Maneka Gandhi
Maneka GandhiIANS

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has said a legislation on paternity leave would not have a major impact in India because men do not even utilise their existing leaves to share the responsibility of taking care of their child.

Demand for paternity leave has been getting stronger by the day following the passing of the maternity leave bill in Parliament.

"Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won't do anything... If men gave me one iota of hope by taking sick leave for child care, then yes, we can think of mooting a proposal for paternity leave," Gandhi told the Indian Express.

Several women MPs and civil society members have demanded compulsory paternity leave because they feel increasing the period of maternity leave for mothers would reinforce the idea that women are solely responsible for the development of the child and other domestic work. It would also discourage employers to hire women, they believe.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) had released a study recently that showed prevalence of widespread discrimination against pregnant women in the country's corporate sector. The labour ministry's report released in 2011 also showed decent maternity leave increased pressure on women's productive and reproductive roles and, therefore, it was high time longer paternity leave was introduced in India.

Kumar Jahagirdar, businessman and founder-president of child rights NGO CRISP, has lashed out at Gandhi and said her statements were "abusive to fathers" involved in taking care of their newborns.

"Her statements hurt the feelings of all fathers who share responsibility of taking care of the child. She can't make a general statement like this. Both parents share equal responsibility. I believe there should be an eight-week paternity leave taking into consideration the changing mindset of society," Kumar told International Business Times India. 

"I am myself a father with a two-month-old child and I share all responsibilities, including changing diapers. I haven't been getting enough sleep of late. I am a businessman but since the birth of my child, I haven't been able to give much attention to my business. But I can manage. But imagine the problems of men in the service sector. How will they manage?" he said, adding: "Gandhi has a habit of talking against men."

According to Kumar, Gandhi had made "abusive" statements in the past as well, saying she caters to the development of the girl-child and not the boy-child. He said that if he got a chance to meet the minister, he would demand an apology from her for making such a statement.

Kumar has also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding her removal from the post. 

"We demand an apology from her for making such generalising statements. We have also written to Modi requesting him to transfer Gandhi to some other ministry because she is not qualified enough to handle the Women and Child Development Ministry. We have also requested him to appoint someone who is gender-neutral when it comes to the development of children," the child rights activist told IBT India.

According to Kumar, there should be a separate ministry that deals only with the development and rights of children with a gender-neutral minister heading it.

A notification issued under the Central Civil Services Leave Rules in the late 1990s states that men, including biological as well as adoptive fathers, working in the public sector can take 15 days of paid leave, which they are allowed to merge with any other leave, the IE reported. However, there is no legislation for compulsory paternity leave for fathers in the private sector, with several companies granting leave for just a week or two.