Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The surreal world of the great Indian adoption fLAWS

According to recent reports from government agencies, much publicized by the press (accompanied by suitable tongue clicking), adoptions in 2008-2009 have fallen by about half, over even the measly number from last year.

This is despite a concerted effort, on many fronts, to encourage the Indian adult to adopt. The press, as well as the electronic media, has done its part by bringing adoption to the forefront of the Indian mind. TV ad campaign “in public interest” have been backed up by gushy articles in the press about the joys of adoption, its social significance, the pleasures of parenthood and whatnot. The local and central governments have put up hoardings and billboards at strategic locations, pushing adoption. Electric bills are being printed and mailed with social messages encouraging people to adopt a child.

And still the numbers are falling? Is this an indication of the ever unchanging Indian biases against adoption? Is this an indication of the growing selfishness among the prospering middle and upper-middle classes? NOT AT ALL. All this indicates is the age-old “short term fixes ignore the long run” approach of the Indian establishment to just about everything. The system makes it extremely difficult for most people to adopt, completely impossible for some, even though they may be willing and able to love, support, and make a home for a child.

As recently as two decades ago, hardly anyone would even think of adoption. Forget couples who already had children of their own (whn god gives in such plenty why adopt some unknown child with unknown antecedents? Much better to carry on the Vansh, the bloodline), even the majority of childless couples would not imagine bringing a child home. Childlessness was a punishment from god, a fault of their “kismet”, or just bad luck (unless of course the BARREN woman was to blame). And who can fight GOD’s will?

So has nothing changed? Yes, much has. From a time when adoption was the last resort of the childless couple (and even then a child from a known family and bloodline was sought, like that of an impoverished relative with more kids than he could feed), today its more and more acceptable, at least in the more open minded urban culture. So why are the numbers falling, you may ask. There are a number of reasons, and none of them has to do with the reluctance of couples to adopt or with a scarcity of suitable up-for-adoption kids in the system.

First, and most important, hindrance is the superlative levels of red tape an the total lack of organization in the process and the agencies. Although there are thousands of suitable children available for adoption all over the country, and hundreds, at least, of couples wanting and waiting to adopt them, bringing the two together seems beyond the capabilities of the government. There isn’t even a national database of adoptable kids! So, if you are a couple in Maharashtra wanting to adopt, and there are no suitable children in that area, you might have to wait indefinitely for one to become available (through being orphaned or abandoned) even though there are hundreds of children available in other states.

The complete lack of technological application also makes the actual adoption process a long and convoluted one. Running around from one Organisation to another, from one Babu to another; providing a plethora of authentications, documents, proofs, ad nauseum; the months of waiting while the juggernaut of government machinery rolls along at an achingly slow pace. The police verifications and background checks alone take months, or years even, and the total process can last anywhere from three to five years, sometimes more.

Add that to the fact that most couples overcome a lot of mental, emotional, societal, and familial opposition and pressure to take the decision to adopt in the first place, and you have the beginnings of a picture. But there’s more. Most couples, for obvious reasons, seek to adopt infants. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. The child comes to you as a blank slate, so to speak, with no preprogrammed language, culture, values an so on. Effectively, it’s as good as having one of your own in terms of seamless integration into the family and society. The child is young enough to be moulded totally into one of you.

Now picture you picking a six month old, and then beginning the process that will ultimately allow you to take it home. By the time the process is completed, the child could be a six year old, brought up in an orphanage, imbibing no-one-knows what values and culture from the people who look after it. Not exactly great for instant “apnapan”. All it means for you is that you will have a long haul of un-programming, before you can even think of beginning the reprogram that makes the child a part of your family, social set, and culture. All the behaviour picked up so far will have to be un-learned before the child can learn the behaviour that is acceptable in your world.

In addition, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Jain parents can only adopt Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain orphans, or abandoned kids, whose parents are not known, where the kid has been brought up in these religions! (What kind of sense that makes, in a country already swooning under the burden of divisionism, I have no idea. Why not let the parents choose? Let them decide if they would like to adopt across communities. Maybe that would even help ease inter community tensions a little). A Hindu woman, the wife of a Hindu man, cannot apply for adoption or be a co-applicant. She can only “give her consent”, and that too only if she herself is a Hindu. There are separate laws for Muslims and Parsis, but for the most part those don’t even allow outright adoption. They only allow kids to be placed in Guardianship, which ends when the children attain legal maturity. All this only adds complications, and makes it more and more impossible for couples to adopt easily or quickly.

And that’s not all. The problems stated so far only arise in the case of a married couple who have no children of their own. Now one can easily imagine how much harder EVERY thing is, for a single person wanting to adopt in India. First of all, let’s not forget the instinctive mistrust mainstream India shows for anyone who chooses not to marry. That’s bad enough, and speculation of all kinds from sexual inadequacy to homosexuality will be advanced as a reason behind such a choice. Factor in the desire of such a “strange” person to adopt a child, and you have an instant “WHY”. The paranoia is so deep rooted that it is excruciatingly difficult for a single person to adopt (in spite of the brownie points the government feels entitled to for even allowing it in the first place), thus reducing the number of prospective adoptive parents even further!

There are other issues too. Twenty something years ago, my parents wanted to adopt a child. They have two of their own, but they had the economic strength to bring up more, and thought it would be a good way to pay-it-back, give back to society. But, the great Indian adoption (f)laws prevented that very, very effectively. They had one son and one daughter, you see. So, according to the Hindu adoption laws, they could neither adopt a girl or a boy. Completely nonsensical, of course, considering that people would only want another child of the same gender if they really wanted it.

Two decades later, it hasn’t gotten any better. My man and I want to adopt, we want girls, and we want not one but two. However there is a hitch, a major one. We already have a biological daughter! So, the government of India, in all its wisdom, and on the basis of a law un-amended since the mid 1800s, tells me I cannot have more, unless I choose to overburden an already overcrowded planet by bearing more. And all this in a country like India, where female foetuses are lucky if they are allowed to be born, where female infants are incredibly lucky if they are not thrown into a well, drowned in a river, or suffocated to death with salt. Presumably, the government knows more about me than I do, and can tell that I am only pretending to want girls. What I probably really want to do, the omniscient feels, is bring them home, pay for their upkeep, education and everything else, only to make them high class slaves to my OWN daughter.

Unless the system loses its prejudices about OWN and ADOPTED children, until the processes are streamlined and cleaned up, until it takes less time – and heartache – from choosing the child to bringing it home, until religion and community stops being so much of a barrier, until single people are accepted and encouraged as adoptive parents, and until people desirous of adopting are allowed, even aided, to do so regardless of gender of child and existing biological offspring, nothing is going to change.

Adoption rates WILL fall. And neither the press nor the government should be remotely surprised by it. After all, a die hard pro-adoption couple as us (I knew I would adopt since I was 12 years old, my man, since he was in college) has been forced to all but give up the plan to bring home a child in the face of such determined and targeted opposition from the Indian government. It’s taken us four years of banging on doors and begging at agencies. Pity really, considering that two homeless, parentless, love deprived little girls would have gotten a family in that time.

No comments:

Post a Comment