ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Maternity Entitlements

Women’s Rights Derailed

Maternity benefits of at least `6,000 per child are a legal right of all Indian women under the National Food Security Act, 2013. In practice, a large majority are still deprived of maternity benefits. A recent survey, conducted in six states of North India, reveals that pregnant women’s basic needs for nutritious food, proper rest, and healthcare are rarely satisfied. Among the women who had recently delivered a child, about half had eaten less than the usual during pregnancy and nearly 40% complained of a lack of rest at that time. The average weight gain during pregnancy was just 7 kg. There is, thus, an urgent need for better recognition of the special needs of pregnancy, provision of maternity benefits in accordance with the law, and better support for pregnant women, including quality healthcare.

The authors are grateful to Kanika Sharma for helpful comments, to Chaupal in Ambikapur (Chhattisgarh) and Sanjana Patro for their help with the training and debriefing workshops, and to Shyamasree Dasgupta, Sachin Jain, Rajkishor Mishra, Sangeeta Sahu, Sulakshana Nandi, and Gangaram Paikra for their guidance in specific states. This study has also benefited from earlier work in collaboration with Aarushi Kalra and Aditi Priya.

Debates on maternity benefits in the Bombay Legislative Council in the 1920s make for an interesting reading today. The topic was discussed several times between 1922 and 1928 (Chhachhi 1998). After the Bombay Maternity Benefit Bill was introduced in July 1928, there were spirited debates between representatives of interested parties, mainly the government, the factory owners, and the working class. B R Ambedkar intervened to defend the bill and, with characteristic eloquence, refuted the arguments against it one by one.1 One misses this sort of debate in the Indian Parliament today—when debates take place at all.The Bombay Maternity Benefit Act, 1929 was the first of its kind in India. Later on, similar acts emerged in other provinces, and then, in 1961, the central Maternity Benefit Act came into force across the country. So far so good.

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Updated On : 25th Nov, 2021
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