On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said: “the value of a woman’s work at home was no less than that of her husband who goes to the office” and increased the compensation to relatives of a couple, who died when a car hit their scooter. This incident happened in Delhi in April 2014.
A bench of Justices N V Ramana and Surya Kant increased the compensation by Rs 11.20 lakh to Rs 33.20 lakh to be paid to the father of the deceased man by the insurance company with 9% annual interest from May 2014.
In his ruling, Justice Ramana expanded the idea first espoused by the Supreme Court in Lata Wadhwa case in 2001. During this case, the Supreme Court had dealt with the issue of compensation for victims of a fire during a function. The Supreme Court then ruled that the compensation should be granted to housewives on the basis of services rendered by them in the house.
As per the 2011 Census, nearly 159.85 million women mentioned “household work” as their main occupation, as against only 5.79 million men. He also referred to a recent report of the National Statistical Office titled ‘Time Use in India-2019’ which suggested that, on an average, women spend nearly 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members versus 97 minutes by men. Similarly, in a day, women spend 134 minutes on unpaid caregiving services for household members as compared to 76 minutes by men.
These facts reflect how Indian women on average spend 16.9% and 2.6% of their day on unpaid domestic services and unpaid caregiving services for household members respectively, while men spend 1.7% and 0.8%.
While sharing the details of the ruling, Justice Ramana mentioned:
“The sheer amount of time and effort that is dedicated to household work by individuals, who are more likely to be women than men, is not surprising when one considers the plethora of activities a homemaker undertakes. A homemaker often prepares food for the entire family, manages the procurement of groceries and other household shopping needs, cleans and manages the house and its surroundings, undertakes decoration, repairs and maintenance work, looks after the needs of the children and any aged member of the household, manages budgets and so much more,”
The Supreme Court said:
“In rural households, they often also assist in sowing, harvesting, and transplanting activities in farms, apart from tending cattle, he said. The issue of fixing notional income for a homemaker, therefore, served an extremely important function and was a recognition of the multitude of women engaged in this activity, whether by choice or as a result of social/cultural norms,”
The bench further added:
“It signals to society at large that the law and courts of the land believe in the value of the labor, services, and sacrifices of homemakers. It is an acceptance of the idea that these activities contribute in a very real way to the economic condition of the family, and the economy of the nation, regardless of the fact that it may have been traditionally excluded from economic analyses. It is a reflection of changing attitudes and mindsets and of our international law obligations. And, most importantly, it is a step towards the constitutional vision of social equality and ensuring the dignity of life to all individuals,”
This ruling came to light when there has been already a lot of discussions around compensating housewives. Recently, Shashi Tharoor and Kangana Ranaut also found themselves at loggerheads over the issue.
In his original tweet, Shashi Tharoor had supported actor-politician Kamal Haasan’s ‘idea of recognizing housework as a salaried profession’. He’d written,
“This will recognise & monetise the services of women homemakers in society, enhance their power& autonomy & create near-universal basic income.”
But, actress Kangana had responded,
“Don’t put a price tag on sex we have with our love, don’t pay us for mothering our own, we don’t need salary for being the Queens of our own little kingdom our home, stop seeing everything as business. Surrender to your woman she needs all of you not just your love/respect/salary.”
To which Shashi Tharoor tweeted:
“I agree w/ @KanganaTeam that there are so many things in a homemaker’s life that are beyond price. But this is not about those things: it’s about recognizing the value of unpaid work & also ensuring a basic income to every woman. I’d like all Indian women to be as empowered as you!”
We don’t feel anyone could deny that housewives do indulge in a lot of unpaid work. And, assuming that the value of their work is any less that people going to the office is a problematic conception that enhances social inequality. At IFORHER, we applaud the Supreme Court’s ruling and hope we will soon see the change in perception of how housewives are treated in our country!