He may seem like a maverick – he has a Facebook page in the name of Nihilanand and will not be persuaded to be shot without his fake beard – but Raphael Samuel has been busy over the past one month, joining forces with child-free and anti-natalist evangelists in Delhi and Bengaluru. The idea is to build a grassroots movement so that the Indian family could try this new option.
“Anti-natalism is a philosophy that promotes being child-free as it believes human life is full of suffering so no bringing children into the world. Also, let’s be honest, there are some people who don’t want to clean kid shit,” says Samuel, a 27 year-old entrepreneur in Mumbai, sitting in the office of his mother Kavita Karnad Samuel, a lawyer, whom he plans to sue for Rs 1, for giving birth to him without his consent. Samuel is, incidentally, a grand-nephew of playwright-actor Girish Karnad.
Pratima Naik of Bengaluru heads a 500-member group of such child-free evangelists. “We are not starting a religion, we are trying to build an organisation and spread our views,” says Naik. “We are staring at an ecological disaster. Both human beings and animals are multiplying fast. But at the most I can tell a man to have a vasectomy, but I can’t have this conversation with a tiger, can I?”
The group is active on Facebook under the name ‘Childfree India’ but has recently started offline activities by organising meetings with its members across cities and designating roles for them. The first national meeting of the group was held in Bangalore last month. Samuel is in charge of its social media campaigns.
The group also wants to move beyond ‘awareness campaigns’ and work with associations like aanganvadi centres that are part of the public healthcare system as they deal with contraceptive counselling and supply. “When women come to do a tubal ligation (female sterilisation), aanganvadi workers often advise them to have a second child if the first child is a daughter,” says Samuel, who has some experience of rural life, as he provided security, four years ago, to Sampat Rai, the leader of the Gulabi Gang, a feminist vigilante group, in Bundelkand.
A certain statistic pushed him to act. “A recent study says one fewer child per family can stop an average of 58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year,” Samuel states. UNICEF data shows India topped the list of eight populous countries and accounted for 50% of all newborns born globally on January 1, 2019. “If we don’t stop making babies now, when will we do it?”
So far this may be a minority sentiment, but it is picking up in urban centres. The ‘tribe’ of Samuel includes a Mumbai-based married couple (photographer Varsha and engineer Vivek Mam), techie Ashwin, Alok Kumar, a married computer teacher in Delhi and his wife Shweta, and activist Anugraha KS of Bengaluru.
Alok has also taken a leaf out of Samuel’s book. He promotes his thoughts on child-freeism and other unconventional ideas about self-image through his series of Youtube videos, Varjit Satya (Forbidden Truths) under the persona of ‘Alok Mystic’. His wife Shweta does the same with her Youtube videos of ‘Inspirational Shweta’. Some amount of gimmickry, they say, is needed to propagate “extreme ideas”.
“The logic for bringing in a child cannot be that my father did this, so must I. If you really want a child, just adopt one,” says Alok. “My videos are seeds, they will sprout if they have to. I’m under no illusion that seeing these, everyone will turn anti-natalists, I’m just expressing myself.” Samuel’s consent-clause, he says, is important, but more so for women. “Samuel, of course, has stated that his consent should have been taken before his mother gave birth to him, but that’s just a ploy to focus the attention on the idea of consent.There is immense social pressure on a woman becoming a mother. Why should she be told that a child alone will give ‘meaning’ to a woman’s life or make her family ‘complete’?” he asks.
Could it be that the child-free movement demonstrates the crisis and churn in the traditional Indian family as the basic unit of social existence? “The support for a child-less marriage in India will, however, be a limited one,” says sociologist Ravi Kumar, South Asian University. “But there is no denying that the economic precarity this generation faces, is making them critique age-old ideas and hence subvert the very foundation of the family itself.”
Varsha Mam could indeed be a representative of the new Indian ‘family’ woman. She says her child-free state keeps her life spontaneous but not without responsibilities. Her husband Vivek agrees: “We can go off on a holiday whenever we want to; I can indulge my hobbies and so can she, and also look after my parents.... My mother is, I think, a closet anti-natalist herself but perhaps few people in her generation could openly say so.” The campaign for a child-free India is mainly about making women and men, and couples aware that they do have a choice and to take the stigma off when they exercise that choice by talking about it openly.
The concept of using babies as a band-aid for an unstable marriage is something all anti-natalists frown upon. “If you don’t get along with your partner, how are you going to like him/her better with a child?” points out Ashwin, a computer professional.
Ashwin has witnessed his father’s violence on his mother. His father, who has anger issues and used to be an alcoholic, runs a cab service. In India, many couples “ignore their personal histories otherwise they would have realised that good parenting would have been impossible for them, financially or psychologically”. He adds: “The question is: will I do better?” It’s a risk, he says, he doesn’t want to hazard.
The child-free advocacy group has been most active in Bengaluru. Anugraha KS gave up his anti-natalist views for a while because his wife wanted a child. But his marriage eventually broke up and his daughter Preeti is now an active participant in her father’s original project. Is it a lonely existence among extended family and friends, to have decided at 17 that she isn’t going to marry or have babies. “I am not an attention seeker,” says Preeti, “It’s not compulsory to have friends.”
Samuel says he hasn’t lost any. His mother is with him “fully”, except in the case he is planning to file against her. She feels anti-natalism is a concept whose time has come. His grandmother, too, likes his views. She just doesn’t like his beard.
First Published: Mar 15, 2019 19:46 IST