ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gamechanger or a Trojan Horse?

Some Reflections on the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, a key legislation in India that enables women to transcend the public–private dichotomy and stake their claim for productive participation in the labour force, saw major amendments in 2017. Four aspects of the amendments—increased maternity leave, maternity leave for adoption and surrogacy, provision of crèche, and paternity leave—are juxtaposed with feminist and constitutional principles as well as ground-level realities and practices. An increase in maternity benefits in law with a neglect of paternity leave and benefits is a lopsided approach that further reinforces gendered division of labour and care work as the domain of women. The social responsibility of employers is emphasised, and a deeper engagement of the state with the policy of parental benefits is advocated.

The authors are grateful to Indrani Ma zumdar as well as the peer reviewers for their insightful comments and critical inputs. The authors also thank each other for the respectful disagreements and difference in perspectives that shaped and informed this article.

The glorification of motherhood, the intrinsic linking of womens identity to their role as mothers in the patriarchal Indian society, and the gendered role assigned to women with respect to childcare have led to family, community, and societal pressures on women. The rise of capitalism has led to a separation between economic reproduction that is remunerative (in the factories and offices) and social reproduction (care work in the private domestic sphere, often non-remunerative). This has sharpened the gendered division of labour and the publicprivate dichotomy, with women being confined to the more unregulated domestic sphere, performing care activities out of love and sentiment. As Nancy Fraser (2013) opines, the gendered separation of social reproduction from economic reproduction constitutes the principal institutional basis for the subordination of women in capitalist societies, and is a central issue for feminism. Capitalism has brought in a crisis of care, where the capacity for social reproduction is depleted due to the financialised form of capitalism.

Prior to Fraser, in response to and dissatisfied with liberal feminism and its overemphasis on rights and autonomy, some feminists such as Gilligan (1982) and Noddings (1984) have foregrounded the ethics of care and the value of connectivity. Care-focused feminists provided plans and policies for reducing womens burden of care so that they may develop themselves as fuller persons (Tong 2009: 7). In this context, the support of care work through the state and corporate entities becomes crucial. Maternity benefits are an important component of the same in the current legal framework.

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Published On : 15th Feb, 2024

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