The Supreme Court has slammed the Centre or clubbing housewives with prostitutes, beggars and prisoners in the Census and describing them as economically non-productive workers.
The court described as "totally insensitive" and "callous" the approach of the statutory authorities in equating women, who are homemakers, with such segments, saying it was indicative of a strong gender bias against women.
The court suggested that time has come for Parliament to revisit the Motor Vehicle Act to ensure that whenever a housewife dies, suitable compensation is awarded to the family members, to avoid gender bias. In separate but concurrent judgments, the Bench also suggested amendments to the Matrimonial Laws to give the women their due status in the society.
"This bias is shockingly prevalent in the work of Census. In the Census of 2001 it appears that those who are doing household duties like cooking, cleaning of utensils, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood have been categorized as non-workers and equated with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners who, according to Census, are not engaged in economically productive work.
"As a result of such categorization about 36 crores women in India have been classified in the Census of India, 2001 as non-workers and placed in the category of beggars, prostitutes and prisoners," the apex court observed.
A Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly upheld the appeal of an aggrieved husband Arun Kumar Aggarwal challenging the meagre compensation awarded by the Motor Accidents Tribunal and the Allahabad High Court, for the death of his wife Renu in a road accident.
Though under the Motor Vehicles Act's structured formula, the family was entitled to a compensation of Rs 6 lakh, the tribunal reduced the compensation to just Rs 2.5 lakh on the ground that Renu was only a housewife and hence the "loss of dependency" did not deserve such a high amount.
The tribunal passed the order despite the plea of the husband that his wife was engaged in parttime painting and earning Rs 50,000 per month and the family had suffered immense loss of emotional support, love and affection of the deceased.
The high court concurred with the Tribunal's findings, upon which the husband appealed in the apex court.
Disagreeing with the two courts' view, the Bench said, "The gratuitous services rendered by wife with true love and affection to the children and her husband and managing the household affairs cannot be equated with the services rendered by others."
"A wife/mother does not work by the clock. She is in constant attendance of the family throughout the day and night unless she is employed and is required to attend the employer's work for particular hours. She takes care of all the requirements of husband and children including cooking of food, washing of clothes, etc. She teaches small children and provides invaluable guidance to them for their future life," the apex court said.