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Recognising Women’s Unpaid Labour: See Laudable Law By India Court In Favour Of Full Housewives

Recognising Women’s Unpaid Labour: See Laudable Law By India Court In Favour Of Full Housewives

A court ruling in Tamil Nadu, South India has granted equal property rights to a home-maker.

The court said roles played by women in marriages could be equated to the hours spent by the husband at work.

The justice, Krishnan Ramasamy ruled over a property dispute involving a couple. In a domestic dispute case in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, filed in the year 1995.

The husband, who is the defendant, claimed ownership of all the properties and assets owned by the couple that he said had been the one earning money for the family.

The wife’s lawyer had argued that when they married, the couple had a mutual understanding that she would stay at home and take care of their children while her husband worked to earn money. After his death in 2007, the case was pursued by their children.

In June, the judge ruled that the woman had equal access to her husband’s property after they agreed as a family that she would focus on child care while the husband worked.

Women’s rights advocates say the judgement is particularly significant in a patriarchal country like India, where women are likely housewives.

The judges asserted that the contribution made by either the husband by earning or the wife by caring for the family would mean that both are entitled equally to whatever they earned by their joint effort.

In his verdicts, the judge said working as a housewife for “24 hours without holidays performing various roles including that of chef, manager, home doctor, and home economist” and sacrificing her dream for the family.

Ensuring a comfortable environment at home, is “not a valueless job, but it is a job doing for 24 hours [sic] without holidays, which cannot be less equated with that of the job of an earning husband who works only for eight hours,”

the judge ruled.

“No law prevents the judges from recognising the contributions made by a wife facilitating her husband to purchase the property. In my view, if the acquisition of assets is made by joint contribution (directly or indirectly) of both the spouses for the welfare of the family, certainly both are entitled to equal share.”

However, the court judgement is particular to only Tamil Nadu court states in India.

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All over the world, women bear a disproportionate burden of housework. In patriarchal societies such as ours, the gender gap is particularly wide—with women spending 7.2 hours a day on cooking, cleaning and other chores compared to 2.8 hours by men.

Obviously, the more time women spend on unpaid work at home, the less time they have for paid employment outside it. It’s not a coincidence that India has amongst the world’s lowest female labour force participation rates.

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The cash really began rolling in after 1983 when Kannaian Naidu got a job in Saudi Arabia. His wife, Kamsala would be staying back with their three children in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu. As a single-parent, she had her work cut out and Kannaian assured her he would send money back home.

It was a tidy sum. Between 1983 and 1994, Kannaian was able to send back enough for Kamsala to buy four properties. Each time he’d come to visit, he would bring cash, gold and jewellery.

By the time he returned for good a decade later in December 1994, his wife had plans of her own, and these included the property bought by her with her husband’s money.

In a case filed in a trial court in 1995, Kannaian said his wife could not claim ownership of the properties purchased with his money. The gold also belonged to him, he said, and had not been gifted to her. And for good measure, he accused Kamsala of ‘wayward’ behaviour and having an affair with a man roughly the age of one of their sons.

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Kamsala fought back. After all, she had sold some of her own ancestral land to finance her husband’s travel to Saudi Arabia. One of the properties had been bought by mortgaging the gold she received at her wedding.

And, during the time her husband was away, she too had been earning through tuitions and tailoring. In fact, she had been keen to have a career as a teacher but gave up that dream at the request of Kannaian so that she could stay at home and look after the kids.

The trial court agreed with the husband—the properties were his—and the case eventually landed up in the Madras high court. When Kannaian died in 2007, the three children took up the case on his behalf.

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