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Choosing to live away from parents versus being forced to live away from them


It was a humid afternoon, very unlike Dehradun in the pre-monsoon month of June. My bag lay fully packed but open, as if indicating to me, that you can simply empty me out any moment. Items to be packed lay strewn on my unkempt bed — neck pillow, freshly ironed jeans, a semi-dry bra, one small bonsai potted waiting to be watered, wet toothbrush, Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus. I was running a mental list of to-do-things before I would leave for my flight to Hong Kong. Having spent only four days at home for Eid, I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye, but I had to. Instead of sulking in a corner like I would’ve ideally wanted, I wrapped my mind around ensuring everything is packed, to avoid thinking of departure. 

Home has always been my go to place whenever I have felt tired of the outside world. The garden, the roof, the small couch in my room, the tiny corner in our backyard where weeds sparkle in the sun, are just some of my comfort zones. Home is where my parents live, where they have raised us, through easy and some difficult times. Each activity in the house is in memorial to our childhood.

Those years of living with parents have nurtured me, given me space to grow and develop an identity for myself. They have also made me realise the importance of living away from them, on my own merit and capacity. To figure out myself and life, my needs and desires. It has made me confident in being who I am, devoid of familial associations and expectations.

At no point was I forced to live away from my parents. I chose to. And yet, there have been episodes of dire longing and hope to be with them.

As I see images of children at the Mexico-US border, their parents being deported, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and psychological suffering the kids will live for the rest of their lives. Being forcefully separated from your loved ones, attaches itself as a sore to your soul. You can or might live with it, but it takes a very long time to heal. These weeks or even months that the children and parents spend apart, could fragment their very identities.

This agonising experience will turn into painful memories, and memories define us.

They determine what we choose to do with our lives. Time spent with families or away from them objectively decides our personalities, defines our habits, and eventually designs our way of life. What we miss in our relationships inside the house, we seek outside. Varying degrees of love, confidence, maturity, and intellectualism.

What the US administration is doing under the garb of its immigration policy, will alter the very emotional fabric of these children. The uncertainty, fear and distress, could potentially act as triggers for deeper psychological makeup of the kids. The United Nations is not wrong when it says the US policy falls close in line to torture, because it is. The toxic stress that the children and parents are undergoing cannot be measured in monetary compensation or legal assistance.

Having the freedom to go home whenever you want, contributes to your mental health and well-being. At no point, should one feel hindered from reaching out to their own families. Independence to live away should also comprise the independence to return. Because, there will be overwhelming days and only the home which houses your loved ones, might provide you comfort.

My home has been my first school. The discoveries, the misunderstanding, the laughter, the fights and inconsolable tensions, have all been steps to growing up and have indelibly etched my relationship with parents and siblings. We have all evolved in our house, with joys and laments, and carved our own identities through them. 

My very personality is a mix of my parents, siblings and the house I grew up in. My life choices, struggles, questions and the impulse to find answers, have all stemmed from having lived in a certain kind of family. If I was for once separated from my parents under dire circumstances, I don’t think I could even be half of what I am at this age. 

The kids detained in foster homes across US states at this point are living through every second of anxiety, not knowing when they would be reunited with their parents. There is no escaping the pain, the horror of living amongst strangers, while being denied the right to speak to their parents. This experience could lead to incomprehensible psychological damage to them. It is inhuman, and demands accountability from the state administrators who brought this action.

It is a disgrace to humankind to witness this happen. And we are answerable to those children.

As I finally picked up my bag to leave last Monday, my sister broke down and with her my parents, and finally me. I ran for Mum’s scarf to wipe off my tears before it turned into a full meltdown. Dad hugged me and Mum patted my back, saying, “You’re the bravest kid in our family, if you cry, none of us will be able to hold ourselves.” I heeded to her advice, before it became impossible for me to step outside the gate. “I’m already booking my return tickets for next visit,” I said. “Haan, aa jana tab dil karey (Yes, come back when you feel like it),” consented my mother. And that was enough for me to sit in the cab and depart.

I understand the value of those words after having lived away, necessitating in me the respect for my decisions and choices. I can run for my dreams, and gallop back home when I want. That is what freedom comprises. 

The US administration has snatched that freedom away from 2,300 children. These kids have no means to find their parents, or return to their homes. This is not a ‘zero tolerance immigration policy’, it is a ‘zero consideration for human rights’ mindset’. 

And I write, because there’s no other way I can grasp the brutality we are witnessing in our times today.

Thank you for reading. Please check out these organisations, and suggest me if any other organisation is working to help the detained children, in any way.


LEAF project


Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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