International Women’s Day: Single women shun judgements, embrace their identities

Meet Chandrima Home, Lalitha, and Srobona Das, who defy the odds to raise their children, while navigating work and parenthood.

The delusional bubble of our so-called ‘progressive society’ is broken every year on International Women’s Day. Irrespective of how far we have developed, we still struggle to comprehend and respect simple concepts of freedom and equality, especially concerning women. 

A woman’s identity is not tied to a man

The identity of a woman is somehow still rigidly bound by her association with a man, be it her father or her husband. A single woman is often judged. It is not just society that ties a woman to a man’s name, but also the government with some regressive policies. The recent government notification which requires women, who wish to change their surname, will need to either present a copy of the divorce decree or a ‘permission letter’ from their husbands to legally change their surnames back to their maiden names, for example, has been criticised. This does not come as a surprise, however, since most legal documents, from Aadhar to passports, held by women, require a man’s attestation.

In 2016, the Delhi High Court ruled out the mandate for the father’s name in passports. “This court is of the view that the mother’s name is sufficient in certain cases like a woman’s plea seeking re-issuance of her daughter’s passport without her father’s name being mentioned to apply for a passport, especially as a single woman can be a natural guardian and also a parent,” it said. 

In 2023, Kerala High Court passed a judgement allowing a person to include his mother’s name alone in legal documents. “It is clear that it is the right of a person to include his mother’s name alone in the birth certificate, identity certificates and other documents. As I observed earlier, there are children of rape victims and children of unwed mothers in this country. Their right of privacy, dignity and liberty cannot be curtailed by any authority,” the judgement said. 

Last year, Karnataka High Court observed that there is no requirement for a woman to change her surname to her husband’s post marriage. She is entitled to use her maiden name showing her father’s name. But there was no mention of whether she can use her mother’s name. 

Though society, in general, still judges single women, there are women who are proud of their identity. Here are the stories of three single women in Bengaluru:   


Read more: International Women’s Day: The need to celebrate, inspire, include


‘It’s not a broken home, just because a child was raised by a single mother’

Chandrima Home, 42, a single mother and faculty at Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, has been raising her daughter alone since she was a year old. Chandrima was born in Kolkata and made Bengaluru home since 2007. 

While pursuing her PhD at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in 2009, she took her toddler with her on two field visits to Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. “While it was a demanding time in the field (doing field work and taking care of a breastfed child), the village where I stayed made it easy for me. The women in the village would knit socks and sweaters for her. Every day, I would be greeted with a mug of milk and therefore never ran out of important supplies. I could not find any woman to take care of my child since they were all busy working in agricultural fields and handling chores at home. Finally, it was a man who took the responsibility of being my daughter’s nanny and he was amazing,” recalls Chandrima. 

Her family was initially apprehensive about Chandrima taking her daughter with her to Spiti, since it was a high-altitude landscape. “But I told them, we will never know until we are there. I think one of my biggest driving forces in life is that I believe that if you never take chances, you will never know what you are getting into.” 

Chandrima emphasises that it is very important to have a strong support system when you are a single mother. From the caretakers at creches to friends and batchmates, she is grateful that she had strong supportive network to rely on. “I had friends who helped me put down the first deposit amount for a rented accommodation when I moved houses after my ex-husband moved out. Many helped me set up my home and often babysat my daughter,” she says. 

Chandrima Home with her daughter
“It’s important to develop a thick skin to pave our own path and not get bothered by society’s judgements,” Chandrima. Pic: Chandrima Home

Speaking of stigma, Chandrima observed that because Bengaluru is a cosmopolitan city, she has not been judged for being a single mother. However, she has been judged on social networking sites. 

She also made sure the stigma of divorce did not affect her daughter by having regular conversations with her. “Whatever has happened in my life should not overshadow her perceptions of men and companionship when she grows up. Over time, she has understood the dynamics of a family and knows that people can stay apart and still be respectful to each other and maintain their relationships with the child,” says Chandrima.

Though it was initially difficult for her at an emotional level to permit her daughter to interact with her ex-husband, she never opposed it. Currently, her daughter has her father’s surname, and she would not want to impose her decisions on it as she believes it is a decision for her daughter to make, eventually.  

Chandrima says it is very important to normalise divorce. She strongly opposes terms like, “broken homes” or “broken families.” She also disagrees with women-shaming, which is common in divorces. “Stop judging women on why men leave and if women are at fault here. Men make choices, just like women.” 

While Chandrima strongly believes in being thick skinned to stay sane and healthy, challenges continue to come. “I was getting my daughter’s passport done during my divorce and I had to carry my court order to show that we were separated and had to provide consent from her father for her passport to be issued. I had to make three rounds to the passport office to get it done.”

