BANGALORE, INDIA – Roopa grew up enslaved in a south Indian brick kiln, enduring back-breaking labour and the heartbreaking loss of a child. The birth of her second child changed everything—and pushed her family to escape. Read her powerful story here.
Update: Roopa and her husband, Banaiah, welcomed a healthy baby girl in June 2017. Here are her family’s reflections on giving birth in freedom:
Roopa, on the journey of motherhood:
Roopa: I felt extremely happy all throughout. I felt a sense of belonging and acceptance from my community. During the time of Vijay’s pregnancy, I felt that I was alone. There was this deep sense of sadness and loneliness. I did not get proper meals or nourishment. All the more, my husband was away from me hard pressed with work. This time, I was welcomed, cared for and got a lot more attention.
On stepping into parenthood this time around:
Banaiah: I was so delighted! I was filled with joy as I had the freedom to be a FATHER – to experience fatherhood and spend time with my baby! When in bondage, I was not allowed to spend much time with my wife and little son. The work kept me busy and took priority – A helpless option that I had to live with. I would yearn to be around my son but long, intense hours took away that privilege. I was only allowed to see my son only during the late hours after the day’s work. I could not cherish the moments of fatherhood when Vijay was a baby. I missed those moments. It is so different this time. Today, I have the liberty and the time is at my disposal. I really enjoy taking care of my daughter and am so proud to be a father again!
Banaiah, on his new employer:
Banaiah: The owner at the brick kiln was often rude. I forfeited the freedom of my being. I was unable to fulfill my duties as a husband and a father to my son. Once, I remember begging him to allow me to go to the hospital to see my wife and son when Vijay was born. He just denied outright. My eyes often welled up with tears at my helplessness while at the kiln. However, my present employer is very understanding. He has given me a month’s leave to take care of my wife and my daughter. He calls up often to know how we are doing. This brings great joy to my heart. Even my job is secured and he has asked me to rejoin at any time.
On ushering a baby girl into their family:
Banaiah: I rushed to the hospital as I got to know that my wife was admitted in the hospital. On the way, my brother-in-law rang up and excitedly informed me that Roopa has delivered a baby girl! I could not contain my joy. I bought a cradle and several gifts for my baby. I just wanted to shower her with gifts! I went to see my baby for the first time in the hospital with many gifts to show that she is most loved and welcomed with all my heart!
On their dreams for their children
Banaiah and Roopa: We want them to be well-educated and find a good job. Our kids should not go through what we endured. We hope their lives will be better!
Additional context from IJM Bangalore content specialist and designer:
Many communities in India still value sons over daughters. Although the perception has been changing over the years, there are still families and communities that desire a son to be born to them instead of a daughter. People don't always neglect the baby girl once she is born, but a male child is often preferred. I was amazed at this answer from a poor survivor who rose above his cultural perceptions.
His first response upon hearing that a daughter was born was, “Lakshmi has come home!” (Lakshmi is the Hindu deity of wealth). He named his daughter, Bhoomika after their household deity. Bhoomika also means ‘from the earth.’