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The maid of household honor

Medha Patkar (centre) is the leader of the popular anti-dam movement, the Narmada Bachao Andolan in India


The recently proposed bill by the Government of India to pay wages to housewives as recognition of their household labour has created a furore in the country. Debarati Mukherjee had a chance to speak with prominent social activist Medha Patkar about her views on the proposed bill. Here is an excerpt of the discussion.

The newly proposed bill says paying wages to the housewife is meant to emancipate the lady of the house. Your take on it.

I strictly don’t approve of this. Although it looks radical, it is not in sync with the dignity and respect of the woman who does everything as her moral duty and shoulders it with complete love and affection. It is not with that acknowledgement that the money will be paid. One cannot really measure human relationships in monetary terms. After all, she is not an employee or a labourer who needs to be paid wages or salary, whichever way you say.

What do you think will be the major concern among families if this bill comes in action? 

The males will not approve of it, thinking they will be bullied and pressurised to the maximum to pay off their wives. Who would decide the remuneration? Will it be related to the contributions of the woman or the earnings of the man?

According to you which part of the society is the primary target audience for this bill?

I think the bill fits no category of the society. Among middle class and the elites there is no need for separate emancipation. And among the poor families, generally there are more family members, which means more hard labour and sacrifice is required. But how would you measure that again? The husband may not earn that much, so how can you repay the amount to her for her hard labour.

If this bill is actually passed, what things do you fear will happen in society?  

I fear when there are monetary gains and losses, like every domain, there will be bargains, clashes and conflicts between the person who pays and who gets the money. Measuring relationship in terms of money will really be dangerous. The husband will then start demanding whatever he wants to do, just because he is paying salary to his wife. The law will also boast of his patriarchal power and turn the husband-wife relationship into a master-slave relationship.

If not salaries for wives, what according to you would be ideal as recognition of her services to the house?

I think from a humanistic point of view, none of the things which fall under the domestic, private and personal realms should be allowed to be a part of the market mechanism. The human rights should be promoted with a humane approach. And this can only be done through social values, norms, prerogatives and media. Educating and empowering women for their rights with respect and dignity is most important. Give the woman the due space so she can carve out her niche and tread the path of success. At the same time, educating men to treat women as equal and punish those men who violate human rights and indulge in domestic violence cannot be avoided. Laws should protect women from the many malpractices prevalent in society.

Interview: Debarati Mukherjee

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan


04.10.2012 | 10:30