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Medical Education:CAN PPP MODEL DELIVER?, By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee, 24 March 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 24 March 2021

                                                                Medical Education


By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee


It is an unfortunate and well-known fact that the country suffers from an acute shortage of doctors and nurses. Specialists are rarely found in sub-divisions, few are located in small towns and most are concentrated in big cities. Obviously, this sends out a terse message to our policy planners the urgent need to expand health infrastructure and in fact medical education so that it can partially meet the requirements. The Centre as well as State governments have over the years decided that district hospitals should henceforth be set up with public-private participation, meaning in real terms that the private sector take over these health centres.


It is therefore pertinent and prudent to analyse what does it cost to become a doctor and the charges that those wanting to do MBBS entail. As per available data, about 28 per cent of such seats cost over Rs 10 lakh officially but around Rs 50 lakh unofficially. The high fees, obviously, makes these seats a quota for the rich, even larger than those for the SC (15 per cent), ST (7.5 per cent) or OBC (27 per cent).


In fact, about half the seats in private colleges are in the management quota or NRI quota. For all these seats, the total official amount, approved by the Medical Council of India (MCI) or the Dental Council of India (DCI) almost triples for candidates who are enrolled. Even entrance examinations, which are held in medical and dental colleges, are manipulated and those giving the extra amounts find their names in the final list. States like Karnataka, Rajasthan and West Bengal charge heavy premiums, sometimes going up to Rs 80 lakhs.


Even some government colleges, mostly in Rajasthan and Gujarat have management seats. These quota seats range above Rs 10 lakhs, going up to Rs 20 lakhs per annum. In fact, some other States are also planning to introduce management quota to meet their expenses as the official support is meager. Apart from these costs, one must also consider hostel charges and other attendant expenses.


If one considers that 80 per cent of Indian families earned around Rs 10,000 per month, the educational charges for private medical and dental colleges are affordable for the rich and the upper middle class and others would have to take recourse to bank loans. At the same time, having spent a high amount for education in private medical colleges, the doctors would concentrate on recovering the amount by opting for big hospitals in cities and not have the commitment to serve the poor and impoverished.  


The other problem of medical education is the need for its spread and this can only happen if many more such hospitals with medical colleges are set up in districts and sub-divisions. However, the PPP model wouldn’t work well as again the private sector would be looking at making profit. So the question is will private medical colleges look into the larger interest of serving the society and offer options for lower income groups.


Besides, a close look at the recent budget is necessary, where health has been allocated Rs 2.23 lakh crore for ‘health and well-being.’ But this amount includes outlays for drinking water and sanitation (Rs 60,030 crore), nutrition (Rs 2700 crore), Covid-19 vaccine related allocation (Rs 35,000 crore) and Finance Commission’s grants (Rs 48,214 crore for health and water and sanitation). The allocations reveal that the budget for health and family welfare has decreased in absolute terms by Rs 8349 crore from 2020-21 (from Rs 85,251 crore and revised estimates Rs 76,902 in 29021-22). The government’s flagship programme, Ayushman Bharat has not seen much increase while the National Health Mission (NHM) in rural and urban areas has been increased by a paltry amount.


The only silver lining is that the PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana shall have an outlay of over Rs 64,000 crore over a period of six years to upgrade primary, secondary and tertiary care facilities, strengthen existing heal institutions, building new institutions for research etc. However, all these are at the announcement stage with no reflected in the budget document.


In such a situation, the government has virtually no plans or programmes to set up hospitals to impart medical education on a bigger scale. The need for medical education being within the reach of the lower segments of society is what it needs to ponder over. This also brings to the fore the bigger challenge of various health facilities being made available to the marginalised sections.


The elitist character of successive governments, and including the NDA, sadly has not given the health sector the attention it deserves so that prevalent communicable and non-communicable diseases are brought under control. Moreover, if students from low income groups of rural and semi-urban areas get medical education, the shortage of doctors in the countryside will no longer be a problem and adequate health facilities could in the near future in rural health centres may become a reality.


It is indeed tragic that while we boast of being an emerging economy, the allocation towards health has been much less than most countries in spite of repeated promises. Even in the recent Economic Survey it has been pointed out that India should increase its spending on health from an average of 1 per cent to 2.5 per cent of GDP, as aspired in the National Health Policy of 2017. Earlier also, during the last decade or so, experts have repeatedly pointed out that at least 2 per cent of GDP should be allotted towards health but this has never been dome.


