Recently, Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP and actor Nusrat Jahan gave birth to a baby boy at a private hospital in Kolkata. Jahan, who is separated from her estranged husband Nikhil Jain, has been in the news for some time now owing to her personal life.
Jahan made the news of her pregnancy public in late June via a series of posts on Instagram that featured the actor-politician with her baby bump.
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The fact that Jahan chose to not ‘reveal’ the name of the father of the child at that point of time spurred public curiosity and imagination. Several took to commenting about how her ‘character should be as good as her beauty’, and judged her for terming her marriage ‘a live-in relationship’ and ‘going about town with another man’ – pronouncing such acts to be unbecoming of a ‘good’ woman, a ‘good’ wife and a role model. Part of the public outcry was over the fact that Jahan made a choice as a woman to be seen as a single mother.
On August 26, Jahan was accompanied by her alleged boyfriend and popular Bengali actor and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Yash Dasgupta, to the city hospital for her delivery. Jahan is reportedly close to Dasgupta and the two often share personal posts of them spending time with one another on their respective social media pages. “For those who have been inquiring about Nusrat’s health, the mother and child are healthy and doing well,” Dasgupta said later that day.
Jain too wished the newborn, who has been named Yishaan, a statement, “There may be differences between us but I am wishing the newborn and his mother all the best. I wish the baby boy has a bright future.”
Jahan had married Jain, a Kolkata-based businessman in Turkey in June 2019. Pictures of their destination ‘wedding’ went viral on social media. But earlier this year, Jahan released a statement declaring her marriage to be invalid.
“Being on foreign land, as per Turkish marriage regulations, the ceremony is invalid. Moreover since it was an interfaith marriage, it requires validation under the Special Marriage Act in India, which did not happen. As per the court of law, it is not a marriage but a relationship or a live-in relationship. Thus, the question of divorce does not arise,” she said.
Reportedly, Jain and Jahan have been living separately since November 2020. Jahan earlier wore visible markers of a Hindu married woman as part of her public persona. The MP-actor’s now-defunct marital/live-in relationship with Jain was once tied to her secular image, leveraged by TMC, which pivoted her as the poster girl of the party’s secular brand of politics in West Bengal.
Jahan’s curiously reported relationship with Dasgupta and her publicly deconstructed motherhood have been viewed both through the lens of conventional morality and patriarchal standards as well as path-breaking individualism. Salacious and scandalous tonality and gossip columns apart in the Bengali press, some have also noted a new age of personal liberty in matters of love, sex and marriage.
Even several single mom clubs have hailed her for taking a stand. In the article ‘In Mamata’s Bengal, women are crossing age-old boundaries, so what if the personal is political?‘, published in The Telegraph, Arnab Ganguly writes of how women in Bengal politics, including Jahan, are shattering the outdated standards of middle-class morality.
After becoming a mother, Jahan shared her photo on Instagram where the caption read: “Do not take criticism from the people from whom you will not take an advice”. She used the hashtags #newrole, #newmommylife and #newlook in the caption and attributed the picture credit to “daddy”.
Jahan started getting trolled soon after posting the picture. One user commented asking, ‘Whose daddy, baby’s or yours?’ Another user wrote, ‘Mention the name of the daddy if you are so confident’.
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Jahan has remarked how the ‘daddy’ question is very strange and how the positioning and purport of the ‘daddy’ question is to malign or stain a woman’s character and reputation.
And rightly so. For the social media police, this article is not a father-bashing manual or to suggest that fathers are secondary as co- or -single-parents. This is to point out the age-old patriarchal baggage of the ‘daddy’ question and its big imposing pressure on women who have been systematically discriminated against.
It has existed as a barrier to a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and integrity of choice and selfhood. Our society is scared of an empowered woman who is in charge of her life – in or outside marriage, in or out of living in with a partner. Above all, of a woman whose identity and whose womb’s identity is not anchored by the identity and last name of a man.
‘Baap kaun hai’ or ‘yeh baccha kiska hai’ — these infamous utterances in Hindi cinema have been long fashioned to portray the woe of the womb, belonging to a woman who is either abandoned by her partner or where the man refuses to ‘take’ her in or give legitimacy to her child. The image and implication of the ‘bastard’ child is not lost upon us. The authority of the father has functioned as paramount even in polite society to shield women from the shame of bearing and raising an illegitimate child.
When Jahan resisted answering that question, she stood up for herself. Moreover, she denied the patriarchy its entitled chance to character assassinate a woman.
Modern parenthood can’t be deconstructed through the lens of hypocritical middle-class morality. By stripping motherhood of the need for patriarchal validation and the aura and weight of the ‘daddy’ question, Jahan has set a precedent. Today, the Madame Bovary-esque narrative has taken a leap to liberate women from the trap of patriarchal boundaries. Women’s relationships are not scandalous affairs, but products of choice and agency.
As reported by Times of India, answering a question as to when one can get the first glimpse of the baby, Jahan said, “You have to ask his father that. Right now he is not letting anyone see him.”
When asked about her child’s father’s name she added, “The father knows who the father is. At the moment, we are enjoying our parenthood. Both me and Yash are having a good time.”
True, Jahan is privileged with fame, money and power as her armoury, but that doesn’t take away the credit of her self-constructed image vis-à-vis motherhood. The actor is also from a religious minority. Last Saturday, the Bengali news media reported that the Basirhat MP desired her name to be identified as ‘single mom’ in the birth certificate of her son when she and Dasgupta visited the office of Kolkata Municipal Corporation. One can only hope that it paves the way for women with less social media capital and social power to choose a life of their own.
Sanhati Banerjee is a Kolkata-based journalist.
Featured image: Instagram/@nusratchirps