“My World “ is a series of insights on gender issues by the people for the people

Kusum is a post-graduate in law, former Supreme Court advocate and law Professor. Her areas of specialisation are Constitutional Law and family law. She lives in Delhi and is an avid runner, trekker and painting artist.

A Homemaker’s worth

The goal of this article is to sensitise both men and women about the role of homemaker and what it takes to put a meal on the table, to raise a child and to make a business or harvest successful. In this article, I would like to take you all on a journey of how courts, from time to time, have tried to understand and define a homemaker’s worth.

Article 36 of the Cambodian Constitution states that the work done by housewives in the household shall have the same value as what they would be earning while working outside the house. Article 88 of the Venezuelan Constitution recognises work done at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social value and wealth. In other countries too, compensation is provided upon the death of a woman but gender biases often have an overwhelming impact on the quantification of the value of their work.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Constitution of India awarded husbands the costs of replacing the services of the deceased’s wife but 1980s onwards, the judiciary started providing for monthly payments for the loss of services, which included care work in addition to the unpaid domestic work.

Since the 1980s, the Indian judiciary has relied upon methods such as “opportunity cost” (what the homemaker would have earned if she hadn’t stayed at home), “replacement costs” ( what it would cost to hire personnel to do the job of the homemaker) and the “partnership method”, wherein a woman’s income is taken to be half of what her husband earns, in an effort to quantify a homemaker’s contribution.

The issue of providing remuneration to a homemaker first made headlines in 2001 with the case of Lata Wadhwa and ors. v. State of Bihar. The Supreme Court, for the first time, ordered an annual compensation to be paid for the services rendered by homemakers albeit after their death. While adjudicating the matter, the Court used the “multiplier method”, wherein a person’s net income is multiplied with the years of service lost on account of untimely death.

However, the judiciary failed to take into account the “future prospects” of these women, which would account for the increase in value of their services with the passage of time. Future prospects are taken into account while quantifying compensation in case of men. This judgment became a benchmark for a series of rulings by the Indian judiciary in the following years. Even today, the Lata Wadhwa judgment is used as a strong precedent by the courts.

While adjudicating the case of National Insurance Co. ltd v. Minor Deepika in 2009, the judiciary used the partnership method to not just account for a homemaker’s contribution in daily chores but her role as a caregiver. It held that –

“The care work is that which is done by a woman as a mother and definitely in India, the woman herself will be the last person to give this role an economic value, given the social concept of the role of a mother. But when we are evaluating the loss suffered by the child because her mother died in an accident, we think that we must give a monetary value to the work of a caregiver, for after all the house is the basic unit on which our civilised society rests.”

Now almost 20 years later, another judgment by the Supreme Court has made headlines in Kirti & Anr. v. Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., where in the judgment J. N.V Ramanaobserved:

“Before discussing this topic further, it is necessary to comment on its gendered nature. In India, according to the 2011 Census, nearly 159.85 million women stated that “household work” was their main occupation, as compared to only 5.79 million men.

In fact, the recently released Report of the National Statistical Office of the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation, Government of India called “Time Use in India 2019”, which is the first Time Use Survey in the country and collates information from 1,38,799 households for the period January, 2019 to December, 2019, reflects the same gender disparity.

The key findings of the survey suggest that, on an average, women spend nearly 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members versus 97 minutes spent by men on average. 2 Similarly, in a day, women on average spend 134 minutes on unpaid caregiving services for household members as compared to the 76 minutes spent by men on average.3 The total time spent on these activities per day makes the picture in India even more clear women on average spent 16.9 and 2.6 percent of their day on unpaid domestic services and unpaid caregiving services for household members respectively, while men spent 1.7 and 0.8 percent.

It is curious to note that this is not just a phenomenon unique to India, but is prevalent all over the world. A 2009 Report by a Commission set up by the French Government, analyzingdata from six countries, viz. Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Finland and the United States of America, highlighted similar findings:

“117. Gender differences in time use are significant. In each of the countries under consideration, men spend more time in paid work than women and the converse is true for unpaid work. Men also spend more time on leisure than women. The implication is that women provide household services but other members of the household benefit…” (emphasis supplied)

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 housemaker undertakes. A housemakeroften 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. In rural households, they often also assist in the sowing, harvesting and transplanting activities in the field, apart from tending cattle [See Arun Kumar Agrawal (supra); National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Minor Deepika rep. by her guardian and next friend, Ranganathan, 2009 SCC OnLine Mad 828]. However, despite all the above, the conception that housemakers do not “work” or that they do not add economic value to the household is a problematic idea that has persisted for many years and must be overcome.

The concurring opinion in the Arun Kumar Agrawal 5 Stiglitzet al., Report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, 117 (2009).

This bias is shockingly prevalent in the work of census. In the Census of 2001 it appears that those who are doing household duties like cooking, cleaning of utensils, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood have been categorised as non-workers and equated with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners who, according to the census, are not engaged in economically productive work. As a result of such categorisation, about 36 crores (367 million) women in India have been classified in the Census of India, 2001 as non-workers and placed in the category of beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. This entire exercise of census operations is done under an Act of Parliament.”

In this latest judgment, the court has considered to fix a notional income for homemakers and to include future prospect for the purpose of grant of compensation. The concept of notional income can be understood as a form of guess in cases wherein there is no proof of employment by examining the evidence of the case and in cases wherein the person was not earning (eg; student, child or homemaker), the courts take into account the life circumstances, such as academic proficiency and family background to determine a just amount. However, the courts often struggle to calculate the compensation for homemakers due to the multifarious services rendered by them.

This judgment has deviated from the norm to take a more progressive stance and a step to correct the gender imbalance in the society by recognising the role of homemakers, which had been overlooked till now and underappreciated by the society. It has also set a precedent for the judiciary to look up to in the coming years.

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