“I do not let any male friends come to my house because I know what the neighbours will think knowing that I am a widow. I often come up with excuses even if they are my close friends, I have to think of what people will say about me because it will affect my son’s future,” Rinliani, a 30-year-old widow, told EastMojo.

Like many other parts of India, in Mizoram, too, there is a stigma toward single mothers, widows and divorcees. They are easily viewed in a negative light, and are often the target of taunts and teasing in gatherings. One wrong act could put them on society’s blacklist for many years. As a result, women like Rinliani have to take each step with caution amidst society’s prying eyes.

It was such stigma and the passion to provide a safe room and a platform for single mothers that led 29-year-old Lalduhawmi to set up the Mizoram Single Mothers Foundation on May 16, 2021.

Since the time she was in college, Lalduhawmi became passionate about creating a support system and a safe space for single mothers

When Lalduhawmi became a mother out of wedlock in the last year of her college at the young age of 23, she could not yet comprehend the challenges that would come her way.

“Whether it was in the field of education or job prospects, I faced a lot of challenges. Especially if the job was church-based, they would show interest at first but when they would find out that I am a single mother, their reaction would change,” she added.

Lalduhawmi did not have it easy. She struggled with the patriarchal mindset of the community and the role she played of being a mother and a student. “I bought two pairs of pants for Rs 100 and they were my only purchase during my University years. I used to sell clothes and goods imported from China to pay for my petrol,” she said. After completing her University degree, while she wanted to pursue a doctoral degree, the need to provide for her daughter led her to look for a job instead.

“The biggest challenge is the role expectation and the role conflict because single parents need to do double the work,” she told EastMojo.

“There are a lot of stigmas and stereotypes. People think we will not be able to fulfil our job responsibilities. There is a taboo associated with the words, ‘nuthlawi’ or ‘hmeithai’ which are used to identify and define divorcees and widows. What these people don’t know is that the woman they are carelessly calling a ‘nuthlawi’ is the whole world for their child,” she added.

Since the time she was in college, Lalduhawmi became passionate about creating a support system and a safe space for single mothers. It was this passion that led her to take up a Master of Social Work for her University degree. She enthusiastically conducted research on the topic for her thesis titled, “Situational Analysis of Single Mothers” with a focus on a particular community. Here she learnt that in the community, the majority of the single mothers had low incomes and low educational backgrounds. She also found that the single mothers in that community were not aware of their rights and welfare.

Going through her findings, Lalduhawmi became even more certain that it was necessary to start an association for single mothers. It was her passion, her research findings and also society’s reaction and treatment of single mothers which led Lalduhawmi to start the Mizoram Single Mothers Foundation.

Lalduhawmi believes people fail to understand the link between a broken family system and substance abuse. “If we want to fight against the high prevalence of drug abuse in the state, we have to start right from the roots, which is the family,” she added.

Among the practices, MSMF wants to introduce the idea of co-parenting to society. “In our society, if a child is with the mother, the family condemns the father’s side and if the child is with the father, the mother is put in a bad light in the eyes of the child. We need to stop this, even if either one of the parents has a weakness, the other parent should try and paint their character in a good light to protect the child from negativity,” she said.

Word about MSMF spread through word of mouth, and today, the association has over 100 members. “Some members still find it hard to understand the foundation’s concept. It may take some time for all of us to understand our goals. From the outside, half of society supports us and the other half does not understand what we are trying to do. Those who understand social issues usually support us,” said the founder.

MSMF has set up a consultancy called Hulhliap, where the members receive free support for their mental health and legal aid from experts. MSMF also conducts various programs, including motivational programmes, training and workshops, online support groups and online shopping groups or linked businesses where the members support each other in their businesses.

“As humans, there are often times when we feel very alone and forsaken. In times like this, MSMF has helped me move forward. It is nice to be able to meet people who are facing struggles similar to what I am facing. As it is an association, educated and experienced peers guide us and help us understand our step forward based on their experience,” said Lalchhanhimi, a 29-year-old single mother, who joined MSMF in February this year.

Also Read | Mizoram celebrates ‘Remna Ni’ after 2-year hiatus

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