Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi won many hearts when she pushed the Ministry of Labour and Employment to pass the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which increases the period of leave for new mothers from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks in the organised sector.
However, her comments about implementing similar leave benefits for fathers has disappointed and angered many across the board, including fathers. Here's what she told the Indian Express while commenting on the need for paternity leave in India:
"I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won't do anything."
That men won't or can't help with bringing up children is a regressive assumption at a time when we see unmarried men adopting kids or single fathers taking care of their biological kids.
Gandhi's statement not only undermines a father's contribution in a child's upbringing, but also reinforces the age-old belief system that women alone are responsible for caring for babies.
We spoke to fathers (some of whom are Catch employees) who are firefighting everyday to maintain a work-life balance, showing us how parenting is not just a woman's work.
Ms Gandhi, these are personal stories of everyday struggle. You may think differently now.
Andrew Clarance, video journalist, father of a 1-year-old:
"Dear Maneka ji,
Paternity leave is important. And it is most assuredly NOT a holiday! Case in point: My wife had a cesarean section. That meant that she couldn't move from her bed for about a month. She was in a world of pain. It was during this time that I changed all of Arianna's (my daughter) diapers, washed her, changed her onesies and was awake 24x7 to monitor her feeding times. My wife's C-sec was painful to the point that she couldn't hold Ari to feed her. I would hold Ari in position so that my wife didn't have to sit up to feed her".
Manoj Rohilla, media professional, father of a 9-year-old:
"Believe me, being in the media and raising a child is a really tough job, especially when both parents are working. I have cherished every moment spent caring for my son when there was no one to look after him.
Infants and toddlers demand a lot of care and time. There were times when getting 3-4 hours sleep at night seemed a luxury. I love my son and will always be there to take care of him. But I love my wife too and can't expect her to work like a machine all day long and solely take the responsibility of looking after the entire family. Apart from that, a crying baby doesn't know that the father needs to go to office in the morning.
Surely, paternity leave could have helped during those months when my baby would get up at 2 am and start playing or start crying. May be my wife Lipika could have continued in her legal profession. May be I would have continued in television. But all those things have changed and frankly I don't regret anything. But it hurts me when someone says: Men don't care.
Madam Maneka Gandhi, we do care. And we are proud of this".
Charu Kartikeya, media professional, father of an 8-month-old:
"I change my eight-month-old daughter's diapers, make her burp, rock her to sleep, take her outdoors, sing to her to help her mom/grand-mom in spoon-feeding her.
Many of my male friends who are raising their kids without the company of grandparents have adjusted their work schedule, just like their wives, to take care of their kids in shifts. This means that the only thing they can't do is breastfeed. They are around for pretty much everything else.
Apart from carrying out these duties, fathers also want to spend time with their newborns just watching their bundles of joy, who have just come in their arms, grow up. A paternity leave from work will ensure that too".
Hritesh Pandey, media professional, father of a 4-year-old and a 20-day-old:
"What the minister is saying is totally devoid of reality. We are no more living in a joint family set up. The father and the mother do not have any support system during child birth or post child birth care. With C-section becoming a norm, the need for the father to stay at home during child birth only increases. And who is Maneka Gandhi to say that I must exhaust all my sick leaves during childbirth.
That I must use my sick leaves to prove my sincerity as a father. What happens if I have a second child? The minister has spoken without any understanding of how families function these days".
Sourabh Gupta, journalist, father of a four-and-a-half-year-old:
"What the minister is saying shows she still has a 2-3 decade-old mindset about men, assuming, without any evidence, that men do not care about helping their wives in taking care of newborns.
In fact, a paternity leave will be more useful to women than men (as the man can help her). I was in a new job when my son was born and not entitled to any leave. But my wife needed me. I had to make a plea for paternity leave, since there was no such policy".
Ashim Chowdhury, author, father of three:
"Maneka Gandhi maybe right to a certain extent, but the trend is fast changing, particularly for the urban educated men who now actively share the burden of raising a new born. By denying them paternity leave she is inadvertently helping to reinforce the old male stereotype. Paternity leave will help in institutionalising the positive role of men to assist their wives during and after childbirth.
The man's presence at home is a great source of comfort for a woman during maternity. It is important to spread the idea of shared parenthood. During our time paternity leave was not the norm. I had to take leave and assist with the work at home even though we had a full time domestic help.
During our time paternity leave was not the norm. I had to take leave and assist with the work at home even though we had a full time domestic help".