Like every sensible citizen, I too am appalled at the insensitive reference to maids in the Kent ‘atta maker’ advertisement. Surely, it smacks of classism and prejudice, especially when the virus was truthfully a first world product. However, this episode reveals a dirty secret that we try hard to conceal – that the urban successful Indian is a shameless hypocrite.
Our attitude towards maids is in fact sufficient evidence of our hypocrisy and this has nothing to do with fair pay. Each time we employ a lady at home, our imperialistic instincts emerge stoutly, starting with fundamental human respect. Most educated Indians still regard this cadre to be subjugated vassals who deserve inferior food, inferior sleeping setups and inferior hygiene. Food is in fact the most telling indicator of this discrimination – the procurement of lowest-grade rice, sustenance diets with no hint of indulgence, rigid censure of inventory lest a piece of potato disappear and stretchable dining hours. I sincerely believe that this has nothing to do with cash flows, it is about state of mind rigidly entrenched over generations.
In fact, this generational entrenchment is the biggest reason for this continuing mindset – the ladies and gentlemen of today have been brainwashed by parents and grandparents. The alibi in olden days may well have been money to spare, stretching conveniently to modern days when cash is more fluid. While the real truth is this nascent love for fiefdom, an unquestioned dominance over folks seemingly of lesser powers. This is a dark part of an otherwise enriching legacy, a conscious and systematic parallel reasoning that gives us a vile sense of power. Which is still able to override the liberation caused by education and exposure, this two-tier mindset prevalent in the most affluent households. In many ways, it is worse than apartheid, which was a mindless black-and-white segregation, what happens in India is analytical segregation.
So, Kent has most certainly committed a societal blunder by referencing the maid as a high-risk source of infection. The greater unintentional outcome is making people like us wake up to our congenital hypocrisy – by exposing a wicked truth we do not wish to acknowledge. Exactly why so many are so vocal about this aberration, perhaps it is a sign of change which will lead to affirmative action in future. But in terms of today, we are upset about two different things – the first being the logic for this reference and the second somebody actually saying it in black and white. I suspect sincerely that the second upsets us even more, as it lays open a Pandora’s Box of prejudice that we carefully hide.
In fact, the recent Corona debacle has further strengthened this separation in a rather ridiculous manner, as this is clearly an imported and not indigenous nuisance. Every housing society is considering the domestic help to be a suicide bomber, scathing and often humiliating protocols laid down for entry and exit. Their basic access to public spaces is being censured with clinical precision, lest the shadows transmit the disease we dread. Memsahibs are wary of queuing up with their employees, while strangely enough the most makeshift masks are allotted for their safety. In a time of genuine food shortages and inflation, their plates are leaner than even before with no room for treats. Social distancing of 2020 has actually reinforced the social distancing from time immemorial, a potent collateral damage of this pandemic.
Like every other evil, there is a silver lining in this instance as well. I believe most sincerely that our next generation will dramatically alter the disturbing status quo – clearly visible in the 16-year-old and the five-year-old, aided by modern schooling. They are patently intolerant of any form of abuse – be it to the environment, our pets and most importantly, fellow human beings. In their homes, maids will share dining and living spaces while being treated as ‘corporate’ employees, enjoying necessary rights and being treated genuinely as citizens of substance. Our children will also demolish the dungeons in our minds, the byproducts of age-old prejudices instilled mechanically by elders. If apartheid could disappear literally overnight as a way of life, this too will vanish gradually as a state of mind.
At the very outset, the Kent advertisement was strategically incorrect, unacceptable in any responsible environment. But it may inadvertently work as an accelerator of much-needed change, especially in a disruptive time such as now. By operating as a conversation stimulator and evoking action from legislators, NGOs, building societies and most importantly, the entitled citizenry. A cursory glance down history will confirm the role of anecdotal events as agents of betterment – non more legendary than the seat denied to Rosa Parks.
Most definitely I am a hypocrite at times, manipulating precedence and privilege for my convenience. But one day soon I intend to change, aided by influences near and away. The ‘atta maker’ by the way is a useful product, Kent or otherwise is clearly a choice you must make.
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