Notional income, in the Indian legal context, is quantified, keeping a lot of subjective views in mind. For instance, in the Lata Wadhwa Case 2001, the notional value for the services rendered by a housewife was put as Rs 3000. If one thinks of how much our mothers’ entire lives spent doing housework mean legally, that is too less a value to affix to it.
Keeping the technicalities aside, the article tries to build a holistic opinion on the Supreme Court’s decision of fixing notional income for homemakers. Ever since the judgement, there has been a lot of buzz around different arguments ranging from the conservative view that sees it as a loss of the Indian cultural value system and the more liberal view that says that the wages will give respect and dignity to the work homemakers do.
The 2011 Census puts Indian women population to about 48 percent of the total. Sociologically and culturally, women have always been a big part of the Indian care economy. For the longest time (till 1991) there was no provision set out by the State to calculate the participation or the value of a woman’s domestic chores or care work done by them as a separate line of work. It was in the 1991 census that a separate phrase was added, which included a woman’s unpaid work as a criterion that made the invisible household work, visible. This invisible work is still veiled and its honour protected by a society who views it as nothing more than love and care that a woman has for her family and by that courtesy alone, she is entitled to do the household work without any remuneration. This actually gives a lot of weight to the conservative argument. If I love something, I should and would be able to do it for free.
And to earn money, we must really hate our work or if not hate, at least dislike it. What an oxymoron! I can imagine some people might take offence by the comparison drawn of a woman’s love for her family with something as impersonal as work or occupation. I agree with them on that. Because a woman’s household work is not impersonal. A woman’s household work goes beyond cleaning the house, cooking and doing dishes. A homemaker manages the household unit, she is, as my Professor says, responsible for Human Resources (HR) Development, that also includes raising the children to be valuable citizens of the society.
Again, I am sure some of the readers must now be thinking that household work is invaluable and should not be paid for. But I would here again take the liberty to say that, it is that invaluable work (of taking care of the family, raising the children to be valuable citizens of the world and more) that will actually make a difference and this work needs to be paid as well as appreciated as much as maybe a Human Resources Executive in a firm.
According to the Time Use Survey done by Organisation for Economic cooperation and development(OECD) women in India currently spend up to 352 minutes per day on domestic work, 577 percent more than men (52 minutes) and at least 40 percent more than women in South Africa and China (the other two BRICS countries for which data are available).
Again, domestic work is explained by many sociological thinkers as a sexual division of labour that holds the fulcrum between the economic world and social world. And it makes sense as well. It does hold the world balance in place economically. But what makes little sense, is how the social world has never really acknowledged the importance or economic value of the household work. This argument brings the liberal side of the argument into the picture, which hopes that ‘defined’ wages will give respect and dignity to the work housewives do. It is a hope that comes despite the realisation and understanding of an inherent Indian patriarchal society and thinking. This hope is based on a utopian idea that India and its people will see women and their work as part of their own. And that, giving an economic value to their work will automatically generate dignity and respect. By no means, is this hope ill-founded. It is true that most of us will go to the gym or take a class only if we pay for it. Freebies usually make us skeptical of the quality and also, lazy. But our Indian patriarchal society and rules are much more complex than simple economic transactions. A place where women are still seen as inferior, economic empowerment remains just one aspect of a multi-faceted women’s empowerment.
As a social researcher, there’s an inherent tendency to define a problem, then contextualising it and finally finding a solution that can work at the grassroot level. Though the idea that links household workers wages to dignity and respect is among the most important theoretical discussions of our times, it is also important to slowly but steadily bring a behavioral change in how we view our women.
As the Supreme Court in its decision on notional income for housewives opined, “The issue of fixing notional income for a homemaker, therefore, serves extremely important functions. It is a recognition of the multitude of women who are engaged in this activity, whether by choice or as a result of social/cultural norms. It signals to society at large that the law and the Courts of the land believe in the value of the labour, 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 dignity of life to all individuals.”
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