By Meryl Sebastian
BBC News, Delhi

Image source, Vineeta Agarwala/Twitter

Image caption,

Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal said last month he would take time off for his second child's birth

It really does take a village to raise a child and Rehan Khan, 35, will tell you it doesn't get easier or less chaotic with time or experience.

A marketing manager based in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, Mr Khan welcomed his third child during the lockdown in 2020.

This time, his parenting experience was markedly different. The tech company he works with had increased paternity leave from one to three weeks. His wife, a contract worker for a US-based tech company, was able to take 15 weeks of leave.

The first month was tough, Mr Khan said, as sleep patterns changed and the baby needed constant attention.

"My wife would be with the baby until 03:30 and then I would take over. Carry him around, play with him, rock him," he said.

But it helped that both he and his wife worked from home, his parents stayed with them to help and they were financially well off enough to move into a bigger apartment.

Mr Khan called the experience "blissful" but was quick to point out that stories like his were rare and one of privilege - as few Indian companies worked around a couple's childcare needs.

"I am very lucky to have a manager who's not an Indian, and his boss is American. It makes a difference because they are much more sensitive about this," he said.

India's federal and most state governments allow married male employees to take a fortnight's leave at the time of, or within six months after, the birth of a child.

Image source, Himanshu Dhanda

Image caption,

Himanshu Dhanda feels a month of paid leave would help fathers a lot

In comparison, Indian women working in state-run and private companies are entitled to 26 weeks of paid leave, one of the longest in the world. But there is still no nationwide policy for paternity leave.

Some private companies have begun to offer paternity leave for fathers, adoptive parents and LGBT couples. Tech companies give a decent amount of paternity leave to help them recruit and retain talent. Drinks giant Diageo allows all eligible employees a 26-week parental leave irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.

Last month India-born Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal's announcement that he would take a few weeks off after the birth of his second child had Indians talking about paternity leave. Indian tech companies and start-ups that offered generous leaves highlighted their policies.

In India, joint families - where multiple generations form one household - have played a significant part in childcare. But this is slowly changing with more children being born in nuclear families.

Himanshu Dhanda, a federal government worker, said a cultural shift was visible in his current workplace where senior male colleagues called him "lucky" for being able to take leave for his child's birth which they said wasn't available in their time.

Mr Dhanda's father, a retired government employee, had been mocked for trying to take paternity leave three decades ago. "He told me his colleagues said, 'It's the mother who'll feed the child. What is your work there?'" Mr Dhanda recounted. His father was able to take just seven days.

Mr Dhanda said that a month of paid leave for fathers would help a lot. "Especially with people like us who have no experience, it is very challenging. A lot of unexpected things happen. You are just running around figuring things out like the baby's sleep, the mother's physical and emotional health," he said.

Sreeparna Chattopadhyay, an associate professor of sociology at Pune's Flame University, believes India should have a statutory shared parental leave policy, similar to Sweden's, which would be completely inclusive and not limited to biological parents.

"If you don't have something enshrined in a statutory way, then there is really no obligation to carry it out, right? And [with its current policy] the state is signalling in some way that they care about the fact that parenting is a shared responsibility," she said.

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