New kid on the block: Normalising Paternity Leave with a universal rule in place

BENGALURU: The internet was buzzing with positive news when Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal recently took three weeks of paternity leave. The decision was hailed by many, including Twitter CFO Ned Segal and Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma.

Segal tweeted, “I wish leaders did this when I was early in my career and becoming a father.” Sharma — who was raised in Bengaluru — posted, “About time it is normalised”. Practising what they preach, Sharma’s husband, Virat Kohli also took three months off as paternity leave during the birth of Vamika.

There is a lot of dialogue about normalising paternity leave, with India not having a universal rule in place. However, the ground reality is different. For example, Shailendra Shah (name changed upon request), who had his first child during the pandemic and just got five days of paternity leave, says, “It left me anxious about not being there for my wife and child. Working from home was a blessing but I shudder to think what my wife would have gone through if the pandemic hadn’t happened and I was expected to be in office.” He adds that Sweden gives 68 weeks, while South Korea gives 52 weeks as paternity leave. 

Shah, who is a software engineer, finds it unfair that corporate policies address issues like maternity leave and “period” leave, but rarely raise anything to do with paternity leave. “They don’t consider the fact that a man is equally responsible for a child and a new mother cannot do it alone. Men also need a lot more than five days to deal with the sudden change that a baby brings to our lives,” he adds. 

Gautam Shenoy, vice-president of a manufacturing company, took two weeks off from work when his daughter was born in January 2021. “There should be something concrete when it comes to paternity leave. Women are more than efficient at handling the situation but it's the emotional support that they need,” says Shenoy. 

Though it is difficult to have paternity benefits equal to the maternity one, Rashmi Daga, founder of FreshMenu, says she tries to support the idea of men being with their wives during this crucial time.

“Women can’t go through the whole process, while men are at work. Of course, the paternity benefits can’t match the maternity benefits but they should be available for the first few days,” says Dagga, whose company offers 15 days of paternity leave. She also mentions that offices should be considerate and allow for flexibility during these milestone moments. 

Dr Roshan Jain, senior psychiatrist from Apollo Hospital, says the birth of a child is also a birth of a parent. “Childbirth is a big change in a couple’s life and that change can be exciting and anxiety-provoking. It is critical that both parents are available for the child to bond,” says Jain.