#Opinion

Paternity Leave: A Passing Fad Or A Gamechanger Here To Stay?

paternity leave
Saif Ali Khan is the latest in, an increasingly long line of male celebrities, opting for paternity leave ahead of their babies’ births.

The actor, expecting his second child with wife Kareena Kapoor Khan, however, isn’t a newcomer aboard the empowering wagon of paternity leave. He has professed commitment to shared parenthood prior to the arrival of his firstborn, Sara Ali Khan, and then other times since. Khan is father to three children – Sara, Ibrahim and Taimur – with a fourth one on the way. 

In a recent interview, the actor explained his decision for taking off from work around the time his child would be born saying, “Who wants to work when you have a newborn at home!” Khan joins (or is rather joined by) the younger likes of cricketer Virat Kohli, comedian Kapil Sharma and politician Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu in propagating the truth of parenting as an equal relationship through paternity leave. Read more about these men here.

The concept of paternity leave has been around long before our public personalities began popularising it, most notably since last year when Kohli – amid a cricket test series our team was predicted to lose against Australia and growing public disdain for his devotion to fatherhood – took a break to be with his then-pregnant wife Anushka Sharma. But though it existed, it’s clear how a celebrity taking paternity leave creates a positive mass endorsement for the phenomenon.

The question is, in India, will that prompt a call-to-action for other non-celebrity men too? Will it become popular only because famous men are opting for it or will it bring a real change in the way fatherhood is viewed? Even if more men turn to paternity leave, will it be here to stay or fade away as a fad as soon as our celebrities stop taking them? 

A Positive Change With Men Opting For Paternity Leave?   

India still lacks a solid paternity leave policy, according to reports. As per the Maternity (Amendment) Bill 2017, working women are entitled to leave and benefits extending to 26 weeks, divisible for before and after pregnancy. For men, on the other hand, the only central paternity leave policy that exists is 15 days for government employees under the Central Civil Services (Leave) Rule 551 (A). 

Though big corporates like Microsoft, Starbucks and Facebook, the benefits of it come through in small demographics. Wouldn’t paternity leave have an all-pervasive effect if central laws afforded its benefits to more people? In 2017, Rajeev Satav, a Maharashtra MP, had proposed the Paternity Benefit Bill extending paternity leave for men from 15 days to three months. But it is yet to come into effect. 

Evidently, the conversation around paternity leave has been doing rounds for some time. But why is it that Kohli’s choice to take leave brought the phenomenon to national limelight last year in December? A reason cited by those critical of his leave was that he placed fatherhood over ‘national duty.’ That argument, however unfair and incomplete, set the ball rolling and paternity leave was being talked about feverishly – something it has deserved for years.

Does that mean we will grant attention to the topic of paternity leave only when it directly tugs at public passions or “national” interests? Why weren’t actors like Khan, who says he has taken leave before, and his contemporaries Shahid Kapoor and Vivek Oberoi who took time off from work for their babies, hailed for their choices? Does that mean the public isn’t interested in discussing paternity leave until it relates to ideas of national pride, losses, or wins? 

Can the necessity of paternity leave then not be discussed in isolation? Will it always have to have a ‘larger’ agenda than just fatherhood? 

Will These Male Celebs Inspire Call To Action Or Just Applause? 

Public interest is piqued in the subject of paternity leave only now, after years of the maternity leave benefits being introduced. This points at the time it has taken us to recognise that parenting is an equal partnership between the father and mother. That women aren’t and shouldn’t be seen as sole caregivers to children. But how committed will we be to that idea? 

For the massive fan following these men command, will they inspire other men to make the choice of taking leave when a baby is on the way? Or will those supportive of his choices only cheer him on from the stands and then go back to pushing all responsibility of child care onto their wives? 

Kohli and Khan are not the first men, and hopefully not the last, to avail paternity leave. They are being lauded now, but will their actions normalise the taking of such leaves? Will it encourage equal parenting or will it be limited to applause for them that will soon cease? That is the crux of the paternity leave discourse that demands heed. 

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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