Homemakers do not get their due credits. Their entire life, they are constantly questioned for their contribution and, to make it worse, society fails to acknowledge their lifetime contribution to building a home and maintaining a family. However, views are now changing, at least at the judiciary level of the country.
Recently, in one of its case hearings, Delhi High Court observed that any amount of compensation paid to family members over the death of a homemaker cannot make up for the love, care, and warmth provided by her to her family. Indeed, a homemaker's contribution cannot be compensated as she ends up giving all of her day to her husband, children, and family.
Compensation Can't Make Up For Homemakers' Contribution
Delhi HC was hearing an appeal filed by an insurance company against Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT). MACT passed an order which directed the company to pay Rs 17.38 lakh to the family for their loss in the accident. The insurance company argued that the notional income of a homemaker cannot be computed based on the Minimum Wages Act due to the absence of proof of income and education. Also, they expressed reservations over the tribunal's grant of future prospects of the deceased.
Notional income is treated as the income of a non-earning person, it is abstract or fictitious. For example, Homemakers. The insurance company's stand is probably a way to get rid of compensation that is to be paid to the claimant. In a boarder view, it is just robbing the deceased of its invisible hard work and disrespecting her sacrifices. The insurance firm is missing the point that homemakers indirectly contribute economically to a family's well-being, which eventually adds up to the GDP of the country.
The homemaker's role involves caretaking responsibilities of the household, including childcare, cooking, cleaning, and managing family affairs. That means one partner (in most cases, men pursue a career outside the home without being burdened with family matters) like homemakers support earning partners' ability to work, generate income, and create a stable home environment. This interdependency further emphasises the economic value of the homemaker's role. Besides, homemakers' tasks were outsourced to paid professionals, so how should we monetise that value? Also, the absence of a homemaker can adequately impact the family's financial stability. So, no formal proof of income or education can diminish the economic value of homemakers' work.
Such court arguments by the aggrieved party only perpetuate gender bias. Historically, undervaluing of women's contributions has only reinforced gender stereotypes and discrimination. This lead to unfair and unjust outcomes, undermining the principle of equity and social justice.
But it is not just the insurance company's fault for raising such prejudiced and faulty arguments. It is the system; women are subjected to unpaid labour, which is not only ignored but also remains uncompensated. The Oxfam report estimated that 65% of women's working hours are due, reflecting that most women around the world are unpaid. 45% of weekly work done by both men and women globally was unpaid care. India also fails to recognise women's contribution to the nation's Gross Development Product (GDP). Usually, domestic duties carried out by women globally are also not valued in economic figures. If the framework of value creation and productivity is anti-feminist and cannot measure the unpaid work of women, how we can blame the institutions of the system independently?
Delhi HC On Compensation Over Homemaker's Death
The single-judge bench of Justice Gaurang observed that monetary compensation can only provide a “financial cushion” to the grieving family but cannot “make up for the love, care, and warmth provided by a mother or a wife to her family." This is not the first time that the judiciary gave opinions on the notional income of non-earning persons.
Earlier, in one of the similar cases, former Chief Justice N.V. Ramana penned down his opinion on the determination of the notional income of the homemakers. "Grant of compensation to a homemaker, on a pecuniary basis, is a settled proposition of law. Fixing the national income of a homemaker is of special significance as it will give recognition to the work, labour, and sacrifices of homemakers. It promotes the principles of social equality and dignity to all, as envisaged in the Constitution of India."
If the judiciary is aware, making vital observations and clearly understands of making bigger reformation, why are we not doing enough? The system must have a designated method to calculate the monetary value and recognise the women's unpaid contributions and make the system and society abide by the same. The verdicts may give relief to the individuals in respective cases but dodge a very big issue - Unpaid home labour and everything related to it. Kanth by reiterating that "computation of an award to compensate for the death of a homemaker demands a wider approach, considering the multi-faceted gratuitous services provided by a homemaker to her family", probably hints at how the system should look at the homemakers' contribution.
It is time that the system engages in the revolutionary transformation of society on socialist lines, where household chores seems like a choice and not a burden, and at the same time respected and recognised.
However, when it comes to the above-mentioned case, the Delhi HC ordered the company to provide Rs 15.95 lakh as compensation and ruled that the MACT made no mistake in computing the notional income.
Suggested Reading: Homemakers Are Entitled To Equal Share In Husband's Assets: Madras HC