There is also no sustained action plan about the geographical spread of diseases and the need to set up health centres in rural areas and hospitals in blocks of backward regions. Though figures are dished out regarding shortage of doctors and nurses, precious little has been done, except privatising medical education and facilities that help the upper middle class. For a country of India’s stature, the scenario speaks very poorly of the political leadership and its reluctance to go all out to a lot more as desired.   


The government must ask itself whether it really wants that the lower echelons of society to enter the field of medical education as also ensuring that these are not deprived of their rightful due. The elitist and pro-capitalist outlook needs to change so that the silent majority can enter the mainstream of life and activity and ensure a healthy and robust society, at every level. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Rising Ultra Rich: NO JOBS, SOCIAL CHAOS LIKELY, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 17 March 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 17 March 2021 

Rising Ultra Rich


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


India added one billionaire every 10 days in 2020 amid the pandemic. This was made possible by rising stock valuation, which increased the number of worldwide billionaires by 412 to 3228. There are now 209 Indian origin billionaires of which 177 are Indian residents. The total list, which continues to be topped by Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, has 50 fresh additions. In fact, Asia has, for the first time, in perhaps hundreds of years, more billionaires than the rest of the world combined, according to a recent survey.


The rise in wealth of the rich has been on the back of rise in value of financial assets – shareholdings in the companies they own. The Nasdaq was up 42 per cent last year followed by China’s Shenzhen (40 per cent), Sensex (23.2 per cent) and Japan’s Nikkei (22.9 per cent). China also added 256 new billionaires to become the first country in the world to top 1000 known dollar billionaires with 1056, more than the combined total of the next three countries of the US, India and Germany.


As far as India is concerned, the development once again confirms the fact that the rich have not been affected, in the slightest way, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is the poor and the economically weaker sections who have suffered immensely, from April onwards till at least December last year. This includes small traders, migrant workers and all those working in the unorganised sector as also various categories of hawkers. Even a large section of those in the formal sector were affected at least for 7-8 months as their units remained partly closed. 


The situation has been improving since this year though demand in most sectors is yet to pick up. The lack of demand is testimony to the fact that a large segment of the population – say around 70 per cent, if not more – have lost their purchasing power, which are the after effects of the pandemic. The recovery that we see and read in the media is concentrated to around 7-8 of the population who comprise the upper sections of the middle sections.


Delving into the problem, one finds that concentration of wealth in a few hands is nothing new but the amount of money in the hands of the ultra rich – even the rich – has been phenomenal in the last few years. This has resulted in big business exerting a great influence on political leaders and being near the corridors of power. Obviously, the political leadership, it is no secret, is known to lean towards these and help their business to the extent possible.


In doing so, the planning strategy of the country is so geared to help the upper echelons of society, thereby neglecting the poor and the impoverished. One aspect of this is the introduction of new agricultural laws which has evoked massive protests among farmers, both in India and abroad. The other distressing scenario is with labour laws which are definitely not intended to upgrade conditions of grass-root workers, who have virtually no social security.


If one argued that in an emerging economy like India, this has to be accepted, the question arises how pathetic is the scenario regarding the food consumption of the poor. A recent national survey found that over 98 per cent of India’s adults eat inadequate levels of fruits and vegetables, thereby increasing the risk for non-communicable diseases. It found that this category of people aged between 18 and 69 years eat less than the recommended 400 gm fruit or vegetables a day.


The lack of  an adequate and balanced diet has led to an increase in illness and premature deaths from non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disorders, diabetes or cancers in the country over the past two decades and accounted for 6.1 million or about 65 per cent of India’s deaths in 2019. In fact, as the survey revealed that the Indian diet continued to be dominated by carbohydrates, roots and tubers.


According to Dr. Prashant Mathur, head of the Indian Council of Medical Research National Centre for Disease Informatics & Research, Bangalore and the study’s principal investigator, the lack of affordability as also lack of awareness and understanding of diseases may have been the reason to consume more vegetables and fruits. Meanwhile, FAO recently stated in a report that 690 million people were hungry in 2019 but the number was expected to rise sharply during and post COVID-19, hinting at the large population of India. 


This brings us to the formulation that all talk of India’s emergence as a global power is made keeping in view the rich and the middle class which are destined to emerge richer and stronger in the coming years. But what would happen if the neo-capitalist strategy of appeasing and helping the upper echelons of society are continuously followed? 


