India, a nation with a massive population of 139 crores, is the citadel of myriad talent and a massive labour force. The availability of technical manpower at a reasonable cost has always been an attraction for the international markets. The labour force participation rate in India as per the CEIC data in December 2020 is 46.3%. But this percentage covers only the people who are engaged in official or paid jobs. This does not account for the work done by a significant yet unrecognized section of the society – the homemakers. A homemaker, who is a woman in most cases, has always been rewarded with the categories of love, care and affection for the family. It has been designated as her responsibilities and duties towards her loved ones. However, this notion is so well intrigued in the society that there was never a need to include the work done by a homemaker into the group of a paid job.
The work done by a homemaker (or a ‘housewife’ as per the Indian jargon for many decades) is the very basis of any household and also the economy as a whole. She is the one who nurtures the past, present and future of a nation. She provides an ambience wherein the people in the house can feel happy and relaxed. She takes care of every single need of the household be it taking care of the elderly people and children, cooking food, procuring groceries, supervising the cleaning, washing, maintaining logs of monthly activities, preparing and achieving the budgets of the house, educating the children, inculcating moral values among the future the country, being an emotional support to everyone in the house and this list may go endless. It is she who ensures that the man of the house goes for work without any worries and focuses on his job. It is pitiable that in spite of putting tremendous efforts and dedicating all her time towards the household, she ends up saying “I am not working, I am a housewife”. Can we imagine the pain and disappointment behind her words when after more than twelve hours of relentless work she ends up saying she does not work. Why can’t this sheer amount of time and efforts dedicated to a household be considered as a productive work and be placed under the category of a paid job?
The voice for quantifying the work done by a homemaker had been raised by various NGOs and women welfare organisations from time to time. In September 2020, the judgement given by Justice Anil S Kilor of the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench in the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Achalpur opened the doors for this subject to be discussed at a key level. In this case a claim petition had been filed under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act seeking compensation from the Oriental Insurance Company Limited for the death of a woman in an accident. The Tribunal had rejected the claim made by the deceased woman’s family and cited that the deceased had been engaged in household work. High Court considered the work done by a homemaker in length and breadth and eventually directed Oriental Insurance to pay Rs. 8,22,000 along with interest at the rate of 6% per annum as compensation for the woman’s death.
Very recently in January 2021, this subject had once again came into limelight, when the Honourable Supreme Court of India, had given a ruling in a Motor Accident Claim case wherein a bench headed by Justice N V Ramana and also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Surya Kant, enhanced the compensation allowed in the case from Rs. 22 lakh to Rs. 33.20 lakh, payable with 9% interest from May 23, 2014 when the detailed accident report was filed. The ruling also pointed out that according to the 2011 Census, nearly 159.85 million women stated that “household work” was their main occupation, as compared to only 5.79 million men.
These large numbers draw our attention towards the unquantified amount of work done in our economy which if enumerated will increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our economy to another level. The subject of work done by homemakers had become a topic of debate when the political party Makkal Needhi Maiam, led by its founder Kamal Haasan, had begun its electoral campaign across Tamil Nadu and as part of its poll promises, ensured a salary for homemakers whose work is unrecognised. This captured the eyes and ears of people and gave rise to various discussions. Some voices were raised in the favour of the idea whereas there were people who out rightly denied the need for considering the idea. It is true, that work of a homemaker has always been looked upon as an emotional service rendered by the woman towards her family. But, when the same services are provided by any other person to the family they are termed as economic activity. For example, the woman of a house takes care of the elderly people in the family which if, would be done by any nurse or care taker would cost at least eight to ten thousand rupees. Being at home the woman can take care of her children very well but if she goes out for work, she has to pay for the same services either to a day care or a care taker and that would cost at least five to eight thousand rupees. A homemaker educates her children but, the same service becomes paid when a tutor is hired for children. She takes care of the nutrition of the family but the same consultation becomes a paid service if it is done by any nutritionist.
The whole idea behind the points raised above is that when the same amount of services given by any outsider to the family may be taken into account then why can’t the services given by a homemaker may also be accounted for. Now, here the very debatable aspect is that a homemaker does all the above jobs for the family out of love and care. Then is it not the responsibility of the society and the system as a whole to identify these efforts and make an attempt to give them a due recognition in the economy and society? Of course, we do recognise these efforts in our hearts and feel their hard work but we often forget to express the same to our homemakers.
Putting the work of a homemaker under the category of paid jobs would also have a large scale impact on the social, mental and emotional status of homemakers as this would generate a sense of dignity among them and would make them financially liberal. If we talk about urban India, many of the homemakers are well qualified and technically sound. Most of them may have been working at some point of time but due to family reasons they might quit their hard earned careers. Although, they happily accept this fact and get settled to the other demanding responsibilities but, a feeling of losing their professional identities and unrecognition of their efforts for the family might retain in their subconscious mind and may passively affect their emotional health. This is not just the case of working professionals turning into homemakers. It could also be the scenario with the homemakers who had been scholars and had spent hours and efforts in combating various exams and turned out to be achievers. After putting many efforts as engineer, technical expert or other professional, landing as a homemaker and craving to find their due recognition in the society may also push them into a state of emotional imbalance. Considering the job of a homemaker as an economic activity would definitely boost up their confidence and would give them a sense of satisfaction.
Now, if we consider rural India, most of the homemakers are marginally qualified or illiterate, and work even harder both within and outside the house. They take care of farming, feeding the cattle, procuring water for their household from distant places and much more. Still they end up being considered as a burden on the male member of the household. It is necessary that these women must be given their deserved place in the society. Once a monetary aspect is attached to a work, it increases its value.
From these points, some crucial questions come into picture – “Who will pay salary to a homemaker?” Whether it should be imposed on the husbands or government should pay some minimum wages to the homemakers?
Evidently, answering these questions is not an easy task. But, we can look at the various aspects and can try to seek answers to these questions. Making the man of the house liable to pay salaries to the homemakers is the first thing that comes into our brains and that appears fair too. Husband should give a share from his income to his wife. But, this situation is possible only if the husband accepts and identifies the efforts of the women in the house. If there is a thought process that a homemaker has nothing to do then this imposition would feel like a burden and the situation may even get worsened instead of getting better. The husband might take his wife as another liability and might push her to find a job for herself. On the other hand, if minimum wages are paid by the government to the homemakers, it would be an additional support to the family and would make the homemakers feel worthy to the nation. The government can take a broader view on this matter. Firstly, it should recognise the work done by a homemaker as an economic activity and consider it under the category of paid job. Secondly, the government can fix minimum wages for the homemakers with the condition of basic qualification to be attained by the homemakers to be eligible for the salaries. This would further propagate the message of Indian Government “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”. Lastly, steps should be taken to make the husband responsible for sharing certain part of his income with his wife.
It is high time, that the stakeholders of the society should join hands and come up with some measures to strengthen the backbone of our society and economy by acknowledging the work of homemakers and giving them a well-deserved recognition.
– Neha Singhal (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: femina.in / 123rf