The New Year brought some cheer to homemakers in the country. It came from no less a place than the Supreme Court of India. Pronouncing a verdict in a motor accident case, a three-Judge Bench said that a notional income should be fixed for the contributions of homemakers. Profusely praising the homemaker, the Judges referred to their role listing a litany of their contributions to the economic condition of the family and the economy of the nation. The judgement, which will have far-reaching implications, means that a homemaker’s work has to be valued in terms of money just as her husband who earns a fixed amount as salary/wage.
A few days before the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court came, Kamal Haasan, founder of the months-old Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) party, released a seven-point governance agenda. One of the points in his election manifesto, probably for the first time by any political party, is a revolutionary promise to give salary for homemakers whose work remains unrecognized. If Kamal Haasan’s announcement is replicated by other political parties, it would be a ground-breaking step in the direction of recognizing the household work of women at par with those earning a salary or wage, thus raising the dignity of homemakers’ work and life.
The Supreme Court’s verdict and MNM’s electoral promise break through the prevailing glass ceiling. It has reignited an age-old debate on recognizing housework done by homemakers as a salaried profession. It is precisely for this reason that the apex court, in deciding the motor accident case of a husband who worked as a teacher and the wife who was a homemaker, ordered an insurance company to pay a higher compensation to the victims’ kin than allowed by the High Court. The court’s decision to place the teacher-husband and homemaker-wife on equal pedestal for calculating the compensation is a step towards ensuring dignity of life to all individuals.
There are more women engaged in household work than those working for salaries and wages. Many homemakers end up doing much more work and putting up many more hours than normally done by their salaried counterparts. Still, they have no pay day, and no promotions. Economists believe that the household work done by home-makers constitutes economic activity and it should be included in the national income. However, the issue could raise problems at practical level like the method of calculation of payment of homemakers or the issue of working women who double up as homemaker after the working hours. Experts will have to work on this after wide-ranging consultations.
In conclusion, it would be interesting to recall a narrative on the life of former president of PepsiCo, Indira Nooyi. The day she was made president of Pepsico, Nooyi reached home late to find her mother at the doorstep who asked her to go out and get some milk. When she said she was going to be the president of PepsiCo, her mother calmly replied: “You might be president of PepsiCo. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place.” Yes, the worth of homemakers and their work is no less than the offices held by women.