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An Incredible Parent, Disability Activist

There is no doubt about Tiwari’s love for his son. He is the only parent to opt to adopt a special needs child, for whom he had to fight for months. Today, they travel the country spreading awareness of disabilities, holding workshops and talks for all audiences. Tiwari also took it upon himself to challenge the Centre on the prescribed categories of disabled persons eligible for a disability certificate. There was no separate section for persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDDs). Tiwari gathered mass support through an online petition and ensured this oversight was corrected.

There is no doubt Aditya Tiwari is a fantastic parent… A fantastic father.

And there’s a reason we use a separate word for male parents. So why did the organization that awarded Tiwari forget ‘fathers’ as a category altogether? It’s important to be cognizant of the different common roles of mothers and fathers. This cognizance will tell us why ‘World’s Best Mommy’ was probably not the best choice of words to deliver our respect to a fantastic father…


Mom For A Day

First off, the fact that this comes on Intentional Women’s Day seems a little inappropriate. There is a reason we have LGBTQI Pride, Black History Month, Custodian’s Day, Dalit History Month … we dedicate days to celebrate minority communities — people who have otherwise been forgotten if not outright erased. It follows that we need International Women’s Day because historically, women’s efforts have gone vastly underappreciated (here are a few examples from India’s IndependenceConstitutionLawMedicine, and Literature). On this day, to give this award to someone from outside the relevant minority group seems to defeat the very purpose of the event.


Whose Duty? Whose Extra Mile?

Tiwari was deemed worthy of articles like ‘India’s youngest single dad Aditya Tiwari, on what it takes to raise a child with Down Syndrome‘. There have, for as long as civilization has existed, lived thousands of child brides who’ve given birth to and raised children with disabilities (CWDs). Yet it wasn’t until Tiwari that media houses decided to talk about the difficulties of single-handedly raising CWDs. Why? Why are we particularly intrigued by Tiwari’s struggle?

The answer lies in society’s assumptions of whose job it is to provide healthcare in the home. Feeding, cooking, bathing, toilet training, cleaning, teaching, putting to sleep. You’d be hard-pressed to find data against the fact that women do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to caring for those with additional health needs in the home. The young, old, sick, and dying are in most societies assumed to be the business of their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. The gendered assumptions about whose burden is healthcare at home ensure that mother caretakers are seen to be performing their duty while father caretakers are seen to be doing the extraordinary. Moreover, let us not forget that these mothers go not just unnoticed but are often unsupported …

Parenting is not an inherent/natural female skill but a challenging task that requires learning and coping, regardless of gender. Source 3rd BMI International Autism Conference (Feb 2020).

“Default Parent”

We often find that fathers — of children with disabilities or otherwise — are less motivated than mothers to be involved beyond providing financial support. This is of course not to say that fathers are not involved. This is to say that society doesn’t pressurize fathers to be caregivers as it does mothers.

Research shows that while mothers of CWDs perform all the healthcare functions, fathers’ responsibilities are less focused on the immediate daily life of the child at home. That is not to say they do not experience difficulties and stress as a result of their responsibilities. This is just to explain how the expectations of ‘women as caretakers’ and ‘men as breadwinners’ play out in the homes of CWDs.
Due to this difference in roles, mothers and fathers are not interchangeable.
Source: Shubhangi Vaidya “Autism and the Family in Urban India – Looking Back, Looking Forward” (2016)

The implication of this is that mothers are seen as the natural default parents. And this award reinforces this assumption. By saying that being an involved parent makes Tiwari a ‘Mommy’, we confirm that caregiving is inherently a mother’s job.

Tiwari’s defiance of gender norms should earn him the title of a fantastic father, not a mother. Imagine giving ‘World’s Best Abhineta’ to Ratna Pathak Shah, or ‘World’s Best Ballerina’ to Amiruddin Shah. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?

Not interchanging gendered terms acknowledges these different expectations and gives due respect to the unique challenges that come with unique expectations.

Tiwari’s story and the media’s handling of it reveal a lot about how society draws the lines for women as caregivers in the home. I hope a feminist reading of this event can bring conversations about gendered caregiving to the fore.

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