In what is being termed 'triggering' and 'irresponsible' on social media, Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar on Sunday, 10 October, claimed that modern Indian women 'want to stay single, and are unwilling to have children.'
Sudhakar spoke the jarring sentences at the 25th convocation of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru, on a day which is also observed as the World Mental Health Day.
"Today, I am sorry to say this but lot of modern women in India want to stay single. Even if they get married, they don't want to give birth. They want surrogacy. So there is a paradigm shift in our thinking – which is not good."K Sudhakar, Health Minister, Karnataka
Sudhakar's insinuation that a woman's primary role in society was to be a wife and a mother faced backlash on social media – with many calling the health minister out for his sweeping statement.
Defending Sudhakar's statement, BJP General Secretary CT Ravi went a step ahead, stating that not "every woman" fit the health minister's description but a few 'educated, working women' did.
"Every woman is not like this but some educated women who are working, especially in IT fields... It is happening because of western influence and micro families. In India, we still have faith in family unlike countries such as USA and UK," Ravi told news agency ANI.
'Why is a Woman's Independence Threatening?'
The health minister has not yet clarified why these comments found place in a speech on handling stress.
People on Twitter pointed that his statement was a reflection of how women's agency and bodily autonomy is barely respected – especially noting that there has been no 'paradigm shift' that he claims.
'Statement Out of Context': Sudhakar Issues Clarification
In a clarification, released almost 24 hours after the speech, Sudhakar said that a particular part of his 19-minute speech was taken out of context.
"Unlike western society, which puts the impetus on 'individualism', the Indian society is 'collectivistic' in that it promotes interdependence and cooperation, with the family forming the focal point of this social structure," the minister said in the statement.
He cited the findings of YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey to show that 19 percent millennials are not interested in either children or marriage. He added that another eight percent want children, but are not interested in marriage.
"Among post-millennials (or Gen Z adults), 23 percent aren't interested in either children or marriage. As in the case of millennials, eight percent want children, but are not interested in marriage. There are very little gender-wise differences in these trends. It is applicable to both boys and girls," Sudhakar wrote.
However, while his statement mentions 'millenials' and 'youth', his speech specifically referred to 'modern' women.
'Pigeonholing a Woman's Fertility'
Criticising his remarks, Congress MLA Sowmya Reddy said that Sudhakar's statement was also a veiled attack on women who were unable to bear children and the mental health issues they face due to it.
“Talking about women specifically. I think it is a very misogynistic point of view. From a person who has no idea what modern women go through every single day. Pigeonholing a woman’s fertility and being able to bear kids...I think it is just very embarrassing coming from a supposedly young person, doctor and health minister,” Reddy told Hindustan Times.
“Health minister of Karnataka K Sudhakar’s statements on women are appalling. His patriarchal statements, expecting women to merely perform the role of a mother, bearer of children, and wife, are highly condemnable. As women, we are constantly policed about our choices about our own bodies, whether we wish not to have children or get married. Women exist beyond child-bearing,” Nirmala M, State secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, told the media.
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