“My daughter Anwesha was extremely ill when we brought her from the adoption centre. Hepatospleenomegaly, bronchitis, septicaemia… the seven-month baby had it all. We had a doctor coming twice a day to check on her. I had to apply for leave, even if it meant going without pay.”
Leave with pay is what Matangini Chattopadhyay has now been granted.
This makes the reader with the School of Education Technology in Jadavpur University (JU) possibly the first adoptive mother on the rolls of an Indian university to be granted maternity leave.
Bengal’s only UGC-crowned centre of excellence has broken new ground — this time in the field of social justice — by amending its rules to grant maternity leave to adoptive mothers and setting an example before the government of West Bengal.
“We have moved a resolution at a recent executive committee meeting to amend our rules to allow 120 days’ maternity leave to adoptive mothers on our staff, at par with the leave granted to biological mothers,” confirmed JU registrar Rajat Bandyopadhyay.
It was Chattopadhyay’s application for leave that raised the issue at the executive committee meeting.
Though her period of leave had transpired just before the date of the crucial meeting, the university granted her the leave with retrospective effect, making her the first beneficiary of the amendment.
The premier university’s stance comes as a shot in the arm for adoption forums that have been fighting this issue for years.
“Earlier, the concept of maternity leave revolved around recuperation of the mother,” explains Nilanjana Gupta, a teacher with the university’s department of English and chairperson of Atmaja, an association for adoptive parents.
“With improved surgery techniques and natal care, the stress is now on taking care of the child for the first few months. This is one aspect that adopted children are as much, or perhaps more, in need of, as they are mostly born in neglect,” she adds.
The most crucial factor is the need for bonding. “These children are usually abandoned by their parents. So, they carry memories of being shunted about from the place where they were found to police stations to adoption homes. They suffer from severe insecurity, have confused experience of touch and smell, and lack the basic skills of communication,” points out Gautam Gupta, Nilanjana’s husband.
The teacher of economics recalls how their adopted daughter “initially did not cry even if she was hungry as she did not know the signal would bring her food”.
So, adoptive mothers need to be with the child for both physical and emotional care. The point of contention for such adoption forums is a finance department memorandum dated March 1, 2002, that requires leave granted to adoptive mother to be “adjustable against leave due and admissible”.
“This, in effect, does not grant any maternity leave benefit,” argues Nilanjana.
Another peeve point is linking the adopted child’s age to the period of leave. “As it is, people are unwilling to take home older children. If the government gives less leave in their case, this will further discourage their adoption,” she complains.
Social welfare minister Biswanath Chowdhury had failed to turn up for a meeting with Atmaja representatives in January. Now that a government university has set a precedent, Chowdhury’s department might well take a closer look at the issue.