Last week, a bunch of gender stereotypes showed up in the form of sudden trolling of the 32-year-old would-be father and much-adored Captain of the Indian cricket team Virat Kohli. All this because he took leave to be with his wife, actor Anushka Sharma, who was expecting to deliver their child this January!
Virat is being compared to former Captain MS Dhoni, who in 2015, at the World Cup in Sydney, was faced with a similar situation, but took a different stance. When asked whether he was missing being with his family in India for the birth of his daughter Zeba, he said ‘I am on national duty, everything else can wait.’
Now, that’s a respected personal choice he made in a country where cricket is a way citizens showcase their patriotism.
The absence of laws or precedence makes it more more difficult for men who want to be with their wives at a crucial juncture in their personal lives, which is embarking on the journey of co-parenting.
Reacting to this, Harsha Bhogle also tweeted, “Kohli to return after the 1st Day-Night Test match in Adelaide, Australia, to be there for the birth of his child. For the modern player, there is more to life than just his profession. But for the Indian team, the tour just got tougher.”
While that might be a reality, imagine how Virat’s decision would have been more acceptable if formal paternity laws were existing? Let’s dig a little deeper into this.
What Does the Law Say?
Under the Indian labour Law, there is no provision for paternity leave legally.
However, under the Central Civil Services (Leave) Rules, 1972, male government employees are entitled to take paternity leave for up to 15 days, just before or within six months of delivery of the child.
In contrast, as per the Maternity Benefit Act 1961, female employees are entitled to 26 weeks of paid leave, out of which up to 8 weeks can be taken before the delivery of the child. In case of adoption, mothers are granted 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.
This is in stark contrast to Nordic countries like Sweden, where both parents get a cumulative 480 days of paid leave that can be split between the couple as per their wishes, with a minimum of 90 days, that is earmarked for each parent. Finland is another country that legally allows a longish paid childcare leave for both parents. No wonder there is a greater merging of gender roles in those countries and happier, more progressive societies, as a result.
The Indian laws on childcare leave seem to be gender-biased in the sense that they seem to assume that it is primarily the mother’s responsibility to take care of the child.
In November 2020, a leave allocation of paid childcare leave of up to 2 years was announced for male government employees who are single parents. While this may seem like a forward move, if you look closely, it really isn’t. On the contrary, it reinforces the belief that men need to take up child rearing only in the absence of the mother.
It reinforces the stereotypical assumptions of gender roles that the law should ideally help erase. And no one thought about same-sex couples? What about them?
‘Parental Leave Has Become Synonymous With Maternity Leave’ And Why That’s Detrimental
As we stand today, parental leave has become synonymous only with maternity leave. In countries like the US, it gets even tougher for women, as they are allowed only a measly unpaid maternity leave of only 12 weeks!
It’s high time everyone woke up to the fact that, when men partner in shouldering household responsibilities, it not just lifts off a huge burden from the mother’s shoulders, but the child is the biggest beneficiary as s(he) sees gender neutrality being practised in the household, develops strong bonds with both the parents and grows in a healthier environment psychologically.
Such children then become the biggest ambassadors and advocates of values like partnership and equal opportunity.
Also, men who have experienced a sabbatical from work come back as more understanding managers, too. The legally backed sharing of caregiving responsibilities, can help mothers chart out their careers with lesser guilt and more support.
In the end, all these measures can end up strengthening the relations between the couple for the better, isn’t it? So, in effect, the entire family benefits out of this partnership, in all ways, including ‘economically’.
In fact, there are studies done in Canada and Sweden to show that an increase in paternity leave leads to an increase in labour force participation for women. Moreover, a research conducted on married parents goes to show that, when fathers partner in shouldering caregiving and household responsibilities, it actually reduces the risk of divorce!
Steps Being Taken
In September 2017, a Paternity Benefit Bill, 2018, also called the PB Bill, was proposed in the Lok Sabha, mandating 15 days of leave, extendable up to three months, for new fathers. While there has been no concrete progress on the Bill, a few corporate firms have taken some progressive steps in this direction.
Despite no legal mandate, many companies in India (Zomato, IEKA, Novartis and Amazon) have incorporated 6 to 26 weeks of paternity leave in their policy handbooks.
This is a step forward which is truly worthy of being appreciated.
However, paternity leave is but one factor that can help level the deeply entrenched gender stereotypes for the better. There are many other deep-seated societal biases that need to be worked upon, to foster a holistic and lasting change of seeing fathers as equally responsible caregivers, and women as equally capable breadwinners.
So, Sunil Gavaskar is also not entirely wrong as he caused a big stir with his tweets on the topic of Virat’s paternity leave. It is not paternity leave that he is mocking. He is raising a voice against different rules being followed for different players. That’s also a reality, all thanks to no laws existing in this area! He is simply saying that, while Virat got permission to leave the Australia tour midway to be there for the birth of his child, newbie skipper T Natarajan also became a father during the IPL playoffs but never got leave and hasn’t yet seen his newborn daughter!
What all of this points to is a glaring gap in our legal system, a loud cry for robust paternity leave laws in India. It’s about time!
(Aditi Sheoran is the founder of Carpé Diem Learning, a people mastery firm that works towards developing mindful leaders and helping women advance in their careers.)
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)