The most challenging questions that emerge are obviously related to finding employment or self-employment for the growing youth force, specially the educated ones. Recently over 5 million youths stormed Twitter with the hash tag ‘Modi job do’ (Modi give us jobs). Avinash Kumar of the Centre for Labour Studies of JNU University stated that out of over 100 million regular employment opportunities in 2018, the share of public employment had fallen below 20 per cent. Government jobs are decreasing year after year; yet they remain popular among the youth because of security. Studies have shown that job growth declined steadily between 2011 and 2018 compared to the previous seven years and the situation in the next two years is more pitiable.


As has been pointed out again and again, the induction of technology and mechanisation has steadily reduced the scope of employment. Due to reduce costs and achieve economies of scale, this strategy is being followed. While in Western countries, utilisation of labour is not a big problem, it is not the same here in India, where unemployment and underemployment has been increasing at a rapid pace. Moreover, the government has no clear-cut policy of encouraging labour intensive industries, on the one hand, while allowing private sector to reduce labour costs at its own free will, on the other. 


Thus in the coming years, there is virtually no possibility of unemployment being addressed though the government promised 2 crore jobs a year without any concrete plan on how to fulfil it. This would obviously increase disparity and a large population would be deprived in all possible ways while the rich would continue to amass wealth. Another aspect of this deprivation may lead to social unrest and violence as the rich in this country is not at all benevolent.


What actually will happen if this trend continues is indeed difficult to apprehend. But social analysts are clear in pointing out that if this carries on, the present policies of the government may not resolve the impending socio-economic crisis, which is staring the country in the face.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

People’s Representatives: SCORNED AT, GROWING CYNICISM?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 10 March 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 10 March 2021 

People’s Representatives


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


Elections are round the corner in four States and one Union Territory. The voter will need to weigh the options seeking his endorsement, both the parties’ promises and of course the candidate, he would prefer as his perfect choice in the Assembly. While the manifestoes are normally seen as more talk than action, the voter has turned cynical about the politician too.  There can be no denying that there has been a perceptible change in the behaviour and outlook of this class, and sadly for the worse. Rarely do we see the highly educated class considering the polls as an opportunity to contest and serve the country as the people’s representative.


It is no secret, even to the politician that the common man sees politics having turned dirty, to say the least, as many a politician doesn’t have a clean record and end up being viewed as ‘corrupt and opportunists’. Though people are aware of the fact that there is big money in politics, this profession, considered noble, appears to have lost its sheen and credibility. Over the years, politicians are losing respectability with their actions and conduct as civil society organisations such as the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) have put sharp focus on grave anomalies.    


While there is no denying that there have been and are a number of politicians who command respect in the present scenario, there are others who are involved in corruption and criminal cases. Statistics have revealed cases with regard to corruption, criminal cases involving murder, rape and sexual abuse, smuggling etc. Another factor that is becoming apparent is that, except before elections, politicians do not have much interaction with the common people, who do not belong to their party. They are usually remembered when civic, Assembly or general Elections are announced.    


The dismal character of politicians is, come to think of it, is specially manifest before elections. The use of slang and abusive language not just by political leaders but also those enjoying constitutional posts, in attacking opponents, is a phenomenon that has attracted much attention in recent years. Murky campaigning makes headlines rather than common problems that political parties seek to address. For example, take the case of West Bengal, which boasts of a rich culture and tradition. Here the top leadership has been found using intemperate language not befitting their stature, in response to the other side, which too indulges in the same. Rarely are allegations countered by facts and figures and judicious arguments, debates do not appear convincing.


Looking at the issue in hand deeper, it is an accepted norm that politicians have now become extremely power hungry. As political primacy consolidates, the incumbent begins to believe that he or she can do no wrong. Arrogance rather than humility takes over. The earlier belief that the public knows best is replaced with the thinking that the elected representative knows best. This is due to centralization of power, not just in the ruling government but also in the major political parties of the country.


The extension of this facet is the erosion of inner part democracy. The party supremos place themselves above all, questioning members and cadres, who work tirelessly for their success or those who are unhappy with their conduct or proffer advice. The emergence of a sycophantic coterie and the absence of objectivity in the people’s interests is yet another manifestation of power. When a political leader hears only what he wishes to hear, he expects the people to be compliant. If this does not happen, his reaction is to treat dissenters as enemies. As is manifest in recent times, they are dubbed anti-nationals, traitors, seditionists, urban naxals, etc. and charged with false cases.


And remember also the emerging trait of burgeoning self-love. The powerful leader becomes increasingly conscious about his image and has a feeling that whatever he says is acceptable by the masses. From this narcissism, arises the desire for historical permanence. He wants to imprint his legacy on the pages of history. The last consequence is a determination to somehow clinging to power, a characteristic that was once present among dictators and monarchs, not those professing to be democrats.


