Next, will we ask women to dress in overalls as our society isn't mature enough to tolerate a little skin showing?

Dear Maneka some Indian men may avoid parenting but should law follow prejudice
Blog Paternity Leave Thursday, August 25, 2016 - 17:10

By Imira

Having worked for various news outlets that have mastered the manufacture of outrage, much has become blasé for me. Indeed, I've become quite immune to the emotion called outrage. But today, after a long time I'm feeling offended. And outraged. For this, I blame the Women and Child Development Minister.

Just when everyone was applauding her for extending maternity leave by four-and-a-half months – and quite deservedly so – Maneka Gandhi went ahead and proved she’s as sexist as the next politician. In a recent interview the minister declared that a paternity leave law would be of little use in India because it would just end up being a holiday for most men.

I am personally offended by her statement because I'm a new mother – a new working mother. My girl is just over a year old. I leave her every morning and see her in the evening after eight or nine hours. The reason that I can leave her and be at peace is because my husband – a man, an Indian man – takes care of her while he works from home.

And unlike what Maneka Gandhi thinks – I don't come home to a hungry, dirty, soiled baby while my husband parties or 'holidays'. She's bathed, fed, smiling and usually playing with him when I return. 

His relationship with her isn't a recent one. It was forged the second she was born. Apart from breastfeeding her, there is no responsibility that my husband hasn't shared with me. I was lucky that he was around. He works from home and could afford to balance it out when she was born.

The first six months were all about sharing the burden. I fed her, he put her to sleep. I bathed her, he changed her diaper. I needed time off so I would drive out for a breather knowing that she was lying safe and pretty with him.

And he's not a rarity. Most men I know are great fathers – hands-on and keen to share the chores. I empathise with my friends – many of them new fathers who complain that they are sleep deprived but back at work ten days after their wife has given birth.

Obviously there is a flaw in the system. And people are simply asking the govt to correct that flaw. 

The suggestion that most men are irresponsible new fathers who would rather holiday than support their wife is a slap in the face of Indian men. Men like my husband. And countless others.

Yes, in a country like ours, traditional, conservative men may partake less in early child raising. But is the government supposed to formulate policy according to today's stereotypes, prejudices and outdated norms or is it supposed to lead society into modernity and equality? 

What's even more appalling is that many women – social activists – are screaming in TV debates, actually questioning paternity leave. Their argument is that our country isn't mature enough for it and responsible fathers are a rarity.

Next, will we ask women to dress in overalls as 'our society isn't mature to tolerate skin show'? It's the same skewed argument starting from the premise that since men are helpless in the face of provocation, the onus of covering up is the woman's job.

How much time does Maneka Gandhi want to give Indian society before it 'matures'? Till fathers can prove their credentials as equally responsible parents. Till what is 'essential' stops being considered a 'luxury'? The time is right now. To paraphrase what MK Gandhi used to say about change – let’s adopt the change that we want to see in society. 

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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