Much has been written about Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen, streaming on Amazon Prime. Its truth prevails across the globe. Leisure is a male pursuit while the women chop, clean, sweep, fry, wash, simmer, serve
A screengrab from The Great Indian Kitchen.
The unannounced guest is someone we’ve all met. “The women can rest today,” he says grandly. The men are taking over the kitchen.
After dinner, you can see from the way her shoulders sag that the kitchen is an apocalyptic mess: Dirty utensils, splattered curry, onion peels, and, from afar, a voice demanding two cups of black tea.
Much has been written about Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen, streaming on Amazon Prime. At an online function, Supreme Court judge DY Chandrachud referred to it. Others see it as a comment on socially-imposed gender roles, patriarchy in religion and society, a remark on the Sabarimala judgment, and the stifling of female aspiration.
Its truth prevails across the globe. Leisure is a male pursuit while the women chop, clean, sweep, fry, wash, simmer, serve. Worse is the justification of this drudgery as “auspicious” work, because what can be more important than running a house and raising children?
There is no country where housework, or to use its more accurate term, unpaid care work, is equally shared. But the gap in India is particularly wide with women spending around six hours a day; men 52 minutes. No surprise then that unpaid care work is the “main barrier to women’s participation in the labour force,” finds the International Labour Organisation.
With so much to be done (unpaid) at home, women in India continue to leave the paid labour force in droves. It’s a situation made worse by the pandemic where the labour of housework has shot up with families at home, leading to a disproportionate job loss among women.
In the latest round of assembly elections, some parties promised salaries for housework, leading to a welcome debate on putting a value to domestic work.
Should housework be paid for? If so, what’s a fair compensation? Who will pay? Would it lead to a greater sense of entitlement by men or would it lead to more opting for paid housework?
Housework certainly needs an image makeover, stripped of all the humbug of noble work and shorn off its gender stereotyping. Media must play a role in normalising the man in the kitchen, not as a super-hero but as a regular guy putting dinner on the table every day.
The courts have insisted on equal compensation to housewives killed in motor accidents, implying that their lives are of equal monetary value, even if they do not bring an actual salary home. This attitude of an equal partnership should inform other legal matters including divorce and maintenance.
The noisy salary debate does little to hide the zero policy measures to ensure a reduction in the gender gap in housework. There is silence by government around the crisis in female workforce participation. We do not have a pandemic recovery plan tailored to the needs of women who have been hit harder than men.
The Great Indian Kitchen raises the questions. The answers are yet to come.
Namita Bhandare writes on gender
The views expressed are personal