A Bill posposed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on making it mandatory for husbands to pay salary to housewives in case they are full-time staying at home, is curious. The first time I read it, it made me think that Indian Feminism has skipped all the "Foundation Courses" and has directly gone for a PhD! In a society like that of India, where being born as a "girl" is considered as additional burden upon the family and marriage market is a commercial forum for critically evaluating a woman's physical features (Yes- I'm talking about Fair and Lovely Commercials!)- imagining the consequences of forcing husbands to pay housewives, leaves one baffled!
One strong argument in favour of the Bill- is the need for financial evaluation of the work done by a housewife. The sheer amount of physical labour that a housewife does is mind boggling. Consider a middle-class household in a city. Apart from cooking, washing clothes/utensils and cleaning the house- a woman has to rear children and satisfy the emotional/physical needs of a husband. Adding to this, is the emotional strain on the wife- beginning with the debate and research on right school for kids to preparing the children for a "rat race", the burden of child nourishment and development falls entirely on a housewife. If this is a case of a housewife, a former colleague of mine shared some of her woes with me- and she said that apart from working in a Software Firm, she also needed to do the above mentioned jobs for her husband "thought" they were "women stuff"! Setting that apart- work at home, is not part of a market system and hence, a huge chunk of human labour goes unreported from the gross GDP statistics. This is not just the case of India but anywhere in the world.
The first time I heard about the proposal- it sounded like a breath of fresh air. But upon re-thinking about it, it sounded absurd. The plight of women in India, be it housewife or working, is not very different from one another. Basically being a partiarchal society, India has never been a land which treated its daughters on par with her sons. The problem here, is essentially a "cultural" or a "social" problem. "Calculus" cannot cure "Common Cold". Similarly, a cultural problem cannot be solved politically/legalistically. Laws in India are abundant. Where the problem lies is- such laws that come in direct contradiction with the culture or customs, never have been able to maintain their authority amongst the masses. Culture, in this country prevails over Constitution. What we need is Renaissance. Socio-Religious reforms. Major religions and the traditional Indian society must go for a "make-over". A change in socialisation of children in family must happen. Husbands must treat wives and vice versa- as equal partners (working or not)- particularly in front of their children. This value-system would get internalised in these children when they grow up. Especially boys, right from an early age- must be taught to treat girls as their equal. Parents must treat their sons and daughters alike. This could be a valuable alternative.
Making a law for anything and everything- would dilute the value of the law. To limit Greenhouse effect, would it be prudent to make a law that limits number of breaths per day? It's like the Chief Justice of India, Justice. S.H. Kapadia said about the "Right to Sleep". Before proposing the law, law-makers must think it over to see if they are "enforcable". Even if such a legislation to pay housewives comes into effect- how will you evaluate her work? How to quantify her love for her children? If she does extra work when a guest visits- will she get extra pay? What about the GDP argument? Even in that case- woman is not contributing separately but a part of the husband's income would get reflected as wife's.
In 2010, Supreme Court of India, slammed Government for clubbing "housewives" with prostitutes, beggars and prisoners in Census 2001 and describing them as economically non-productive workers. I would infact like to see a day when no government job advertisement calls "women" as "weaker section".
Indian Feminism is budding. Women have just begun to realise their Rights. Where women still suffer from "domestic violence", "sexual harrasment", "child marriage"/"early marriage", "being a housewife" (not out of personal choice), "victims of moral policing"- the prospect of "Salaried Housewives" sounds like a "Giant Leap" without a place to land.
Note: Image- Scene from "Mahanagar"- A film by Satyajit Ray (Thanks- google Images)