The contribution of women to household is overlooked in terms of its monetary value and economic contribution. It undermines the role of women as homemakers. A Madras High court judgment that took into account the mother’s domestic labour in calculating compensation. PINKI MATHUR ANURAG, Director- Technical at Lawyers Collective, examines the judgment and argues for viewing women as independent entities with identities beyond the confines of their roles in family systems.
N September 9, the Madras High Court enhanced a compensation amount of Rs. 8.46 lacs to Rs 14.07 lakhs awarded by the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal, Salem, to a homemaker. The judgement held that the homemaker stood on a higher pedestal than other earning family members. It noted that the value of the homemaker’s contribution was irreplaceable and cannot be compared to that of an “ordinary employee”.
The judgement has been widely reported and rightly applauded. However, the question that needs to be asked here is whether the judgement said anything new with regard to computation of value for homemakers’ work; or if it added to the already existing body of jurisprudence in this area?
The answer is a simple no.
While the contribution of a homemaker to the household has been appropriately lauded, there is an unnecessary digression from the role of the woman as a homemaker to that of a nation builder.
While the judgement must be applauded for substantially enhancing compensation, guided by a positive approach to homemakers’ contribution to the family, it does not demonstrate an understanding or appreciation of current international debates around its economic value. The society’s view excessively focuses on women as sole nurturers of the family and hence, by default, the society does not respect her as an individual, independent of her role in the family. While the contribution of a homemaker to the household has been appropriately lauded, there is an unnecessary digression from the role of the woman as a homemaker to that of a nation builder.
Empathy for the woman as an individual, whose life will never be the same again, comes through feebly in acknowledging that at this “crucial age” “her matrimonial life will be affected”. Even here one senses undue focus on the institution rather than the individual. While the enhancement of compensation under “Pain and Suffering” is a positive step, one hopes this refers to the personal pain and suffering of the woman, and not that of the family as a whole.
The focus in the judgement throughout is on the hardship that the family has to suffer as a result of her disability.
The case dates back to 2017 when the 39-year-old Bhuvaneswari was hit by a bus while waiting at a bus station in Salem. She sustained grievous injuries that caused 60% permanent disability and required continuous care and treatment.
Justice S M Subramaniam took into account factors such as “family circumstances, living standards of the family and other mitigating factors” and “the nature and grievousness of the injuries” while calculating the enhanced compensation.
Though compensation awarded for the father by the Accident Complaint Tribunal was seen as fair, Justice P Sridevan delved deep into the matter of compensation for the death of the mother.
Sadly, the path-breaking judgement of the same court from 2009 in National Insurance Comp. v Minor Deepika by Justice Prabha Sridevan finds no mention in this judgement.
In establishing compensation for the death of a homemaker based on established international rules, Justice P Sridevan had demonstrated an understanding of the dignity of the woman as an individual and as a homemaker. In this case, Deepika, a minor girl, had lost both her parents in an accident. Though compensation awarded for the father by the Accident Complaint Tribunal was seen as fair, Justice P Sridevan delved deep into the matter of compensation for the death of the mother. She wonders why, “on the basis of the claim that both died in the same accident, the child should be deprived of the compensation she is justifiably and reasonably entitled to for the death of her mother.”
The brilliance of this judgement lies in that it awards the mother dignity in her own right, stating that the “claim for the mother’s death must be dealt with independently and on its own merits”.
In this case, compensation is measured based on established methods of valuation of the homemaker’s unpaid labour. Three methods have been discussed under this judgement; first the ‘Opportunity Cost’ method, which evaluates the homemakers’ wages by assessing what she would have earned had she not remained at home, implying thereby the opportunity lost.
In this case, compensation is measured based on established methods of valuation of the homemaker’s unpaid labour.
The second is the ‘Partnership Method’ that views marriage as an equal partnership, the homemakers’ salary is valued here as half of her husband’s salary.
The third is the ‘Replacement Method’ which evaluates how much it would cost to replace the homemaker with paid workers. Justice P Sridevan, applied the Partnership Method in Deepika’s case since there was some evidence to support that the mother helped the father in his business.
The most significant contribution of the Madras High Court judgement in Deepika’s case is its recognition of scientifically assessing the value of the unpaid homemaker in both accident claims and matrimonial property.
Women’s unpaid household work must be valued as productive work and not simply as work done for the welfare of the family. The reality is that in most cases women have little choice when it comes to housework.
This choice is not necessarily economic in nature but related more to the woman’s position in the family. This reality is lost in bracketing housework as work done out of love and affection and then cannot be addressed appropriately.
Hopefully, the principles evolved under accident claims cases will be replicable in matrimonial matters. One hopes that the valuation of homemakers’ work will be recognised and further developed in the existing body of jurisprudence on his subject.
(Pinki Mathur Anurag is Director – Technical at the Lawyers Collective. Views are personal.)