Uphold dignity

The low status of women in India has been well highlighted by the comment made by a supreme court bench, which criticised the authorities  “for their totally insensitive and callous approach towards dignity of labour as far as women are concerned.” The remark was occasioned by a case involving compensation under the Motor Vehicles Act. A high court had awarded meagre compensation to a man whose wife had died in a car accident because she was a housewife and therefore her life was of lower worth. It was found that the Census of India 2001 had clubbed housewives along with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. Even women in these categories make an earning but a housewife’s life and work are considered unproductive.  But it involves more working hours than any other job and carries greater responsibility which goes without recognition.

As a nation we glorify women. But in practical terms women always get a raw deal. Though we claim that women’s position in society has improved with various schemes that have been launched, the fact that India ranks 114th in the gender development index among 155 countries should be an eye-opener. Deification of women is often a ruse to deny them their right for equal status in society. While girl students and working women face discrimination, housewives become non-entities. Those who combine the roles of working women and housewives fare much worse because they have to bear much greater physical and mental stress. The supreme court has in the past also tried to find the value of a housewife’s contribution and in 2001, fixed it at Rs 3,000 a month. Some women’s groups have also sought social and economic security schemes commensurate with housewives’ contribution. While governments can consider them, the first requirement is to accept the economic role of women in homes and change the attitude of denial.

The court has sought changes in the description and status of women in the current census operations and amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act which puts the value of a housewife’s life as one-third of that of a man. While administrative and legal measures can be taken, it is more important to change the traditional social attitudes.

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