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Housewives in India may receive salaries from husbands

If proposed bill is passed, it will be mandatory for men to share their income with their wives if they do not work outside the home.

NEW DELHI // Housewives in India will receive a salary from their husbands if a proposal made by the central government becomes law.

According to the women and child development ministry, if the proposed bill, still in the draft stage, is passed, it will be mandatory for men to share their income with their wives, if she does not work outside the home. The exact amount is yet to be determined.

Krishna Tirath, the minister of women and child development, said the ministry would like to quantify the work that women do to financially empower women who stay at home.

"If women have to be given money, what is the objection? Even now husbands do hand over their salaries to their wives," Ms Tirath said last week in New Delhi, according to the Press Trust of India. "We are trying to make sure that the number of work hours that a housewife puts in, they are recognised and the women of the house is given the due respect in society."

While some experts say this is a good idea in theory, the implementation may be problematic given India's complex family structures. There are women who live in large extended families along with those who depend on men who earn less than 120 rupees (Dh8) a day.

"Family life is unique here in the sense that one really has to understand the family dynamics before implementing such a law. Let's first see how society accepts this situation," said Neerja Ahlawat, a professor of sociology with the Maharshi Dayanand College in Haryana.

Men's rights organisations have objected to the proposal, calling it a "morally, socially, ethically wrong proposal", according to Shonee Kapoor, who runs the Sahodar Trust in Delhi, which takes the side of men in divorce and family law cases.

"If you are paying a woman to take care of a child, and suddenly the husband is unable to pay, who will take care of the child?" asked Mr Kapoor. "What happens when a man dies, does the wife then ask for money from her father, or father-in-law?"

Mr Kapoor called it a "bad idea all around," questioning how the law would be implemented, enforced and adhered to, without violating privacy laws.

As is, young women tend to live with their parents until marriage, then move to the homes of their husbands and their extended families. An amendment to the divorce law, passed in May, allows women to claim a portion of their husband's earnings and property accumulated during the marriage.

"Household work in Indian society, it is difficult to digest when measured in economic terms," Ms Ahlawat said. "People don't want to recognise it and if this law does materialise, it will change family relations — between a husband and a wife, a child and his mother, and it will have a positive effect on a woman's image within her family."

Mihir Sharma, an economist and columnist with India's Business Standard newspaper, disagreed that it would change family dynamics in India but supported the idea of quantifying household work, saying that putting money in a woman's hand means it will be spent on education or health.

"Increasing women's income doesn't always change intra-family power dynamics as much as you'd expect. In the highly regressive social system that still exists through much of India, community power is used to keep even women with independent income subordinate to their husbands," Mr Sharma said.

Government interference and privacy issues also have been raised.

"It can and does take them into account in designing policy," Mr Sharma said. "And, when they are as problematic as they are in India, making a morally sound case for ignoring their exploitative and regressive nature is hard."

"On the face this looks very revolutionary but how will you enforce it and how will you adhere to it without poking your nose into people's homes?" Mr Kapoor noted.


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Updated: September 20, 2012 04:00 AM