From this arises, the quest to move towards accumulation of money power, to ensure that there are enough funds to contest the polls again. Ill-gotten wealth has over the years come into sharp focus, where the worth of the legislator and his assets have gone up manifold after coming to power an being in a set of power. There are no qualms about adopting unethical means. Worse, the desire for power is showing a dangerous trend wherein the politician and his political party seek to get votes by dividing society on basis of religion. This is in addition to the caste-divide that our country is already beleaguered with.


There is also a growing rural-urban divide and political parties are seen to be giving tickets to those who can fund their elections. The rural neglect is a broader manifestation of the pro urban leadership but the problem is that they do not believe in decentralisation and grass-root participation of the people in the decision making process.


Sadly, the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals that politicians must adhere to have changed, rather been distorted, over the years. The grass-root approach is missing and a politician is surrounded by sycophants who consider him a demi god. Even in political parties the top hierarchy takes major decisions and local leaders are rarely consulted. The political system works on a top down approach rather than having its ear to the ground.


Though politicians swear in the name of parliamentary democracy, the system today appears to have been reduced to a farce. Dissent in any form is not tolerated while internal criticism is also not welcome. This state of affairs was not evident in Indian politics even two decades back. How and why are questions that beg analysis and answers?


The other aspect of such centralisation and autocratic tendencies of politicians has been the sheer neglect of the poor and the impoverished. The big parties are financed by big business houses and thus policies are framed to serve their interests, thereby neglecting the lower echelons of society. The ideological moorings of the leading parties are pushed to the background by their leaders as morality or ethics take a backseat.     


The educated sections are perturbed about the deviations in ideological moorings. But want an honest, efficient and dedicated person as their leader. He or she should be patient and responsive and willing to listen to others, learn from them, and have the intellectual ability to understand ground reality and people’s aspirations. Also the politician is expected to be a good communicator and agreeable to face criticism. And finally, a good politician must rise above narrow, caste and religious considerations, which are raising their ugly head.  


Social analysts and civic society is rightly concerned at the deterioration and degenerations of politics. Introspection is the call of the hour to ensure that aspirations of the voter of good governance turns into a reality and not just spoken of. The realisation of adopting a grass-root approach, carrying out their duties with sincerity and honesty isn’t asking for much. There is need for serious introspection. Remember democracy is ‘Government of the people, by the people and for the people.’---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Urban Regeneration: AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRITICAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 3 March 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 3 March 2021

Urban Regeneration


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


The urban sector in India requires a thorough transformation. A fact well known and accepted by planners, but the requisite facelift of urban centres, excluding metros, is hindered by lack of resources or severe crunch of funds. The scenario, however, is expected to change a little with the share of urban bodies in devolved funds rising from 0.78 per cent of the divisible revenue pool in the report of the 15th Finance Commission to 4.3 per cent. In fact, the Commission’s urban devolution is indeed substantial --Rs 121,000 crore over five years.


Significantly, the Finance Commission recommended earmarking Rs 8000 crore incentive grant for eight States for incubation of one new city each as a pilot project. As such, each new city will get Rs 1000 crore. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs is to soon come out with the framework for this and it is expected to be taken up on a challenge mode. Obviously, the new city will be developed as a Smart City. The Commission has very aptly spoken of the need for both rejuvenation of old cities and the setting up of new ones. It said the challenge of setting up infrastructure in Greenfield cities can be less daunting than witnessed in old cities.


Though experts have pointed out that the sum allotted would not be sufficient to build a new smart city with all modern facilities, it is gratifying to note that a beginning has been made. The overcrowding of cities, the problems related to water, sanitation and hygiene are crucial issues that need to be tackled.  


Another recommendation by the Commission is a mix of unconditional grants and those linked to national priorities such as drinking water, water harvesting and sanitation. For large cities, with over one million population, the Commission allots additional grants of Rs 38,196 crore through a ‘Million Pus Cities Challenge Fund’, linked to benchmarks for air quality and other such parameters.


It has suggested fixing price of water on a graded basis, wherein higher consumption entails higher charges and periodic revision of the charges has also been accepted. Importantly, it is at a time when the government is going to launch Rs 2.64 lakh crore scheme to provide universal household tap water connection to all homes across 4378 municipal areas by 2026.


