In a welcoming move star cricketer and soon-to-be dad, Virat Kohli has received paternity leave from cricket body, BCCI. He will only play the first test match of the Australia series after which he will return to India and be with his wife and actor Anushka Sharma who is expecting their child. Across television and social media, Sharma has been cheering for Kohli in his IPL matches while Kohli has showed concerned asking Sharma if she had her meal or not. But that apart, it's the BCCI move to offer paternity leave, that sends a positive signal. Kohli's taking up paternity leave, given his massive popularity, will remind people at large, that parenting is both mother and father’s responsibility. And that it is normal and important for a man to be an equal partner in parenting.
It was in 1999 when Indian law legalised paternity leave for male employees (central government) but few organisations followed it. Although it was only for 15 days for fathers as compared to 26 days for mothers, traditionally considered primary caregivers. But still, many men are reluctant to take paternity leaves. The major reason is the toxic masculinity that perceives child-rearing and paternity leave as womanly. The perspective relegates women as solely responsible to carry the burden of pregnancy and parenting, while men should focus on their careers.
This perception not only creates a gap between male and female employees in the workplace but also between the parents at home.
A woman employee is considered less eligible for a job than men despite equal qualifications because she will take long maternity leaves. In fact, many workplaces consider it abnormal for a man to take paternity leave and so the one who wants to avail it feel they are at a disadvantage.
While at home, a woman has to rear the child alone while the man remains occupied with his job and work stress. She is made to think that domesticity and motherhood bound her existence while job and career become secondary. And if she wants to manage it together, she has to take risks like going to the office within a few days pregnancy which is neither healthy for her nor for the child. Moreover, the father also loses the touch and connection with his child who gets used to his absence. So who exactly is getting the benefit of the toxic masculinity that genderises parenting?
To normalise paternity leave for men, we need examples of men who exercise their right to take it and involve themselves in parenting. We need examples of men redefining the attributes of masculinity and fatherhood. Kohli will be one such example.
Virat Kohli's paternity leave will play a vital role in normalising the idea that men too should take paternity leaves and rear their offsprings.
It is not hidden that Kohli has a huge fan following from both men and women. Every hit from his bat attracts a lot of hooting and enthusiasm. Now when the cricket-fans will find Kohli absent on the field while fully present at home fulfilling his parenting duties, they will certainly normalise the importance of sharing parenting responsibilities equally.
Kohli and Sharma’s parenting duties based on compassion and equality will tell their fans that an equal and happy family and good upbringing of the child deserves the primary attention. That it is not a dent in the male ego or fandom if he changes the baby’s nappy, feeds it or tries every possible way to stop its crying. That parenting is not just about a woman giving birth to a child but also about the man being an equal part of the whole journey.