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“Homemaker’s Contributions Equal to Those of Salary-Earning Spouse”, Supreme Court

According to the bench, the worth of a woman looking after the household is of a “high order” and her contributions are hard to quantify in monetary terms.

The value of a woman’s work at home is no less than that of someone who brings a salary from office, the Supreme Court held on Friday, terming the contribution of a “homemaker” invaluable.

As per Justices Suryan Kant and KV Viswanathan, the value of a woman managing household duties is deemed “highly significant,” with contributions that defy easy monetary quantification. The Supreme Court further stated that courts and tribunals should assess the theoretical earnings of “homemakers” considering their efforts, labor, and sacrifices, especially in motor accident claim cases.

“The bench emphasized, ‘The role of a homemaker is as vital as that of a family member whose income is quantifiable. If each activity undertaken by a homemaker is assessed individually, it is undeniable that their contribution is significant and immeasurable. Indeed, attempting to quantify her contributions solely in monetary terms poses challenges.'”

The court was hearing a motor accident case arising out the unfortunate death of a woman from Uttarakhand in a road accident in 2006. As the vehicle in which she was travelling was not insured, the liability fell on the owner of the vehicle to pay her family the compensation. A motor accident claims tribunal awarded her family— her husband and minor son — damages of ₹2.5 lakh. The family appealed in the Uttarakhand high court for higher compensation, but their plea was dismissed in 2017.

In its order, the high court noted that she was a “homemaker” and therefore, the compensation had to be fixed based on her life expectancy and a bare minimum notional income. The high court found no infirmities in the tribunal’s order that treated the woman’s notional income as less than that of a daily labourer.

But on Friday, the Supreme Court disapproved of this stance, while hearing the appeal against the high court order. It berated the high court for adopting an outdated approach. “How can a homemaker’s income be treated as less than that of a daily wager? We don’t accept such an approach,” the bench said.

The bench highlighted the amount of time and efforts that is dedicated to household work by individuals. The top court further criticised the high court for a spree of factual errors in its judgment – the high court got the type of vehicle wrong; the age of the deceased woman wrong and called her minor son an adult person.

The bench then proceeded to enhance the compensation to ₹6 lakh, directing it to be paid to the family of the deceased woman within six weeks. “One should never underestimate the value of a homemaker,” it further remarked.

The Supreme Court order on Friday takes forward the jurisprudential leap that seeks to acknowledge the value of women engaged in household work without a salary and, when appropriate, monetise them. According to the 2011 Census, nearly 159.85 million women stated that “household work” was their main occupation, as compared to only 5.79 million men.

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