If half of India is to become urban over the next couple of decades, that means adding 20-25 crore people to India’s cities. Obviously, the aim is not to allow them to crowd the existing cities, and therefore, new ones need to be built. These cities must be ‘smart’, in the real sense of the term, but the connectivity must also be low-cost so that people can commute easily.  


Cities, as is generally agreed, are viewed as engines of growth. However, 30 per cent of the population is considered urban, as per the latest census, and the census definition of cities is probably flawed. India has villages of 10,000 people while other countries have towns with around 4000-5000 people. Using a broader definition of urban characteristics, the World Bank considered 55 per cent of the country’s population as urban. It is the small cities that are gradually getting overcrowded and needs special attention for upgrading basic facilities.


A section of experts feel that city development could improve if more powers are bestowed on mayors, as also heads of development authorities of large cities. They should be allowed to raise financial resources without being tools under the State government’s municipal affairs department. While this needs serious consideration it is seen that State governments are by and large in no mood to decentralise powers as mandated by the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution.


One may mention here that urban living, having roots in the Scandinavian participatory design movements from 1970s, is a bottom-up approach to planning and implementation instead of the highly centralised top-down development planning, which we have now. In such an approach, residents, private actors, knowledge institutions and local governments interact with each other to design, test and fine-tune social and technical interventions in real time. This collaborative arrangement is highly significant and marks a shift from incumbent efforts based on government-industry partnerships.


Apart from this decentralised approach, the focal point of development of both old and emerging big cities is the need for low-cost housing for economically weaker sections (EWS) and the low income groups. The role of the State governments in this regard leaves much to be desired as these have not been playing an active role. Barring a few public projects, it is the private sector that is in the construction business, with an aim to make high profits. As such, these do not build cost-sufficient cost-effective flats for these two sections, whose requirement of low-cost housing is the critical.  


At the same time, the Centre’s stated goal of ensuring housing for all by 2022 appears unlikely to be met given the slow pace of construction and delay in expanding the beneficiaries list. While launching the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMJAY) – Gramin on April, 2016, Prime Minister Modi had gone by the Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2012 and set a target of building 2.95 crore houses by  2022. However, by 2019, State governments had identified another 3.67 crore households that lacked houses, raising the scheme’s possible target to 6.62 crore houses.


According to a report from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development, the government built only 1.04 crore houses by the first week of June last year. The Rural Development Ministry informed the Committee that it has taken up the matter of additional beneficiaries with the Union Finance Ministry. The key reason for the delay is the lack of funds over the years and construction of number of houses remains as original target.


The need for affordable housing is one of the most important challenges for both the Centre and State governments, particularly in view of big towns facing massive in-migration from neighbouring areas, adding to congestion in these areas. Plus, what the private sector calls ‘affordable’ is ideally suited for the low income groups and not for the EWS. Taking into the target and demand, State governments must consider, if not done already, is construction on basis of public-private partnership and collaborate with the private sector accordingly. And while some States would have adopted this approach, the demand unfortunately is much more than the supply.


In the recently announced Budget, a section of experts and builders were of the opinion that in view of the 15th Finance Commission’s recommendations, more resources should have been allotted to the sector to give a boost to low-cost housing. Though the extension of additional deduction of interest for loan to purchase affordable house till March 2022 and affordable housing projects being able to avail tax holiday till that period, there are additional expectations among developers that the government will unlock surplus land for real estate projects. But whether it will be used for low-cost housing remains a big question. A regular update of targets achieved is necessary, as ‘housing for all’ is to met just a little over a year from now.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


Wages for Housework: SOLUTION FOR SOCIALPROBLEM?, Dr.S.Saraswathi, 25 February 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 25 February 2021

Wages for Housework

Solution For SocialProblem?


(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


General Election is the time for worst hate speeches against opponents and lavish promises for voters.  Among the latter, Kamal Haasan’s promise of wages for presently unpaid housework for women has national significance and without fail has raised a debate on its implications and possibilities. As a new face in politics, he has to generate fresh promises and has picked one that he perhaps thinks will attract 50% of voters.

Details about its implementation, criteria for fixing wages and working conditions, and about employer and mode of payment, etc., are not provided.  What is sure to emerge is a group of supporters and another of opponents for this radical idea that will reorganise family relations on partly economic terms.

There are different categories of work and workers in running domestic life and household activities. “Housemaker” and “houseworker” have distinct meaning. Already in existence are “housewife” and “domestic worker” with distinct connotation.  The responsibilities of housewife or homemakers are virtually unlimited and bound to no time frame.

