Sahil Quadri (31) has been getting very little sleep since the past two weeks. During the day, he manages content for an automotive website. At night, he manages (or at least tries) to cajole his two-week-old son to sleep. Quadri needs one more thing apart from sleep — paternity leave.
While the Fifth Pay Commission introduced 15 days of paternity leave for male central government employees in 1997, India Inc is yet to follow suit. Thus leaving new dads like Quadri sleepless in the city. “After my son was born, I took only three days off from work, since I have only 13 days of leave left,” says Quadri who is struggling to get into a routine with his first baby to look after. While his office co-operates by letting him leave early, there’s not nearly enough time to shop for, bathe, clean, change and feed an infant who “does whatever he wants to”, groans the groggy-eyed father.
Another dad who fears he is “not going to sleep much next year”, is 26-year-old dad-to-be Sandeep Fernandes, especially since he’s expecting twins. So, the PR executive is all set to take one-month leave (not paternity) to look after his babies who are due in March. “I definitely think there should be a law granting men at least one month of paternity leave,” says Fernandes. “The point is not to be compensated, but for a father to be part of the whole process of bringing up his children.”
While women in the workplace can avail of a maximum of 90 days maternity leave as per the Maternity Benefits Act, there is no such law for men. An A T Kearney study of India’s 50 best managed companies found that only 16 per cent of them provided any form of paternity leave. NIIT, SP Merril Lynch and IBM are those which do give time-out to newbie fathers. Tata Consultancy Services also grants paternity leave for an adopted girl child.
Deloitte Consulting introduced it in 2004. This paper had earlier quoted SV Nathan, Deloitte’s Vice President as saying, “We are an equal opportunities employer looking at progressive policies.”
Fernandes also believes in equal opportunities at home. “It’s not like the old times where only the woman tended to the house while her husband worked. Today, women are working as well, and men also need share the responsibility of child care.” This is especially the case with nuclear families in frenetic metros. Like the Qadris, whose families stay in Kolkatta while the young couple moved to Mumbai five years ago. “There’s only the two of us here. I rush home from office everyday to be with my wife and our baby,” says Qaudri.
But some fathers like Neel Bahl (30), who live in a joint family, don’t like too many hands rocking the cradle. Even though he is his own boss, Bahl took only a couple of days off after the birth of his second son, four months ago. “I’ve got my wife, our mothers, the nanny and others to look after the baby,” says Bahl.
However, that doesn’t stop him from giving his employees anywhere from a week to 10 days of leave after they have a baby. At the same time, Bahl isn’t convinced that a law enforcing paternity leave is the way to go, especially for smaller companies where replacements are hard to find. “My business is also like my own baby,” he says. “Being the bread-earner, one can’t afford to miss work for prolonged periods.” Which is why the new-age father has to answer both, duty and doodie calls. Before nap time, Bahl spends half an hour every evening, reading books, telling stories, watching the telly and simply hanging out with his baby boy. He also makes sure that weekends are devoted to the kids.
Just like many other dads who attend their babies’ ballet lessons every Saturday at the Toddlers Activity Centre in Worli. Rachana Chandaria-Mamania, who founded TAC, a one-stop activity and learning centre for children as young as three months old, estimates that nearly 60 to 70 per cent of her Saturday classes are dominated by proud papas. “Most of the dads drop their kids to the classes and hang around, taking pictures while watching their child’s development,” she says.