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The Western Himalayan Jaunsari Tribe and Their Still Existent Traditional Panchayat

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By- Dr. Devender Sharma, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Centre of Excellence Government College Sanjauli, Shimla (Himachal Pradesh).  He recently Co-Authored a book with Prof. Vijay Kaushal on the Jaunsari tribe titled “Traditional Power Institutions: Tribes of India

 The focus of the piece is majorly on a traditional power institution prevalent amongst the Western Himalayan Jaunsari tribe of Uttarakhand called Khumbli which are adhoc councils (Panchayats). These panchayats act primarily in cases involving traditional rules of behaviour and have the power of summoning in cases involving sex, property, and status. But with the passage of time these panchayats are losing their credibility and relevance as they are heavily influenced by caste, clique and kin-group loyalties. People belonging to lower caste groups, in general, do not have faith in these panchayats due to their arbitrary functioning which is dominated mostly by upper-caste men. Thus, in this relation, the work tries to highlight upon as to how the economic and social structures constituted under these panchayats are losing their significance.

 The process of globalization has turned the entire world into a global village, the boundaries of the village, province and nation have become blurred. At the same time, this transition has, albeit indirectly, raised questions about the existence and relevance of the very basis of traditional village panchayats. Their structure, procedure and decisions have also evoked a thorough discourse amongst the people, the media as well as numerous courts of law. These panchayats settle disputes in an inexpensive and prompt way ensuring fast, cheap, and inexpensive justice in conformity with local customs, traditions, and culture. Equally, they impart tremendous social stability to the rural culture in many horizontal and vertical ways and are considered as an effective and meaningful alternative to litigation. Furthermore, many types of traditional panchayats are found throughout the Indian subcontinent and this type of local informal justice system has been the basis for administering rural justice in the subcontinent since ancient times. In that connection, the tribal societies also hold this traditional institution quite sacred to them and have allowed it to rule them throughout their known histories.

Traditional Panchayat of the Jaunsari Tribe and Caste Hierarchy 

Many communities in the Western Himalayas which majorly includes the areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side, were originally tribal groups before they came under the influence of religion and were then further divided into different castes if they took up the Hindu religion. But despite that assimilation, they retained their tribal organizations (in varying degrees). The same goes for the Jaunsari Tribe of the Jaunsar-Bawar area of the Dehradun District of Uttarakhand, a hilly tribal tract with dry, rough, and unirrigated agricultural land which is linguistically more similar to the bordering parts of Himachal Pradesh than say Uttarakhand and can be included as a part of the Western Pahari linguistic belt. The tribals of Jaunsar-Bawar maintain their traditions and culture virtually unruffled because they have been able to regulate their life through decisions of traditional institutions since long.

A powerful traditional institution regulating most of the tribe is Khumbli adhoc councils (Panchayats), which primarily act in cases involving traditional rules of behaviour and have the power of summoning in cases involving sex, property, and status. But with the passage of time these panchayats are losing their credibility, and one such reason for this is caste hierarchy and untouchability which affects the working of this tribe. While caste-based discrimination generally does not prevail in the power structures of most panchayats in the Western Himalayas especially in the current times, but in the Kumbli panchayat power structure caste discrimination is still dominant. The informal power structure consists of caste, land ownership and the Syanchari system (Village Headman) which is dominated by the Khash (Rajput), and Bhatt (Brahmin) castes. The Jaildar (Big landowner) and Lumberdar (Village Headman or Syana) are the chief executives of the structure and a class of local money lenders (Businessmen or Baniyas of the plains) also influence the decision making of the panchayat to some extent.

