Daddy's turn: a case for paternity leave
No man, they say, is a hero to his butler. But men like to be heroes to everyone else. India breeds them in the hundreds: as the mommy’s darling, with all the women in the household rushing to fulfil his slightest wish, as the ‘jewel’ of a boy in the classroom who rises through life as smoothly as a glittering knife through butter, as the undaunted leader who takes his country to victory against huge odds on the pitch to the roar of thousands of fans. Not for him the unpaid, unseen labour of looking after bawling, incontinent, ravenous babies, or cooking and cleaning when the exhausted mother wants to doze off for a minute. This role is so much a part of Indian expectation and practice that when the captain of the Indian men’s cricket team requests — and gets — a couple of weeks off from an important overseas tour to be with his wife during the delivery of their child, it is seen by many as ‘dereliction of duty’. But should the work-life balance for men be so skewed that the home must remain invisible, its practical and emotional support forever under wraps? Which way will an Indian man lean in this day and time — the time is crucial — between ‘patriot’ and daddy for his preferred label (or epitaph)?
A bill for paternity leave made a hesitant appearance in 2017, when the law for maternity leave was amended. Paternity leave never became law, which not only left pregnant women and new mothers high and dry at home as usual, but also continued to diminish their chances at work. How many employers will recruit a woman who must be given maternity leave by law when a man in her place can continue being the ‘breadwinner’ while making babies at home? But convention can be as oppressive for men as it is for women. Some men may feel that they are missing something, that paternity leave is not for lazing but for sharing their partner’s workload. When not just traditional expectation but also policy emphasizes gender roles, equality becomes an empty word. The public sector nowadays does allow the father — or the father-to-be — 15 days off while maternity leave has been extended to 26 weeks. But 15 days are better than zero days in most of the United States of America, where men can take sick leave to be fatherly. That is telling.
A study in Spain, which now gives 12 weeks of paternity leave, had found that it has lowered the fertility rate, as though fathers have realized what it takes to look after a baby and responded with compassion — and self-preservation? The private sector in India is free not to offer paternity leave, but many large organizations are formulating their own policies. Equality as well as higher productivity resulting from the security and contentment of a better work-life balance may be their aim. Daddy’s turn has come.