Homemaking is a term first used in the US and Canada for management of a home – otherwise known as housework, housekeeping or household management. A housewife or househusband and also a social worker who manages a household during incapacity of a housewife or househusband is a homemaker in the US. November 3 is the National Homemaker Day in the USA. It is observed to appreciate and celebrate the work done in homes by those who keep the homes running.  

A “homemaker” may be a man or woman. There is no commitment to be a lifelong homemaker.  He/she is the person who maintains the upkeep of his or her residence, especially one who is not employed outside the home, while homeworker is a person who works from home for remuneration to produce a product or do a service.

According to 2011 census, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children and parents and other activities performed to make the household functions are the main occupation of 160 million women in India. Women indeed have to be jack of all trades, not just cooks and cleaners.  They have to be teachers and doctors and shoulder multifarious responsibilities as daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters, lovers, wives, mothers, mothers-in-law, grand-mothers, and so on.

The ILO defines unpaid work as non-remunerated work carried out to sustain the well-being and maintenance of other individuals in a household or community and includes both direct and indirect care. It found that women in India spent more than 9 times the time spent by men on unpaid care work. A global estimate put the total time spent by women in unpaid work as four and half hours, which was twice the time spent by men. 

All over the world, unpaid working hours of women range from 345 minutes per day in Iraq to 168 minutes per day in Taiwan according to a calculation of the ILO. Unpaid care work economy is valued by the ILO at nearly 9% of global GDP with three-fourths of domestic work performed by women. Traditional GDP accounting measures ignore unpaid work.

“Women will break through established glass ceilings by the equal opportunities provided to them”, says Kamal’s party manifesto. Pointing out the drop in the participation of women in the workforce during his poll campaign, Kamal attributed this to the need for women to spend lot of time in unpaid work within the house.

There are certainly people who think that wages for homemakers is a fanciful idea that cannot be implemented. Few may have heard of the International Wages for Housework Campaign started in Italy in 1972, a grassroots women’s network campaigning for payment for all caring work at home and outside. In the mid-1970s, autonomous organisations came up in Britain, USA, and Canada and a movement   in Italy advocating the cause of unpaid housework. 

International conferences were held in 1980s and 1990s to push the idea.  In 1985, the UNO adopted a resolution asking member-countries to start estimating women’s unpaid work by 1995. Sweden introduced subsidies in 2007 to domestic chore which included cleaning, laundering, and ironing.

Venezuela set an example by introducing a system of payment for its homemakers at 80% of the minimum wage since 2006. It is culmination of a struggle launched by the Revolutionary Socialist Women in 2001 to realise the rights of women and implement a constitutional right `of homemakers to form associations. Still, the common idea is that it is natural for women to be homemakers and unions are formed to obtain a dignified life for women and respect for their role as homemakers. 

Kamal Haasan has not propounded any unheard of idea. It has been discussed and debated even decades ago before independence. A sub-committee for women under National Planning Committee was set up in 1938 at the joint initiative of Nehru and Bose which prepared a Report on Women’s Role in Planned Economy. It pointed out that women’s housework was not receiving any recognition from the State or society and should be recognized as having an economic value and that work should not be considered in any way inferior to other types of work done outside the home.  

The report said that lack of recognition of the work of homemaker and constant dependence on men for everything reduced her as a slave and concluded that “this social degradation has brought into contempt the wok of the woman in the home”. Critics may point out that wage system for homework may reinforce and institutionalise specific gender roles whereas the aim should be to respect homemakers and increase women participation in paid workforce.                                                                           

Judiciary is not blind to the value of women’s unpaid work.  In 1966, a court in India ruled that the cost to the husband of maintaining his wife would have been equal to her imaginary salary and so no compensation could be awarded to him. Indian courts have been taking into consideration the monetary value of women’s unpaid work in deciding compensation for loss of life of a woman. 

In December last, for instance, a court awarded compensation of Rs. 1.7 million to the family of a homemaker who died in a road accident.  The court had observed that fixing a notional income for a homemaker was “a signal to society that the law and courts of the land believe in the value of labour, services, and sacrifices of homemakers” and was an acceptance “of the idea that these activities contribute in a very real way to the economy of the nation”.

There have so far been no protests demanding wages for women homemakers. It is difficult to take this idea literally and enforce it.  It has to be accepted in spirit, i.e. acknowledgement and respect for economic and other value of women’s work in home and inclusion of the value of their contribution to household economy and well-being and in the calculation of family income. 

The burden of household work should not be thrust solely on women. The system of division of labour for managing households should not be rigid or converted to enslave women silently.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)



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