If we look at the caste wise land ownership in the Jaunsari tribe, we find that Rajputs and Brahmins are the dominant landholders. The intermediate caste groups include the artisan classes, such as the Bahri (Carpenter), sonar (Goldsmith), Lohar (Blacksmith), Bajgee (Village Drummer), Jhogra and Nath (temple attendants and musicians). The lower caste group includes Koltas, the traditional agricultural labourers and serf. A few leather workers are also present at some places associated with the Chamar and Mochi caste group classifications. Furthermore, most of the agrarian studies conducted in Jaunsar-Bawar reveal that the Koltas are still indebted under the yoke of tribal landowners despite the enforcement of land reforms and a Land Ceiling act. This system is based upon feudal modes of production due to which debt bondage amongst Koltas in Jaunsar-Bawar is present. Bonded labour has been abolished long ago by the Government of India, but even then, this problem remains unresolved in the area.

Land, Land Revenue and Tenants

In the Kumbli panchayat, an indigenous revenue system has also existed since the 18th century ever since the area was an integral part of the Sirmour state. During that time the village community of Jaunsar-Bawar was a body of cultivating proprietors where each Zamindar cultivated his own land for which the Zamindar was classified as Maurusi (cultivator). The Maurusi had proprietary rights but the Gair Maurusi (non-cultivator) was a mere tenant who could dispose of his land only to the Zamindar whose land they cultivated on. Under this system land revenue was totally collected by the village Sayanas (Headman) and Khat Sayanas, the former being subordinated to the latter and appointed by him. These Sayanas were the virtual rulers of the area under the control of the king and were responsible for the collection and distribution of revenues which were collected from the Sadar Syanas of the Khats, who in turn collected from the village Syanas. The revenues were fixed for the whole area in a lump sum which was distributed by Chauntras and redistributed by Syanas among individuals. The Khat Syanas on the other hand could take an allowance of 5% of the collection known as Bisaunta (Commission received out of land revenue collection). This sort of land revenue is still collected in Jaunsar-Bawar by these Khat Syanas and deposited in the government treasury on a commission basis which showcases the bitter reality in the working of this tribal society relating to how landlordism, money lending and traditional centres of informal power (caste panchayats) are becoming the strongest components that influence the formal structures of power.

Identity Crisis & The Way Beyond

A customary law of a tribe is greatly endangered for good or bad when it meets socially progressive and politically powerful people. According to our findings in the field study conducted, the Jaunsari tribe is no exception to this rule as to when the isolated and self-contained people encounter the modern society, they compare their social, political, and economic life with these people. Here arises the contradiction which leads to some people from the tribal population wanting to transform their society especially concerning problems related to untouchability, illiteracy, bonded labour, social, economic, and psychological slavery etc. Thus, today there is a need for change concerning the self-sufficient nature of the socio-economic aspects of these tribes like the one in Jaunsar-Bawar. The present functioning of the traditional panchayat is clearly violative of the principles of natural justice and social equality and the same is leading to further division of the tribal community on caste-based lines.

Moreover, this is invariably not good for this minority Western Himalayan tribal community of the Eastern Himalayan province of Uttarakhand as it further excludes them in the greater socio-economic power struggle of the province which is majorly dominated by the Eastern Himalayan communities of Garhwal and Kumaon. Thus, in order to create the change, a mighty awakening is required in the Jaunsari tribe where the upper caste groups must let go of their hegemony. Additionally, the youth of the tribe irrespective of caste barriers should actively participate in standing up against the social evils present in the functioning of this tribe. Though some administration-initiated changes are happening in recent years, the larger transformation needs to come from within the tribe. However, passive measures can be taken towards educating the tribal community by especially the government in power, but too many aggressive measures from the outside to create the change may have adverse effects on the entire tribal community (including an identity crisis) as well as the society at large.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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Increasing Risk of Dementia Among the Tribal Population Migrating from Himachal Pradesh

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By – Vinay Kumar, Research Scholar, Department of Pharmacy, Central University of Rajasthan, Ajmer

Ageing is a natural phenomenon, but with ageing comes the risk of various disorders like dementia which is an emerging public health concern and a significant reason for mortality amongst older people.  Currently, over 50 million people are suffering from dementia across the globe and by 2030 that number is expected to reach 82 million. In relation to India, dementia currently affects 1.5 million individuals, and this figure is expected to escalate three folds in the coming decades. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh alone will have more than 500,000 patients by 2026. But the same may surprisingly, also affect the hilly scheduled tribe population of Himachal Pradesh in a big way especially the ones who are migrating to the plains and major metropolitan cities.

