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‘The Great Indian Kitchen’: On The Spread Of Patriarchy’s Aroma In Society

A movie that talks about the daily routine of a woman? How cliché! Why should we even talk about it as we witness it every day in front of our eyes? Why should we even bother? What can we do by watching such a movie? 

woman serving food
A scene from the movie.

If you have all these curiosities, spare 1 hour and 40 minutes of your time watching The Great Indian Kitchen rather than witnessing injustices for a lifetime. It is a movie that exposes the deep patriarchal roots in our society. Although when women see the movie, they might find this to be a normal course in their lives — something they might have experienced first-hand or seen elsewhere. 

The aroma of patriarchy spread across the kitchen as the unnamed protagonists represented the entire society. The Sabarimala case was shown with the utmost dignity and ironically how people dealt with Menstruation at the same time when the Supreme Court permitted the entry of women into the temple. 

How can one gender oppress another in the matter of a natural process? Wait, did I say one gender? This movie displayed how women turn against their being, suppress and demean other women without even realising what impact it can leave on them. Let’s start talking about menstruation then.

The “Impurity” Is In One’s Mind

Menstrual Hygiene Practices have been linked to the purity-impurity complex since the time people misunderstood that the age-old practices (restrictions) were meant to make menstruating individuals relieve their pain and take rest to heal themselves. 

Over the years, people misunderstood the entire concept and associated it with “being impure“, depicted in the movie in various instances. She was not allowed to sleep on the bed even though she had access to the bed (role of women in passing erroneous values to the next generation). When she had put her undergarments to dry outside, another female argued that the undergarments should be hung in the backyard. 

She was not allowed to cook, touch anything, come out of her room (room arrest?), look directly at male members or come near them, or touch them. The “holy” man suggested that “the touch of a menstruating lady is impure, one should swallow fresh cow dung, purify oneself with drinking cow dung water”, but they bargained and compromised with just taking a bath in the river— such hypocrisy. Worse was when she was taunted for touching a Tulsi plant because she was feeling sick. 

How sick is society to delve upon such thoughts? One can argue that this thought process cannot disappear into thin air overnight, but what stops us from trying? Behavioural change can take place over time and it must start at some point in time. We must understand that Menstruation is the reason why any person exists right now.

Are We Ready To Acknowledge Unpaid Labour?

woman cooking
Household chores are considered a woman’s duty.

The other part of the movie showed how male members ignored the unpaid labour done by women. She picked up their leftovers every time they had their food. When she jokingly talked about his well-behaved manners in a restaurant, he asked her to apologise for his fault. Ironic. 

She washed dishes, dealt with the leakage, asked her husband several times to contact the plumber, but to no avail. Then she washed clothes by hand because the father-in-law suggested clothes do not get clean in a washing machine. I wonder what that washing machine is used for. 

Similarly, she had to grate coconut by hand because the chutney from the blender did not satiate their palate. She cleaned the house and did everything society expects women to do. But when she asked a simple question of whether she could apply for a job interview for a dance teacher, they blatantly refused, saying, “That won’t suit us.” 

I have one question, what is suitable? He can’t even take his toothbrush for brushing his teeth. Before going out of the house, his wife brings out his shoes for him. Is that suitable?

Explore Your Sexual Desires, It’s Healthy

The Great Indian Kitchen
Women having sexual desires are often judged.

The other area explored in the movie was consent. So, what is consent? In simple language, it means approval. How difficult is it to understand when a person says “no” to something they don’t want to do? Well, can I discuss consent in a space where marital rape is not considered a criminal offence? 

I’ll let you ponder this thought and talk about a similar topic: the sexual desires of women. When the female lead raised a genuine concern that it hurts when they have intercourse, she suggests foreplay. The sickening reply from the other side was, “I should feel something towards you, for foreplay.”

This statement was not because he did not feel anything. He said it because a woman stood up for her sexual desires. What is so abnormal in having sexual desires? Women having sexual desires are often judged and then the hoax concept of “virginity” comes into the picture.

The misconception that society has created for women is that if she quietly accepts all the advances, all the desires of men without having her own, she is considered a “good-mannered” woman. Otherwise, they have “glorious” terms to describe women — which are demeaning in reality.

The Two Sides Of The Coin

The ending of the movie was simple — what needed to be done was done. She left the “haunted” house to pursue her dream of becoming a dance teacher. Her students danced gracefully to the song of all struggles that every woman goes through in society but rises eventually, just like she did.

The other side depicted that the vicious cycle gets repeated because there is a lack of empathy towards women in general. The person who was preaching a class full of students about family values himself lacks those.

My Personal Opinion

Break the chains.

Whether it be any gender, religion, caste or creed, instilling proper behaviour and attitude in children is important. Children imbibe what they see adults are doing. The mother plays the main role in nurturing a child, right? 

Why can’t a father do that? Talk to his children about unpaid labour and learn household chores while talking about menstruation and sex education. Why the burden on women to nurture? 

And women should impart correct knowledge, attitude and practices about menstruation and sex education. If they consider these things as an offence to speak freely, it’s not going to help. It will pass down to many more generations to come. If she is aware that she can talk to her children about menstruation, sex education, marital rape, unpaid labour, etc., she can do wonders.

There’s a fine line between schooling, educating and learning. Let’s encourage a positive environment for learning.

This article is based on the Malayalam movie The Great Indian Kitchen starring Nimisha Sajayan and Suraj Venjaramoodu, directed by Jeo Baby.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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