Recently, Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team, made headlines for opting to take paternity leave ahead of the Adelaide Test Cricket Match in Australia. There were mixed sentiments to this decision, where on the one hand, people from many quarters applauded this decision, whereas a certain chunk, and some Twitter users, were quick to condemn this act, and even went to the length of saying that the captain was absconding from his “national duties”. This has led to a lot of questions about our sentiments on the question of gender justice, and also led many to raise questions regarding what role a father has after the birth of his new born and whether it entitles him to longer paternity leaves.
At this point, it would be better if we delved into the question of paternity leaves in our country and their importance in modern day society. Unfortunately, there is no provision of a paternity leave to fathers in India, under the Labour Law, but according to the Central Civil Services (Leaves) Rule, 1972, male government employees are entitled to a paternity leave for 15 days, before or within six months of the delivery of the child. The rule for mothers comes under a separate act, called the Maternity Benefit Act of 2017, which grants a woman a 12-week (84 days) maternity leave. Literally speaking, that is almost 5.6 times more than what male government employees are eligible for!
A point to be noted here, with regard to paternity leaves, is that in 2021, we are still following a law that was passed nearly 50 years ago and it appears more suited to the 1970s, when the idea of working mothers was a concept alien to our land. But how is it that in 2021, we refuse to acknowledge that the father holds the same responsibility over his new born like the mother. India is among those countries that do not have national policies to ensure that new fathers spend adequate time with their new-borns and the reason for it could not be more obvious! All throughout our culture, a fact that has remained the same is that mothers are the primary caregivers and fathers are the bread earners. This point of view is dangerous as not only does it not help in cultivating a gender equal society, but encourages a thought process which believes that good parenting is the job of the mother alone!
Mothers go through excruciating pain during childbirth and then comes postpartum distress and therefore, should not have to bear the burden alone. That is why, fathers should be allowed to stay at home and help with taking care of the new-born. This is a valid reason to have a longer paternity leave, since this would also give the father ample time to bond with his offspring. Men and women are equally responsible for the family they are creating and thus, should be given equal rights when it comes to child upbringing. Not granting the same emboldens the idea that the father has minimal role in child upbringing.
Fathers have long faced challenges in devoting sufficient time for childcare. It makes them feel detached from the child and feeling sorry for not helping the mother enough. Besides, we have always considered and viewed men as authoritative figures, whose only role with regard to parenting a child is earning the bread and butter of the household and therefore, even someone as substantial as the Captain of the Indian cricket team is ridiculed when he decides to take leave to spend time with his new-born.