Dementia and the tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh

Dementia is a clinically recognized disorder that is chronic or progressive in nature, and majorly it affects the memory functions specifically targeting the reasoning or unresponsive thinking ability, learning capacity, decision making etc. The same is also associated with deterioration in emotional control, social behaviour or motivation and reduction in the lifespan of the affected person. It is not a normal part of ageing and is caused by severe damage to the brain cells that affects one’s ability to communicate. This health condition is often associated with physical, mental, and financial burden. This disorder is affecting millions all across the globe and in India also there are close to 1.5 million cases of dementia but different studies conducted from time to time in different areas of Himachal Pradesh have shown that the hill people of the province (especially the tribal population) are less susceptible to dementia and related diseases. The tribal population of Himachal Pradesh which constitutes about 4.02% of the state’s total population are majorly concentrated in the high-altitude districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti and some parts of the district Chamba. The major reason for these findings is that in most areas of these districts there is a presence of a variety of staple foods such as barley, wheat, maize, and phulan in comparison of the largely wheat and rice dependent populations in the rest of rural and urban India. The districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti are also known to produce many varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables that have rich sources of nutrients like vitamins and antioxidants which help in the process of reducing the risk of dementia.

Migration and the Risk of Dementia

Nevertheless, in the current times due to fewer job and education opportunities for especially the youth, massive migration is happening to the mainland plains from the tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh. This migration is especially happening to metropolitan cities which are ecologically and climatically very different from the hilly areas and this may, in the long run, lead to severe problems for habituated hill people, especially the tribal areas. As evidence suggests that whenever people from higher altitudes move to lower altitudes especially the pains the risk of having dementia and related neuro degenerative disorders increases, the same may also lead to cardiovascular diseases. Important findings relating to how the cases of dementia increase when migrating in this way came up in a study conducted some years back in the Mishriwala IDP camp in the plains of Jammu City where a community cluster of Kashmiri migrant population lived since 1990 after they had left Kashmir in the wake of militancy. The results revealed that the cases of dementia among that Kashmiri migrant population aged 60 years and above, were higher than reported from other parts of India, the major reason being the migration from habituated high-altitude regions to the lower-altitude regions.

Mainland India and the migrating Himachali tribes

On the other hand, another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is that in the Hindi Belt and other mainland areas of the country, where a lot of the tribal population is migrating are suffering from a lot of ecological and food-related changes which is increasing the risk of dementia in these areas. In Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh alone, it is expected that by 2026 there would be around 500,000 patients of dementia. Also, processed foods as well as massive adulteration in food items is being reported time and again in these areas, which is again contributing to the increase in the number of people suffering from this disorder. The same could be more devastating for the hilly tribal people of Himachal Pradesh as their living and food standards are very different and the one’s migrating to these areas may be more susceptible to dementia in their old age if they live in these areas in the long run. Though no study has been conducted on this issue till now, there is scope for such a study in the future.

Thus, ecological and diet-related factors can be seen as the key identifiers in detecting the problem of dementia and especially the tribal populations of the districts of Kinnaur, Lahaul Spiti and Chamba who are still not affected by this disorder in large numbers may be more at risk especially the ones who have migrated or are planning to migrate to the mainland plains. For this purpose, the need of the hour for everyone, especially the tribal habituated people of these districts to whom this issue is relatable, is to understand that they need to take special care of themselves as they may be at more risk of getting dementia with age.

