Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi is known for making controversial remarks. Last time she said marital rape cannot be criminalised because of:
"…various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament etc."
It is kind of poetic that this time she said paternity leaves for men in India cannot be considered because they are likely to use that as "holidays" instead of actually contributing to child care.
"Men in India do not utilise their existing leaves in order to take care of their child. If men gave me one iota of hope by taking sick leave for child care, then yes, we can think of mooting a proposal for paternity leave," Gandhi said as per media reports.
The previous statement had infuriated the feminists as it took away women’s sexual autonomy and the latter statement has infuriated anti-feminists or men rights activist as it tends to trivialise a father’s role in the child’s development. It is poetic because in both cases, concerned groups raised a particular demand citing examples of progressive nations and changing social values and it is denied by the government citing the same reasons – the ground reality of a regressive patriarchal society. The fear in both cases is the potential ‘misuse’ of a legal provision meant to bring gender equality.
Paternity leave is important in theory because it establishes the fact that child care is the responsibility of both husband and wife. However, Gandhi’s apprehension is also justifiable.
Majority of Indian men do not perform domestic work. Period. They do not think it is their duty, their wives do not think it is their duty, neither’s parents ever told them it is their duty, and they never learned or developed the habit of doing it. A good wife is someone who can balance both home and job and a good husband is one who provides generously for the family, spends time with children and preferably doesn’t cheat on her. There is no such narrative of a becoming a good father or husband simply by cooking, cleaning, washing and otherwise sitting at home.
The grim reality is that while gender roles are changing to the extent that more and more women are now taking up the traditional male jobs, the vice versa is not happening, men are not taking up traditional female jobs or feminine roles.
"Be a man" is still an encouragement and "What a puss" is an insult. Gender roles are neither reversed nor done away with. They continue to be perpetuated from the day a child is born. From pink and blue decoration at the maternity ward to the gendered toys children play with. Sure, many young girls are now playing with cars, bikes and guns, but a boy playing with Barbie doll, kitchen set and pink lipstick is a parent’s ultimate nightmare.
If young boys would not learn to play with kitchen sets and dolls how on earth would they grow up to be a man who thinks child care and domestic work is an honourable duty?
As long as we’d have TV commercial implying a man doing household chores is a social embarrassment, men on paternity leave would only add to women’s burden of work. She would now be taking care of two babies instead of one, after all "Men are just like babies. So cute." Even those men who genuinely try domestic work make such a mess of it because they never learned it that the exasperated wife often says, “You leave it, I would rather do it myself.”
The true test of a man taking care of baby and managing household chores is when the woman is not there at all. One of the pro-paternity leave tweet which apparently sums up the debate says: “My seven-month-old sleeps only in my husband's arms every night. If that doesn't prove him to be a good father, then what will?”
— Deepika Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) August 24, 2016
No my dear lady, your child sleeping in its father’s arm, after you have done the tiresome work of feeding, bathing, cleaning his potty, changing diaper, doesn’t prove him to be a good father. Him doing these work alone, and efficiently, does.
Given the social reality that the majority of poor illiterate Indian women, for whom marriage is a sacrament, are not used to assert their sexuality, and are rather conditioned to believe that good wives do not seek but only comply to their husband’s sexual needs, every other husband would potentially run the risk of being criminalised if non-consensual sex within marriage is criminalised.
Similarly, given the social reality that the majority of poor illiterate Indian men are not used to view domestic work as part of their core duties, they will potentially use paternity leaves to go out and play cards with other men at local tea stall, take children out to playground, read newspaper in the courtyard, and so on while the wives would be doing double work since "husband is at home."
The problem is that in both cases government is having a big brother syndrome taking away individual’s autonomy, trying to monitor and discipline people.