Indians rethink reluctance to adopt
Amrit Dhillon says it's time for society to dismantle the prejudices of caste and blood
Hearing Indians talk about adoption has tended to be a distressing affair. It is absolutely the last resort for childless couples. Images of adorable babies and toddlers in orphanages do not melt their hearts. For many Hindus, a child is not just a child; they are bothered by all sorts of considerations pertaining to his or her origins.
Is the child up for adoption because it is illegitimate, born to an unmarried mother? (Bad.) This is a common myth - the truth is that the mother was usually married but gave up the child because she felt she was too poor to give the child a good life. What is the caste of the child? (A low caste would be bad, "because their DNA will be inferior".) What if the parents are Muslim? (Worse.) So they try to specify to the orphanage that the child must be light-skinned.
With all these requirements, along with the desire for "pure blood", it's no wonder that Indians choose an "informal adoption" of a child of a relative who has several children and is willing to give one up.
This must create emotional complications of its own: it must be difficult for the real parents to see their child growing up in another home where they visit frequently and see the child at close quarters. And for the couple who have "adopted" the child, it must be nerve-racking wondering how the biological parents feel about the child and what close links might develop.
Yet, this option is widely practised, not just because of "blood" but because it's a good way of keeping property and assets "in the family".
As someone once explained to me, an adopted child is an "outsider" and it's unthinkable for family property to go to someone with different blood flowing in their veins.
Mercifully, these prejudices against adoption are fading, judging by the latest figures from the Central Adoption Resource Agency, which has seen a drastic increase in the number of Indians, as opposed to foreigners, adopting children.
While only 2,409 children were adopted by Indians in 2006, the figure last year stood at 5,905. This is still shockingly low but at least it's a start. In the big cities, educated and upper-middle-class couples are clearly overcoming entrenched notions of caste and creed to look outside their extended family.
In rural areas, though, it is unlikely that anything has changed and couples will continue to "borrow" a child from a relative.
But, even among those who are now more predisposed to adopting, another big hurdle remains to be overcome. The children who languish for years in orphanages are those with special needs.
Rare is the Indian couple with hearts big enough to take on a child with disabilities. For such children, their only hope of finding a home still rests with a foreign couple.
Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India