Prevention and Control

Some tips for preventing dementia for everyone and especially the people migrating from high altitude areas to lower altitude areas are regular exercising, avoiding high calories, shunning smoking, and alcohol consumption (especially red wine) etc. Also, other necessary steps which can be undertaken is the intake of antioxidants which are generally regarded as safe molecules, as they reactivate the body from time to time, they can be traced in Vitamins like A, C, E and Minerals like Zinc and Selenium. The intake of Vitamin E “anti-ageing vitamin” is the most important out of all these and aids in slowing down the onset of wrinkles, hair loss and muscle weakness process which invariably causes dementia and related diseases. Vitamin E is present in sunflower seeds, almonds, red grapes, and alfalfa sprouts. Vitamin C is also very useful as it plays a key role in boosting immunity, which is required to tackle such disorders. It is obtained from broccoli, cauliflower, kiwi, papaya, plums, guavas, bananas, berries etc. Further, Vitamin A plays a key role in the maintenance of the skin, eyes, and digestive system. The major sources of Vitamin A are obtained from plant foods like carrots, papaya, apricot, cabbage, sweet potato, and spinach, ghee, cod liver oil, egg yolk and milk fat etc. Then, Zinc is available in beans, red meat, and soya. Selenium is present in Brazilian nuts, tuna, milk, and milk products. Thus, all these foods can help in generating antioxidants which help immensely in keeping away the risk of having dementia and related neuro degenerative disorders

Image Credit: Olivier Galibert

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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Marginalizing the Regional: Creative Thievery in Indian Filmdom & The OTT Alternative

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By- Nirmal Joseph, Research Scholar, Central University of Karnataka

This work is a critique of the marginalization of regional cinemas in our country. It charts out a few ways in which regional cinemas are subjugated by the mainstream. Special emphasis is placed on remakes of regional films where the original gets overshadowed by the copycat. By proposing possible solutions to tackle this cultural domination, this work is a call for cinephiles and critics to give regional cinema the attention they deserve.

Marginalizing the Regional

Language and location are two important facets of any relation centred on power. In a multilingual country like India, the centrality and marginality of a region largely depend upon these two aspects. The further your location is away from the power-centre, your language and culture will be obliterated in favour of the nearby and this has largely happened with the Southern, North-Eastern, and Far-Northern (Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh) parts of India in numerous ways from the culture and language of these regions not being widely accepted to say the mainland culture and language being imposed on these areas for decades. There is also this growing tendency of homogenization that detests differences especially in these regions of India and this behemoth decimates and appropriates the regional into the national. This is a serious impediment for a nation that takes pride in its heterogeneity.

The narrative of domination and subjugation is a worn-out cloth. Its scope and reach are beyond the purview of this article and thus focus is just put on analysing a tiny strand of this vast narrative that anyone can relate with: The marginalization of regional cinema by the big daddies of Indian filmdom.

Marginalization through Creative Thievery

Creative thievery occurs when the creativity of the original is bulldozed by the receptivity of the remake. It is not synonymous with plagiarism or copyright violations which have legal consequences as the issue here is more cultural in nature. It is about under-appreciation. It is about erased memories. It is about deliberate disregard. In this digital era, it is too hard to conceal creative thievery. Still, the mainstream film-makers hardly think twice before they remake. Why is it so? Because we as an audience condone their actions for the thrill of viewing the films in our own language. In doing so, the potential of an industry is not fully realized. When in an industry most films released in a year are remakes, we are silently witnessing the demise of creativity and originality in that filmdom. Innovations and adaptability, from within the industry, will only sustain it in the long run and this is the reason why this work critiques creative thievery as it benefits none. Both the original and the remake will have undesirable outcomes on their respective industries as the original will be deprived of its recognition and the latter will fall into a vacuum of creative barrenness.

