’s kids, the son of the family is detached and is seen closer to his in-laws. In future, this could lead to men migrating post-marriage rather than women, as is in vogue.

This lifestyle has already started a new trend –families offer or arrange pieces of land for their sons-in-law to construct the homes in the vicinity of their in-laws. This is being done purely to keep their daughters closer even after marrying them off. Interestingly, this trend is retaining daughter’s closer to their parents, unlike sons, even after marriage.

Saving From Evil Eye

Not taking children to the workplace is a custom. Apart from other factors, it is quite rampant in Kashmir that small kids should stay indoors and this is important to keep them away from the ‘evil eye’.

A superstitious Kashmir has always linked certain basic ailments in the kids to the evil eye. This is the key factor why the parents prefer using the talisman and seeking the help of the faith healers in the growth of their kids.

This is why the women engaged in certain professions avoid taking their kids along despite having the possibility of managing them. This is possible in the case of school teachers though not for lawyers or doctors.

A Mother’s Child

The law sees a child as the responsibility of the father. Under the Muslim Personal Law, a mother can demand a maid or a facility from her husband in maintaining a child. But the Kashmir society works more on tradition and custom.

A child is always a responsibility of the mother. If she lacks somewhere in taking this responsibility, she is being degraded. That is precisely why fathers lack a better investment in their kids, unlike mothers.

“In our society, if a mother wants to have a babysitter, she is supposed to pay for the service,” Dr Mudasir said. “It is a disempowering tradition and it gives the lady the image of a worker and not a member of the family.”

Caught In A Crisis

Despite all this, the women are the apparent losers. The situation they live in forces them to resort to extremes at their own cost.

Keeping their kids along in the office may be upsetting for their employers and colleagues. This may lead them to have a discounted output. They keep their kids home and it takes a lot of time for them to forget that they are actually mothers who are separated from their kids. Finally, when joining their kids, the routine home chorus adds yet another responsibility.

“Managing home, office and children at the same time impacts my mental health terribly,” a cytologist said. “I do not think about it much but whenever I think, I instantly burst into tears.”

The Flip Side

While growing up if the kids evolved with some discipline issue, it is attributed to the mothers. Some years are vital for children to have strong foundations. Interestingly, these years are spent by the kids in the crèche where a mechanical or a robotic protocol is in place.

Since the kids remain attached to the person who raises them while the mother was attending office, they have an emotional disconnect with their mothers. Some children do not admire their parents in the long run as they are not able to give most of their time to them. The blame goes to the mothers and not the situation in which mothers are forced to be multi-taskers.

“To get emotionally attached to grandchildren, the grandparents have to invest in the kids and this disconnect persists for most of the life,” Dr Mudasir Aziz, a psychologist said.

Advocate Shefan Jehan said the approach of the kids of working mothers is completely different from the kids of mothers who do not work. “Some children have compromised discipline as they don’t get proper parenting in the early stages of their life,” Jehan said. “But being detached with the family has a good impact in the long run – they become independent in early stages of their life, by starting doing their little chores at home in the absence of parents.”

In rare cases, the kids being managed in the joint families do suffer abuse and torture. In certain cases, Dr Mudasir said, they develop OCD.

All these factors led the working women to live with the guilt of not giving most of their time to their children.

(Some of the names mentioned in this report have been changed on request)

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