The government of India’s 2001 Census, according to this new report, considers housewives, or home-makers if you prefer, to be economically non-productive workers, and by this virtue categorises them with prostitutes, beggars and prisoners.
I will give you a moment to let that sink in.
The first time I read it, my hackles rose. I agreed with the Supreme Court’s observation that it was “callous” and “insensitive”. But when I calmed down I realized that the census report merely reflected the general perception of non-professional women.
The majority, men and women alike, believe those who choose to run a house hold have “wasted” their lives lounging around the house, watching telly and cooking the odd meal or two. The general impression is that such women have unlimited free time with nothing productive to do.
I have heard conversations where old girl friends and their life choices have been discussed. Those with hot-shot careers were objects of envy; those who chose to stay at home to look after the family were summarily dismissed with an “oh, she’s just a house wife” shrug.
Some folks say it out loud, others’ actions speak for them. The expression about a housewife “sitting at home” is most inaccurate, for she is definitely not leading an easy life without a care in the world.
My mother worked as a medical professional for 23 years till she decided to put her papers in to be involved in my life full time. She never regretted her decision despite having to deal with these common stereotypes. That she was leading a gala life as she likes to put it sarcastically! Far from it. She was never busier or more worried and remains so. The only saving grace in all this was that her husband never subscribed to that idea. Not so much her daughter, I confess. Last year, however, my respect for her shot up several notches.
I moved to London in the summer of 2009 to join my husband who works here. This meant quitting my job and starting afresh. I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to make the move but chose family life over my career. With this choice came the responsibility of running the home and being a housewife. I assure you, this is one of the toughest roles I have ever had to perform. There are no fixed hours of work. It starts when you wake up and let’s you take a break to sleep.
As if the sheer effort and time that goes into running a home was not exhausting enough, imagine dealing with condescending attitudes. If you felt unappreciated because your boss doesn’t recognize your worth, imagine being stuck in a position where the man you love and friends whose opinion matters to you, think you are enjoying the coziest job (or non-job) in the world.
I am lucky to have a husband who for the most part at least appreciates what I do. But I have my own demons to deal with. Growing up in middle class India, I have heard the term housewife used with utter disdain. One set of ideas doing the rounds was that housewives were those who were consigned to the duties of home and hearth because there was no better use for them. Others believed that this was the lot of women anyway, whether they were literate or not.
One year of “sitting” at home, I am still struggling to get a job and wriggle out of the “label” I have been endowed with. And I am ashamed to admit to my status, mostly because I feel that I need to do something “worthwhile” because, even today, I feel that running a well managed household is beneath me. So I how can I blame the government back home for thinking housewives are non-productive?