‘His passing away did not make any difference to me, except that his abuses finally stopped’

Lalitha, a 39-year-old single mother, starts her day quite early in the morning. She cleans her home and cooks for her college-going daughter, then heads out to work in the seven houses in her vicinity, doing household chores from washing vessels and clothes, sweeping, mopping and even cooking in a few households. She skips her breakfast on most days and finds a brief period in the afternoon to head back home for lunch. Her day job finishes mostly by early evening, after which she heads back home, cooks dinner, and takes up her night job of ironing clothes. 

Lalitha has been working round the clock ever since she moved to Bengaluru when her daughter was merely a three-month-old infant. Her husband was a raging alcoholic, and she became accustomed to his abuse every day, but she also desperately continued to search for rehabilitation programmes for him. “Ever since I married him, we only kept fighting every day and this impacted my daughter as well.” 

Right from the beginning, she has been taking care of her daughter, Poornima, who is currently pursuing her bachelors. Her late husband never contributed financially and was not invested in their daughter. “There were days when he would send her to collect money from the houses I work in to fund his alcohol addiction. My daughter would go crying as she did not like collecting mercy money.” 

Lalitha and her daughter
“I’m making sure my daughter does not lack anything, even if it come at my personal cost; I want to make sure she is well taken care of.’- Lalitha. Pic: Lalitha

It has been three years since her husband passed away and she observes how this affects her daughter, who was very attached to her father. “I see her tearing up when any father-related content is shown on TV. cand I can’t do anything to fill that gap for her,” she grieves. 

“I studied only till 10th grade. I wanted my daughter to have a good education,” she says. During Poornima’s school days the expenses were sorted out since she was attending a government school, but ever since her bachelor’s, the expenses have slightly increased and Lalitha continues to work harder. She ignores her health concerns at times so that she can provide the best for her daughter. Poornima also supports her mother to the best of her ability. She works in two households before going to college and is currently in search of a part-time job, which she can pursue alongside her studies. 

The mother-daughter duo look past the stigma, and focus on work and balancing the finances at home. “The only difference in her father’s absence is that my daughter and I were relieved of his abuse, and she now has a peaceful environment at home to focus on her studies.”  

‘There’s this assumption that a single woman/mother, especially when she’s divorced, is easy’

Srobona Das does not prefer the term, ‘single mother’ for herself, since her daughter was not raised by her alone. Post her divorce, her ex-husband and she made their daughter their utmost priority. They have balanced their roles so far and promise to continue to do so. 

Srobona, Regional Director South at WeTheChefs.in, has been residing in Bengaluru for 26 years now. A few years into her marriage, the couple decided to adopt a child. When they got divorced in 2017, they continued to prioritise their daughter over their mutual differences. “Both of us contribute in bringing up our daughter with the right values, to be strong and face the stigma in society.” 

However, the divorce was not easy on her and her daughter. There were questions raised about the spouse. There were always raised eyebrows, smirks and glances when her male friends dropped by or if her friends came in late, and though she was in her 40s then, she was not spared from society’s judgements. “Women living alone, even with a child who was going to school everyday, still face questions and queries; maybe not directly as I was living in a more cosmopolitan apartment, but the subtle judgements were still evident.” She got therapy for her daughter and herself during the divorce, for support and to build confidence. Nevertheless, the journey was difficult. 

One of the most prominent steps in normalising divorce starts at home, by talking to the children and empowering them to be honest. Srobona always empowered her daughter to tell the truth. When her daughter grew older, she helped a classmate of hers who was going through a similar situation and was gravely impacted by it. “She told her classmate that you will have two homes, which would mean double the love and double the gifts,” Srobona recalls, smiling. 

Srobona Das
‘My daughter helped the other child in realising that divorce is not abnormal or wrong, and you can still be happy and love both the parents,’ Srobona Das. Pic: Srobona Das

Normalising divorce is very crucial. Once the judgement of divorce is removed, one can see the required support one needs. “I was fortunate to have supportive families and friends. Once things settled down, her father and I communicated as parents of the child and as friends since we knew each other for about 26 years.” 

Srobona was a stay-at-home mother for about five years. After the divorce, when she decided to get back to work, she had to start from scratch. “I spent hours and hours looking for jobs on LinkedIn and other sites. Most of the opportunities for working mothers were very few and they were technical. What would women with soft skills do?” During this period, she observed how there are very few platforms, which offer jobs for mothers returning to the workforce. Recruiters in the corporate world are so consumed by tangible outcomes that they ask discriminatory questions about career gaps, marital status, child-birth plans, which are all directed only towards women. 

The assumption of single women/mothers being ‘easy’ is just not restricted in parties or workplaces alone, but also among friends and their partners. “In every social gathering, a single woman is a sore thumb. She will either get a lot of compliments, or cold shoulders or sympathy and I didn’t want either.”  

Srobona elaborates on the many steps one can take to normalise divorce. It starts from raising awareness, not pitying but being supportive in action and making it mandatory in companies and organisations to not discriminate over a woman’s marital status. 

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