I watched “The Great Indian Kitchen” last night, my first Malayalam film. I finished dinner and washing dishes and sat with my knitting to enjoy the movie but watching it was like going back to my domestic chores, exhaustion and frustration all over again because the film is about the drudgery a married woman in India lives through on a daily basis.
The message is strong- wake up women, life is much beyond your kitchen and praises of how tasty your food is. There is a beautiful life waiting for you to discover, and your identity need not be about your food, clean home and appeasing everyone.
The film shows everything we already know or we are living it ourselves. The drudgery of cooking, preparation of lavish meals three times a day, cleaning dishes, storing and throwing waste, cleaning the house, toilets, courtyard and garden, worship activities, laundry is done both manually and using a washing machine, packing lunch boxes for husband for office, pickling and preservation of food, entertaining guests and catering to their needs for good food and drink, no personal time for recreation or rest, no friendship or social life outside of home and family, no permission to a daughter-in-law or married women to have a career so that the smooth functioning of the household remains uninterrupted (meals for everyone, cleanliness of the house, help and support for guests and –in-laws).
There’s more about the mother-in-law who’s also a disempowered woman, a victim of the same situation and unable to help and improve the quality of life of daughter-in-law or daughters. The film shows forced sexual intercourse in the marriage without taking into consideration the married woman’s physical and mental exhaustion or depression, non-involvement of the married woman’s family (of birth) in the incident of marital problems, left to deal with it alone saying “ woman has to adjust to everything”.
All advice involves pushing her towards her marital family only, equality does not exist between the husband and wife. The wife cannot say anything to the husband to correct him, all his manners, attitudes and actions are stringent and immovable and the wife is supposed to accept it. The husband, male members of the family and even menfolk in the community exercise absolute control over the life of the married woman with the custom of community male members complaining about the daughter-in-law to husband and father-in-law. Control is exercised over social media activity and expression, customs and superstitions like not eating left-overs in spite of refrigeration are practised. The supposed impurity of menstruating women complicates life for women, giving them more tasks to do and the menstrual stigma, taboo, myths and isolation make women feel like an outcast, lesser than menfolk, lonely and uncomfortable.
This can be a cause of conflict and contempt between husband and wife when the husband is a staunch believer of isolation of menstruating women and practices purification exercise on coming in contact with menstruators. There is a sense of entitlement felt by menfolk in terms of being served like a king by women at home. The extent of their reconsideration is evident in how they extend no cooperation or help in running the household. These conflicts between husband and wife result from overburdened wives and entitled patriarch husbands. Such a background offers a high risk factor for domestic violence.
I felt so tired after watching the film- both emotionally and mentally (you will understand why after you watch the film). Why do women put up with all this, why do I put up with all this? My daughter asked me what the solution is. Children have a knack of asking the toughest questions easily.
Well, how about acknowledging the contribution of married women who do all this for us? How about respecting them at all levels? How about rephrasing some of the introductions from “she is JUST a housewife” to she is “family/community enabler”? How about government-sponsored social security for married women? In layman’s terms, an allowance and pension for her all throughout her life; can be a part contribution from the government and part from the family? Some women will walkout, some will stay. Some will succeed in negotiation, some will try and fail.
Irrespective of the path they choose, what we as members of the society can do is to have a deep respect for their contribution. It sounds like its too meagre an effort to address such a big social evil but I think, respect is the first step and foundation for all other measures to stand on.
About the author: The author is the recipient of Youth Ki Awaaz Awards 2019 held in New Delhi and won the Best Article in Environment.