Problematizing Capsule Creativity

There is genuine creativity and then there is capsule creativity. Making an original script requires creativity. One should possess a genuine talent to do so. Creating a good film out of that script is also a hard task to achieve. There are numerous examples of this category which fall under genuine creativity. Then there is the remake, where creativity is capsuled and sold for a lump sum. It is true that, on the odd occasion, we have witnessed amazing cinematic adaptations that gave due credit to the originals and organically blended the cultural traits of the original into the receiving culture. But those kinds of artistry by master-craftsmen are a rarity at present especially when the originals are forced to the periphery and the cultural translations are limited to language, location and at times to religion, resulting in a retarded cinematic experience that paradoxically receives better adulation than the regional-original. The task at hand is a lot easier for such ‘creators’ – if one may address them so, because they got everything pre-cooked for them. Their creativity is so superficial that beyond the surface embellishments, it is the same old wine in a new receptacle. They are backed by privileged industries with a lavish budget, huge stars, and a greater linguistic advantage, allowing them to produce remakes that systematically erases the original from the public memory. The work does not give specific examples to pinpoint any individual or group. The issue under consideration is greater than any individual and it deserves the collective attention of all cinephiles for a sustainable change.

Decentring the Cultural Domination

Regional cinema for quite a long time rarely became a national phenomenon. But there are some optimistic incidents recently which takes us in that direction. We have witnessed how the Bahubali duology elevated the status of Tollywood (Telugu) cinema and later the extraordinary success of KGF from the Sandalwood industry took Kannada cinema to new heights. These are positive trends that clearly resonates that Indian cinema is beyond Bollywood. But the majority of the regional industries cannot afford to produce a Bahubali or a KGF to get a nationwide audience. For them, there are other ways. Rather than selling the remake rights, dubbing the original to other languages is a more welcoming attitude. It is true that dubbed films have their own limitations like the difficulty in translating culturally loaded terms and ideas, but it is the lesser evil. Here comes the problem of representation. When a regional industry gets represented by a mainstream industry, it is their version of the region that transmutes on to the screen. At large, such representations will only help in stereotyping and cultural mockery. It is only when regional industries get elevated to a position of representing themselves, they could occupy the space they deserve in Indian filmdom.  Personally, I prefer to watch films from other languages with subtitles because the feel of the original is retained there. When we are ready to watch Western and Asian films with subtitles why can’t we give the same respect to regional films? We as an audience should be able to satisfy ourselves with an answer.

The OTT Alternative & The Drishyam Phenomenon

Drishyam 2: The Resumption, the Malayalam film which got premiered on the OTT platform Amazon Prime Video on 19 February 2021 has shown us a different path through which the regional can be mainstreamed in this digital era. The film was the sequel to the acclaimed Malayalam drama-thriller Drishyam that released in 2013. Prior to the OTT release, the makers of the film received flak for their decision to circumvent theatrical premier, because the much-anticipated film was expected to rejuvenate the pandemic-hit Mollywood industry. But the Over-The-Top release proved a blessing in disguise as the unprecedented popular and critical appreciation bestowed upon the film served as an eye-opener to a graver problem at hand. In a reversal of the usual, the sequel brought the original film to the fore. The original Malayalam film Drishyam was remade into four Indian languages and two foreign languages. Some of these remakes have become more famous than the original due to the higher receptibility of their respective languages in the country. But the release of the sequel through an OTT platform blurred much of its linguistic handicap. The subtitled film was viewed by cine-lovers all over the world and the subsequent quest rediscovered the original. The OTT release was a temporary disappointment for the theatre arena, but it has given a better exposure to the entire Malayalam film industry.

Though, it is also true that international OTT platforms prefer stardom over the content. Only a few films of the regional industries that are helmed by established actors and directors got an OTT release through these international biggies. But Regional OTT platforms are a solution to these, there already exists Hoichoi in Bengali, Neestream and Koode in Malayalam, Aha in Telugu, and many others. Thus, creating regional OTT platforms are a sustainable solution for all marginalized regional film industries. Thus, if a film can be made available on OTT platforms a few days after its theatrical release, its receptivity increases a hundred folds. Regional cinema rarely gets substantial theatrical release outside their home-turf and for this reason not many people outside the region are too much interested in regional cinema. Another reason being that a regional film’s reach is delimited which curtails a particular industry’s progress. Thereby some of the best contents in cinema will never reach its deserved viewership.

