Should Indian housewives get a salary?

Every day, Sharda Pagrut, is up at the crack of dawn, even before anyone else, and invariably, the last to go to bed.

Sharda stays in Akola district in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, along with her husband and two children.  

Like an average Indian housewife, she also is in-charge of doing everything at home from cooking, washing, cleaning, getting her children ready for school. She also shares her husband's work on their field and feeds the cattle.

That's easily over 16 hours of home-related work, but she's left out of the economic grid that puts a value to what she does.

Sharda told NDTV it would be a good idea for the government to consider giving her compensation for the work she puts in.

In fact, that's exactly what the government is thinking about. The Ministry of Women and Child development is currently mulling over how women, who are home-makers, can be given a part of the husband's salary. It's not a law or a bill, it's still an idea that is to take shape.

The Union Women and Child Development Minister, Krishna Tirath told NDTV, "We want women to call themselves house engineers. If we start counting their work it will also add to our economic growth. We want to empower women financially, and that in turn will empower them socially as well. A draft will only be made once we take in the views of all those concerned. We are still brainstorming."

It's still not clear how this monetary component will be calculated. And as the contours of how this will shape up are still hazy, it's already raising some questions, including the ones from home-makers like Puja Arun Kumar, who it seeks to benefit.

Puja stays in Gurgaon with her family. After working in the corporate world for a decade or so, she gave up her job to take care of her two young children. A decision she says she took out of choice.

Puja says, "In the current social set-up, it's not like we stay with our extended family. So taking care of children is a full time job. I didn't want my kids to grow up just in the care of domestic help."

On the ministry's idea she says, "It sounds absurd. It sounds like we are trying to make family look like business. There are hundreds of archaic divorce laws that need to be amended, which will empower women and help gender equality. If you really want to empower women give them opportunities to get back into the work force."

There are other concerns as well. How does one actually start to quantify or put a value to all the things a mother or wife does? Will cooking for a special day add more value? Will tending to a child's broken heart or bruise come with a price tag? And what if the husband contributes to the chores in a week? Will that mean a deduction in what she should get?

And it's not just us who are asking these questions?

SP Leader Jaya Bachchan said, "What if the wife earns more than the husband? What happens then?", while the RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav said he gives his entire earnings to his wife Rabridevi.

The idea has already set the debate in motion. Just as there are those who feel women need to be empowered financially and monetary benefits could help the cause, others feel it's not the government's business to get into the personal space within the four walls of a household.

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