India’s homemakers being wooed by political parties is path-breaking

The socio-political message of parties promising cash value to homemakers is a recognition of women’s work in a typical male-dominated society

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Wednesday 07 April 2021
India’s homemakers being wooed by political parties is path-breaking
Photo: Amar Talwar / CSE Photo: Amar Talwar / CSE

India’s homemakers have emerged as the new electoral constituency for the ongoing elections in five states.

Some months ago, cinestar Kamal Haasan —who is about to debut his political outfit Makkal Needhi Maiam in Tamil Nadu — floated the idea of monetising the works of a typical Indian homemaker. His party’s manifesto, released in the last week of March, has promised a monthly Rs 3,000 to homemakers as “value rights assistance”.

All political parties, national and regional, promised similar monetary assistance to homemakers during the same period. Of late, political parties have been offering specific and tangible benefits in their manifestos instead of articulating broad policy measures, each targeting an electoral constituency.

Women in India have, for long, featured prominently as one such electoral constituency to be wooed by political parties. This coincides with their rising turnout in elections. In the 2014 general elections, only six states saw more women vote than men. This number increased to 16 in the 2019 general elections.

Many parties have women specific manifestos. The list of electoral promises (most of which do get fulfilled through a large number of welfare schemes) is exhaustive — it ranges from cash incentives for institutional birth to monetary support for education and marriage and even “gifting” household appliances like grinders.

Such targeted support to homemakers serves two purposes: First, it reiterates the importance of women to a political party. Second, monetising a homemaker’s works add to the cash income of a family.

In a tightly contested constituency, any additional promise may favour the electoral fate of a party. But the focus on a “homemaker”— out of  the overall women of the constituency — as an electoral priority is not only surprising but also drives one deep into the role of women in India’s electoral politics.

Why are political parties specifically targeting homemakers? Is there an immediate context to this? Besides, why promise cash support to this segment when general income support schemes to households are already an oft-repeated point in manifestos?

India has an estimated 160 million homemakers. We know how big their contribution is to managing a family. The share of women in the overall workforce has been dipping in India in recent years, more so during the novel coronavirus disease pandemic.

But consulting agency Deloitte says 95 per cent of the country’s women are “employed” in household chores as well as agricultural works. Every day, each woman spends nearly five hours on various household chores (in comparison, men spend 30 minutes). These works are neither paid for nor valued in monetary terms.

The 2011 Census of India termed those engaged in household works as “non-workers”. There has been a global campaign to fix a value for women’s unpaid works. The Indian government, in fact, did a pilot study to measure the value of homemakers’ works. This is to recognise women’s contribution which otherwise is ignored as ordinary jobs reserved for women in a typical male-dominated society.

Political parties promising cash value to homemakers, thus, is a leap forward in this deliberation. Its socio-political message is wider, and to some extent, path-breaking. The results of the state elections will answer whether homemakers in the country bought this electoral carrot.

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