These, online streaming platforms are a huge boon for regional film industries of especially Southern India which have all the infrastructure in place but do not have a bigger market as compared to Bollywood. The same platforms can also lead to the resurrection of upcoming regional film industries like the ones in Punjab and Bengal which also have good markets beyond national boundaries. Equally, these platforms can also help in the establishment of new film industries in places of India’s North East and Far North region which have a distinct language and culture from the mainland. One of the best examples in this context can be the linguistically similar Western Pahari region which includes parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir as well numerous parts bordering Pakistan. The separate Pahari music industries in these regions are very popular and OTT platforms can be used for planting the seeds of a combined establishment of a film industry in this region.

Additionally, remastering and re-releasing the best films of the past from the regional filmdom is a welcoming move. Many brilliant cinematic gems will reach a wider audience and receive critical adulation through this process.

Heterogeneity and Giving Space to the Regional

Finally, as an audience, the onus is upon us to accept heterogeneity and to be shrewd enough to distinguish the originals from the remakes and value the former over the latter. Because in the end, it is the viewer that dictates the fate of a film. If the majority of us favour the original productions by the regional cinema, the tendency to ‘own’ it through remake by mainstream industries will subside in the future. Thereby real talents of regional cinema will get recognition, and film-makers far and wide will be forced to produce original and engaging scripts. OTT platforms can expand the reach of these regional films. If the originals can breach the boundaries of language and location by portraying local contents with universal appeal and by releasing it across the globe through OTT platforms, the possibility of a remake can be nullified in advance.

Thus, in a nutshell, the work here attempts to suggest some useful markers for the decentring of the domineering forces in Indian filmdom and thereby elevating the status of the regional cinema. It is only when the tag ‘Indian Cinema’ starts to signify all the film industries of our nation the objective of this work is fulfilled.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.
 
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Wages for Household Work – Idea of Monetising Labour of Love (Women’s Month Special)

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 By – Urvashi Pareek, Research Scholar, Department of Public Policy, Law and Governance, Central University of Rajasthan, Ajmer

The burden of unpaid domestic work and care work falls disproportionately on the women, and the work they do is considered as a social obligation and a thankless job. A study by OECD reports that on an average women in India spend 351.9 minutes per day in unpaid household chores and contribute significantly in maintenance of stable labour in the economy.  Thus, the idea of wages for household work to a women can ensure value and recognition to her contributions towards the family.

The idea of wages for household work has its roots in Feminist Economics, which works on the fundamental premise that non-working women contribute significantly to household economic activities. The unpaid household work acts as an important factor for the maintenance of a stable labour supply in an economy but the contribution of women in unpaid work is seen as a consequence of rigid patriarchal norms that emerged from gender-based division of labour in societies. It acts as an impediment in terms of the missed opportunity costs in connectivity towards education, employment, public participation, strengthen persisting inequalities, poverty and stress. Thus, there is a need to legitimately recognise the work they do and be considered equal partners. In 1972, the International Wages for Housework Campaign advocated the idea of wages for housework in Italy under the leadership of feminist and social activist, Selma James on the ground that house work was similar to industrial work and that the house workers should be duly valued and paid. Gradually, the movement gained prominence in Britain, America and other corners of the world to loosen the shackles of patriarchy in society. In Venezuela too, a provision was added under Artcle 88 of its Constitution in 2006 that guaranteed social security of $180 per month to all homemakers.  

In this direction, some assurances have also been given in India by prominent personalities but no concrete policy has been formulated so far in that concern. Notably, one such assurances came from Krishna Tirath in 2012, the then Minister for Women and Child Development, who famously remarked that the work of homemakers must be quantified and reimbursed by their spouses. However, the statement had mainly been criticised for the reason that it made the earning spouse the owner or the master of the labour performed by the homemaker. Then, recently the idea of wages for housework also gained currency when Kamal Haasan’s newly formed party Makkal Needhi Maiam came up with the idea for wages for housework in their manifesto for the upcoming assembly election in Tamil Nadu, but many see this move as a mere election promise concerning numerous permutations and combinations of vote bank politics. On the academic end though, there are mixed responses to the idea of wages for housework, as one set of scholars advocate the idea based on estimating its vitality in improving the overall condition of women. Whereas, the other set of scholars oppose the idea by arguing that it may further entrench gender stereotypes and confine women to household chores. The two sets of views are discussed below.

