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  Arindam Chaudhuri    

Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri
Editor-in-Chief - The Sunday Indian

Housewives are an invaluable unpaid resource and def initely not unproductive!

Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-chief, The Sunday Indian

At least the apex court felt the need to slam the administration over clubbing housewives and women engaged in domestic work along with the categories containing prostitutes, beggars and prisoners within the Census; the court stated that such categorisation of women is totally irrational and insensitive. I kept wondering that in an era where even the slightest of gender discrimination is a highly inflammable and potent fuel for the media, activists and the civil society alike, how was it that such a slap on the face of the housewife (the Census categorization) had gone unnoticed – or should I say deliberately overlooked? Is it that in our progressive society today, the housewife has lost her identity or is it that her definition has been reduced to the manner in which she gets portrayed in TRP hungry daily soaps? Is it that she is being taken too much for granted?

According to the Census, the logic behind clubbing housewives along with beggars and prostitutes stems from the fact that none of them directly contributes to the economy. In simple terms, it means that all three categories of people are unproductive. I do not wish to comment much on begging and prostitution, but should mention that both professions are an outcome of the productive people around! Clearly, this kind of categorization of housewives is not just discriminatory but is outrageously illogical. In fact, if one goes about calculating the contributions that are being made by a housewife then it would put a lot of the so called productive people to shame. To start with, a report by the ‘Evangelical Social Action Forum and Health Brigade’ estimates that the economic value added by Indian housewives would be nothing less than $600 billion annually – that is equal to a staggering Rs 28,20,000 crore. In simple terms, it means that on an average an Indian housewife adds Rs 78,000 per year to the economy – which again I feel is an understatement given the fact that the millions of housewives support their respective families in innumerable ways. To an extent that without their support, most of the so called productive lot would become unproductive.
A survey, which was featured almost four years back, and which quite strangely was ignored by most of the leading media houses, proves that if we were to add the contributions made by housewives to their respective households – to the National Income – then Indian GDP would go up by a staggering four folds! Notwithstanding all that, if one were to still state that the contributions of a housewife are intangible and cannot be added to the GDP, it should not mean that their contributions are reduced to a naught! How can one rule out the facts that even today, as per an NSSO survey, more than 50 per cent of rural women and 20 per cent of urban women are engaged in activities like collection of fuel wood, fetching of water after walking for kilometers, and providing a silent latent hand in small household businesses – acts that go completely unpaid. Beside these, a large number of women across the country look after livestock, poultry, domestic hygiene, cooking, of course children too, and so on and so forth. Going by the assumption that these housewives work for around 10 hours per day (which again is a conservative estimate, as most of them are found working for more than 12 hours a day), if these women were paid for their daily work, even simply at par with wages set by the government under the Minimum Wages Act, a single women ends up adding a minimum of Rs 2,500-3,500 per month per family. And unlike prisoners, beggars and prostitutes, almost all of the work done by housewives is economic in nature as in most of the developed countries, the work that housewives do are generally carried out through paid contracts.

In fact, it is incorrect to judge the merit of a housewife just by the tangible economic contribution that she makes for her own family, as there is so much more that housewives do. Their intangible contributions come through the role that they play as a wife, mother and child (in the case of joint families), and all with equal responsibility. Almost all housewives are engaged in home making, taking care of children and other household activities (which in economics can be considered goods and services meant for domestic consumption), which largely gets sidelined and can’t be ever valued.  Talking subjectively rather makes far more sense as there are numerous domestic and non-domestic matters that a housewife handles which do not fall under the purview of any economic calculation. I am sure that no economic model would be able to calculate the cost of housewives’ love and care towards her family and the sacrifices they make to ensure that the earning member is in good health and is physically and emotionally fit to work and earn. Thus, a large part of economic earning, which a male member gets, has its source and support somewhere else. On the same lines, housewives also selflessly bring up their children in a manner that they can in the future add economic value to the nation. Thus, in almost all cases, the sources of earning by family members find their roots in the numerous hardships that a housewife goes through. And mind you, all this without any leaves! All in all, there is a huge difference between an unproductive resource and an unpaid resource! And to club them all in one bracket is too unfortunate!

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