SC Quantifies Economic Value of Homemaker’s Work in Landmark Judgment, Awards Additional Rs. 11.2 Lakhs
This week, India’s Supreme Court delivered a crucial judgment that will progressively inform our notions of homemakers’ work, sacrifice, and subsequently the economic value of both. In an insurance dispute case that sought to put a number on how much the heirs of a deceased couple should be compensated — a decision largely based on their income, among other considerations — a three-judge bench in the Supreme Court included a “notional income” for the deceased woman, who was a homemaker.
The bench said even if the homemaker didn’t receive an income for her work, it still had economic value, which should be calculated in such cases. After a High Court sought to reduce the compensation the victims’ relatives would receive, the Supreme Court increased the amount awarded to the claimants by Rs. 11.20 lakhs, reaching a sum total of Rs. 33.20 lakhs.
In delivering the judgment, the judges noted how 159.85 million women in India, according to a 2011 census, state “household work” as their main occupation. Opining on their ruling, they added, “The sheer amount of time and effort that is dedicated to household work by individuals, who are more likely to be women than men, is not surprising when one considers the plethora of activities a house maker undertakes. A house maker often prepares food for the entire family, manages the procurement of groceries and other household shopping needs, cleans and manages the house and its surroundings, undertakes decoration, repairs and maintenance work, looks after the needs of the children and any aged member of the household, manages budgets and so much more. In rural households, they often also assist in the sowing, harvesting and transplanting activities in the field, apart from tending cattle.”
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In fixing a notional income for homemakers — a number the bench said would have to be undertaken on a case by case basis — the Supreme Court recognized the unpaid, unappreciated work of a majority of women in India, who on average spend 352 minutes (six hours) every day on household chores. (In comparison, men spend 19.)
The latest judgment “signals to society at large that the law and the Courts of the land believe in the value of the labour, services and sacrifices of homemakers,” the judges added. “It is an acceptance of the idea that these activities contribute in a very real way to the economic condition of the family, and the economy of the nation, regardless of the fact that it may have been traditionally excluded from economic analyses.”
“It is a reflection of changing attitudes and mindsets and of our international law obligations. And, most importantly, it is a step towards the constitutional vision of social equality and ensuring dignity of life to all individuals.”