Realising the need for Wages for Household work

The proponents of the idea of wages-for-housework believe that it would compel the world to see the value of women’s Unpaid Domestic and Care Work (UDCW) and help dismantle the deep-rooted gender stereotypes. A study by Oxfam revealed that $10.8 trillion  is the total contribution made by women in the form of unpaid domestic work. The protagonist of this idea underscores the fact that the burden of domestic chores falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women in this endless and repetitive work which invariably forces them to either stay out or leave full-time paid employment. The wages for household work also affirms resistance to domestic violence, enables them to learn a skill, exit marriages and ensures their participation in decision-making process of the family. Also, the International Labour Organisation equates the status of a homemaker to a student, as both are engaged in non-economic and voluntary activity.

On the other hand, in relation to India, unpaid domestic work violates Article 23 of the Constitution of India, which prohibits forced labour. Prabha Kotiswaran, a professor of Law and Social Justice at King’s College London, notes that Indian courts have developed wages for housework jurisprudence over three decades while deciding compensation for deceased homemakers under Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 where unpaid domestic and care work was viewed as an occupation. The compensation to the family is calculated in terms of opportunity cost, replacement cost and contributions to the marriage as a partnership. A counter-argument to this view is regarded in the form that unpaid domestic and care work is valued by the judiciary only after death and has no recognition while alive.

Achilles Heels in the wages for household work

A recent study by OECD has reported that women in India spend 351.9 minutes per day on unpaid domestic and care work. On the other hand, men spend only one-seventh of the total time spent by women with as low as 52 minutes, which makes the case of wages for housework to women even stronger. But critiques have argued that the idea of wages for housework is mainly considered unworkable concerning the measurement of women’s unpaid domestic and care work and upon as to whether beneficiaries like unmarried women, men or rich homemakers can be included. A workable condition according to them is through paying salaries to the homemakers from middle, lower middle and and poor sections of the society, as in the case of Goa. The state government pays an amount of Rs. 1500 a month to the women domestic workers under the Griha Aadhar scheme. It is also largely believed by them that paying salaries to houseworkers may strengthen the gender stereotypes and reaffirm the male to be the breadwinners and the female to be the caregivers. It is considered that the idea in long run may ghettoise women and confine them to homes, further shrinking their scope of empowerment and mobility. According to them, it also mocks the domestic and housekeeping workers who earn their living by working in middle and upper-class households. Further, numerous questions also arise upon as to how the wages have to be paid to the houseworkers in the form of cash transfer, state subsidy, share in the income of earning spouse or as a universal basic income.

The need of the Hour – Monetising the Labour of Love

After evaluating the two viewpoints concerning wages for household work one comes to the understanding that there is a double-burden for the working women who contribute to the family income and engage in household chores as they realise it as their responsibility which nobody else shares. The social fabric and established norms make male participation difficult and unaccepted. The social norms too compel the women to engage in domestic work. Most importantly, the work they perform is considered to be a thankless job, which is mainly unaccounted. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown which was imposed in most cases immensely increased the work of women and made them even more economically dependent on the male breadwinner as many lost their full-time/part-time employment.

However, the times are changing, and the new generation is becoming more hopeful and optimistic about the changes. The boundaries defining male and female work are blurring, social norms are also more flexible and adaptable, women are coming out from the drudgeries of the household chores. Thus, wages for household work are the need of the hour as it dismantles the partriarcal conception of housework as women’s work by ensuring dignity to all and furthers India’s constitutional vision of social equality.

Feature Image: Heidi Younger/NYTimes

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.
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