Promises and counter-promises are par for the course during election season. But one electoral promise made by actor-politician Kamal Haasan in December last year stood out—a monthly payment to homemakers. The idea caught on like wildfire.
Both the DMK and the AIADMK soon made similar announcements in their manifestos, with the former promising Rs 1,000 to homemakers and the latter Rs 1,500. Haasan’s party, Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNK), has promised an assistance of Rs 3,000 ahead of the April 6 Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu.
In fact, in poll-bound states like West Bengal and Kerala too, various political parties have promised similar financial assistance to women heads of families/homemakers. Whether it is ‘freebies’ or social schemes, Tamil Nadu has been ahead of the curve over the last few decades—think the free bicycle scheme for SC/ST students, launched in the state way back in 2001-02. This was later extended to all students up to Class 11 in government and aided schools.
Not a new thought
Kamal Haasan, however, has stressed that the payment to women homemakers is not a dole but recognition of their work, which has gone unnoticed and unrecorded. Taking off from the broader concept of a universal basic income, Haasan’s announcement has attracted criticism too, with many fearing this would only entrench the gender stereotypes with men staying away from household work and saying women are being paid for it anyway.
Haasan, who is inspired by Gandhian philosophy, may not be aware that a report in 1940, titled ‘Women’s Role in Planned Economy’ (WRPE), prepared by a sub-committee for women under the National Planning Committee (NPC) formed by the Congress party, had acknowledged the importance of the work done by women at home. “We feel, that this work, which at present receives no recognition either from the State or society, should be recognised as having an economic value and that work in the home should not be considered in any way inferior to the other type of work done outside the home,” the report said.
The committee’s report said, “… unless, therefore, the home worker is considered as much a productive worker as the one who is engaged in work outside home, and is given the annas in the same way that the work of those enjoyed by workers in, say, industrial labour, it will be difficult to raise the dignity of labour in home.”
This sub-committee for women was chaired by doctor and feminist Rani Lakshmibai Rajwade with freedom fighter Mridula Sarabhai as its secretary. The authors further made three recommendations:
1) Woman should have an absolute control over some part of the family income;
2) Woman should have a share in the husband’s property, which he cannot will away; and
3) The husband should give his wife’s share of the contribution to any social insurance scheme that may be introduced by the State.
A survey by the National Statistical Office (NSO) between January and December 2019 found that an Indian woman does 243 minutes (four hour) of domestic work a day, whereas the average time spent by an Indian man attending to domestic chores is only 25 minutes. During and after lockdown, it is likely that the average time spent by women doing housework would have further increased.
The politics of it
While recognising women’s contribution at home is definitely important, in politics, a poll promise is seldom made just like that. Women constitute nearly 50 per cent of the electorate in the country and the number of women exercising their franchise has only increased, with more women coming out to vote than men in several states over the last few years.
As elsewhere, in Tamil Nadu too, most parties are guilty of looking at women as mere vote bank, and launch schemes that are aimed at wooing or appeasing them. Implementation, therefore, always remains a grey area. It was in 1989, under a DMK-led government, that a law was enacted to provide equal property rights to women in Tamil Nadu—many experts, however, argue few women avail of the benefits because they are not aware of the scheme. Tamil Nadu also provided 33 per cent reservation to women in local bodies, and further raised it to 50 per cent in 2019, besides 30 per cent reservation in government jobs. The AIADMK government in 2019 launched a scheme offering 50 per cent subsidy on scooters to working women. Cradle baby scheme, marriage assistance scheme are some other examples.
Similarly, irrespective of which party comes to power in Tamil Nadu, women homemakers are assured of a monthly income, with all major parties promising a certain amount in their election manifestos this time. Can this be a game changer for women, one doesn’t know. But, it is surely a start.