Valuing Services of a Home Maker! Supreme Court Judgment.

To belittle the work women do as homemakers, & either under value or not value it at all has been in use as a weapon to keep women’s self worth severely dented & to ensure their meek acceptance of an inferior status. Among middle class households, whenever I raised the issue of outsourcing the work done by wives with so much care, love & security, and having to pay for it, most sensible husbands realized that they would go bankrupt if fate forced them into such a predicament. Probably, they then saw their spouses with more respect. Some economists have done calculations that suggest the value of such unaccounted domestic world output at US$ 17 trillion. It is another matter that even if this is accounted for (not paid for) the World GDP will increase but not the living conditions of the poor. That also shows disconnect between the GDP & its’ distribution (or poverty).

Supreme Court was recently called upon to deliver a judgment in a compensation claim (CIVIL APPEAL NO.5843 OF 2010) for the death of a homemaker spouse in a motor accident. Judgment was delivered by Justices Sanghavi & Ganguly. What was significant is the observations made by Ganguly while recording the judgment.


Despite the clear constitutional mandate to eschew discrimination on grounds of sex in Article 15(1) of the Constitution, in its implementation there is a distinct gender bias against women and various social welfare legislations and also in judicial pronouncements”.

Clause 6 (Motor Vehicles Act 1988) has been divided into two classes of persons, (a) non-earning persons, and (b) spouse. Insofar as the spouse is concerned, the income of the injured in fatal and non-fatal accident has been categorized as 1/3rd of the income of the earning and surviving spouse. It is, therefore, assumed if the spouse who does not earn, which is normally the woman in the house and the homemaker, such a person cannot have an income more than 1/3rd of the income of the person who is earning. This categorization has been made without properly appreciating the value of the services rendered by the homemaker. To value the income of the home-maker as one-third of the income of the earning spouse is not based on any apparently rational basis”.

This bias is shockingly prevalent in the work of Census. In the Census of 2001 it appears that those who are doing household duties like cooking, cleaning of utensils, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood have been categorized as non-workers and equated with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners who, according to Census, are not engaged in economically productive work. As a result of such categorization about 36 crores (367 million) women in India have been classified in the Census of India, 2001 as non-workers and placed in the category of beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. This entire exercise of Census operation is done under an Act of Parliament”.

Women are generally engaged in home making, bringing up children and also in production of goods and services which are not sold in the market but are consumed at the household level. Thus, the work of women mostly goes unrecognized and they are never valued”.

Ganguly also referred to the recommendation of “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) : Encourage and support research and experimental studies to measure and value the unremunerated domestic activities of women; for example, by conducting time-use surveys as part of their national household survey programmes and by collecting statistics disaggregated by gender on time spent on activities both in the household and on the labour market”.

He also cites a Madras Hugh Court judgment that said, “The UNICEF in 2000, noted that "unpaid care work is the foundation of human experience". The care work is that which is done by a woman as a mother and definitely in India, the woman herself will be the last person to give this role an economic value, given the social concept of the role of a mother. But when we are evaluating the loss suffered by the child because her mother died in an accident, we think we must give a monetary value to the work of a caregiver, for after all, the home is the basic unit on which our civilised society rests…”.


Full Judgment is attached.




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