‘When A Woman Chooses To Look After Her Family, Does She Do It With An Expectation To Be Paid?’

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Can and should the State assign monetary value to an invaluable relationship between mother and child or for that matter a husband and wife, asks Smriti Irani

Political parties promised a range of sops in this summer’s assembly elections—and the one that caught much attention and triggered a compelling debate was by debutant politician Kamal Haasan and a few parties in Kerala. This is about paying salary to homemakers for their work. Should they get paid, or not? Bhavna Vij-Aurora interviewed Union minister for women and child development Smriti Irani for her views. Irani asks a pertinent question to make her point: Can and should the State assign monetary value to an invaluable relationship between mother and child or for that matter a husband and wife? Instead, we need to enhance our engagement to ensure women get equal opp­ortunities to be skilled and get educated and should they choose to be self-employed women, they should have acc­ess to financial credit to accomplish their entrepreneurial ambitions, the minister says. Excerpts

The assembly elections kicked off an important deb­ate whether homemakers should be given salary for the work they do. What is your view on it?

Those who have made these political proclamations need to answer what is the adequate monetary value such political parties assign to motherhood. When a woman takes care of her own child, isn’t that relationship priceless? When a woman chooses to look after her family, does she do it with an expectation to be paid? And if so, gender justice may compel someone to demand that even men should start getting paid for fulfilling their familial res­ponsibilities. Is that where we want to head as a society? Aren’t our relationships and how we engage within our familial atmospheres meant to be invaluable?

It is clear they have done so as a populist measure without really delving deep into the issue. Who will decide how much money is to be paid to the homemaker and who will pay it? When an ind­ividual chooses to marry, they make an individual choice. When an individual or a couple chooses to bring a child into this world, again that’s a private decision. Should the taxpayer now pay for such individual decisions as well? Should the State intervene in how families are to be run? Is that the position these parties have taken?

There was a case last year, when a tribunal awarded a compensation of Rs 17 lakh to the family of a 33-year-old homemaker, who died in a road accident, and fixed her notional salary at Rs 5,000 a month. The Supreme Court has awarded amounts up to Rs 9,000 a month in similar cases…

 

“What is the adequate monetary value such political parties assign to motherhood? When a woman takes care of her own child, isn’t that relationship priceless?”

When it comes to law, compensation is given based on calculation of loss. A not­ional calculation has to be done in such cases. But can that be translated to an adm­inistrative daily function? What comes next? Once a state says you are to be paid for looking after your family then the state will decide whether you have adequately fulfilled your responsibilities as a mother, a wife, a daughter. Is it the position of these political parties that women and the relationships they share with their loved ones be reduced to monetary transactions and then women get evaluated as per due process whether they are good enough wives, mothers and daughters?

And then you wonder why the Congress is out of power. Can a democratic state direct a man to pay the woman he marries and loves, a person he shares his life with? And then what was the Congress formula for such a payment? For you to even suggest that till such time I’m not paid to be a mother or a wife and to look after my family my life is not dignified is an insult to the very idea of family and motherhood. Tell me who decides who is to be paid what? Minimum wage kaam karne ka ho sakta hai, rishte nibhane ka nahi.

On one hand, we want less intervention from the State in private matters of individual citizens and on the other, expect the state to affix monetary compensation for living our relationships. Who will pay the woman for raising her child? The child? If she asks her husband, he could turn around and say, it’s your child too. In such a circumstance will the State pay?

More than 60 per cent women in India qualify to be homemakers. Shouldn’t they be treated as a workforce?

I think there is a presumption in your question that dignity to a woman can only be assigned if she is a part of the workforce. As a working mother myself and in my conversations with many homemakers, what women seek is respect within their family systems, companionship with their partners and equal participation in family decisions. Those issues need to be addressed through community interventions, while policymakers and public representatives can engage in bringing more deb­ate around such issues.

That being said, in order to help women address challenges that emanate in their everyday life, the Modi government has made sustained interventions to bring about gender justice, especially at the work front. Twenty-six weeks paid maternity leave for working women, facilitating through legislation night shifts for women, enc­ouraging through legislation women to be hired by industry in unconventional areas of work like underground mining are just a few of the examples. There is also recognition that much more can be done, but that does not entail empowering the State and political parties to intervene in how families are to live their relationships, thereby assigning a money value to each familial interaction.