Equality in India is a unique paradox. Historically, Indians, as a people, have been forceful in their endeavour to live up to the constitutional principle. More often than not, however, the people of India have been late to the party—if, that is, they chose to accept the invitation at all. The January 29, 2018 memorandum by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is the most recent case in point.
This memorandum urges all central government departments to effect a 2015 Delhi High Court order to grant maternity leave to women who have a child through surrogacy. The revival of this HC ruling by the DoPT shall grant 26 weeks of paid maternity leave to women who are unable to carry their own child, or choose against doing so. The rationale behind this decision was that the commissioning woman needs time to bond with the child. This order comes on the back of the Maternity Bill of 2017 which increased the period for which maternity leave could be availed from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
So far, so good—the media has been waxing eloquent about the advantages of the implementation of this law, most of which are fairly self-evident. We can all celebrate the fact that women—even those whom we, as a society, shun because of their inability and/or choice to bear children—can now fulfil their multiple roles with greater comfort.
It is the assumptions underlying this prescription, and the less-glaring, thorny implications thereof that warrant meditation. From that lens, we might as well be celebrating the fact that even more women can now legitimately be brought within the already pervasive folds of regressive patriarchy. For what it is worth, that is still equality—but at what cost?
The directive clearly betrays the fact that the Indian imagination cannot conceive of a caregiver beyond the mother. Men, we seem to think, can do in fifteen days what women need six months to do—bond with their new-born. With a society where the divides of ‘us-them’ and the ‘ours-theirs’ make adoption a social taboo, it doesn’t take much exertion of the mental faculties to realise that feeling at home with any child except one procreated “naturally” would require effort, and not just on the mother’s part.
With the extended maternity leave for commissioning women, the intended mother is burdened with the responsibility of singlehandedly integrating the child within the family. Any child and family counsellor worth their salt can point out the irony in that statement—flying solo on the mission to build a family is the secret to all sorts of misery.
What could have made matters better—the Paternity Benefit Bill, 2017, granting paid leave to new fathers—is conspicuous by its absence from the Budget Session this year. Not only does this perpetuate the double burden that women bear, it takes away from men the raison d’être of parenthood.
Revel as we might, let us not forget that Equality is amiss from the table.
By Suvanshkriti Singh
Suvanshkriti is a nerd and a geek, and a dork enough to educate you on the
difference between the two. She alternates between despairing for the fate
of the world and debating solutions to all its problems; she’s part
pessimist, part romantic, and all goof.