“I have been covering the Kashmir Valley for 25 years. I could not believe it when mothers told me that their children were picked up and never returned. While covering conflict areas of the country, I have met hundreds of mothers whose children were picked up by RAW, the IB and the State Police and never returned home,” said journalist Humra Quraishi while speaking at the launch of an anthology, “Of mothers and others: Stories, essays, poems”, at India International Centre here on Tuesday.

Ms. Quraishi said as a journalist she could only write about such issues but was disappointed that “nothing happens after that”.

Actor Nandita Das, who came accompanied by her two-year-old son Vihaan, said she could not contribute to the book because she could not do multi-tasking at that time.

“I had even named our production company Chotti. It was a collective guilt that people by and large are not in a favour of having a girl child. So I wanted to raise the girl child in a responsible way. But now that I have a boy, I am not sure how I would teach him things like equality.”

A little over a year ago, writer Jaishree Misra pledged to write a book for NGO Save the Children. She teamed up with Zubaan to produce this anthology which seeks to draw the middle class people to the larger challenge that millions of marginalised women face.

Pointing out that a large number of children were dying because of preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea, Save the Children CEO Thomas Chandy said India loses 16.5 lakh children annually. “Birjunisa, a mother in Rajasthan, told me how she lost her two-year-old daughter Tamanna because she could not take her to the doctor because the family had no money.”

Moderator Anita Roy, who has also contributed for the book, said the book offered an alternative view to the cosy image of motherhood that people often assume. “The book encompasses enormous range. It goes far beyond stereotypes like motherhood was about cosiness. It was also about loss of grief and what it means to be human.”

The anthology has been written against the background of the fact that the country has the highest rate of child malnutrition among all middle-income countries. Writers who were present at the function included Urvashi Butalia, Bulbul Sharma, Shalini Sinha and Jai Arjun Singh.

Veteran Bollywood actor Shabana Azmi, who has been the champion of the issue, has penned a poignant foreword.

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