A few days ago I came across a picture on Facebook that compared rotis made by wives who had an arranged marriage versus those who had a love marriage. The arranged marriage wife's roti had the desired plumpness and looked quite delicious. It looked like something that comes out of my mom's kitchen. The love marriage roti, on the other hand, looked far from edible; burnt and flat. It was nothing like what most Indian men would expect when they sit down to dinner. And if they did, their disappointment would be transparent or there would be facetious innuendo in reference to the wife's culinary skills.
I don't know how to make rotis, never learnt and frankly don't care that I cannot make them. My husband can cook and we never discussed my inability to make a particular kind of food. Still, that picture, which was shared as a 'funny meme' by the food curation portal Food Talk India, bothered me. The site claimed it had put up the picture in "good humour" but took it down after the backlash. Despite the criticism, the site, though through one their cronies, sent feminist entertainment site Vagabomb a picture of a penis. So, that was their final word.
Such pictures show the kinds of "standards" we expect from a woman of honour; the one who knows how to keep her husband happy.
Such pictures and attitudes are at the very crux of the gender inequality debate. These are the ideas that propagate the belief that a woman belongs in the kitchen and the man does not. In India, where the last few years have seen great economic progress, such pictures successfully demonstrate the long road women have to fight for equality and justice. They show the kinds of "standards" we expect from a woman of honour; the one who always "does the right thing" and knows how to keep her husband happy and her family cultured.
If we all engage in eating, is it not discriminatory to expect only the woman to cook? It's on the same continuum as other discriminatory practices and ideas such as saying a woman deserves to be catcalled on the streets or she has no right to dress a certain way and if she was assaulted it is definitely because she brought it on. It sets the stage for those other crimes that we get so passionate about and evoke calls to castrate men.
I do not believe that any gender is superior. My feminism is not a fight to make one gender better than the other but to fight for equality. If I am expected to cook and clean so should my male counterpart. If I am told "you have no marital prospects because your rotis are burnt", so should a man. We do not live in a primitive world where the man hunts and the woman gathers. Although these attitudes may be imbibed in our subconscious, we have reached the era where men and women walk toe to toe and contribute equally to the welfare of a family. At a time where women are constantly breaking the glass ceiling, why are we still circulating pictures of the rotis they can make? At which level is this funny? And how are such attitudes supposed to break the stereotypes that lead to other aggressive behaviours towards women? Believe it or not, these "hilarious" photos lay the foundation of a prejudiced mentality and contribute in the next layer of beliefs that women can be harassed on the streets, raped or do not have the right to consent.
Educated men have not been able to shake the idea that a woman's role in society can be gauged from the size and texture of her rotis.
Perhaps Kalki Koechlin is right and the issue of women's safety will forever burn in India. In her latest poem, "The Printing Machine", the outspoken and fierce actor has succinctly laid down everything that is wrong with our culture. Making several references to the countless rapes registered in the country since 2012, she says, "How our great Indian heritage fell to its knees at the mercy of our innocent little printing machines." Set to a percussive soundtrack, Kalki delivers a scathing attack on stereotypes, indifferent attitudes and India's traditional culture that is used to primarily promulgate further discrimination of women.
In the end it is not about the dumb picture. Also, I am not making a big deal out of nothing. A 'humorous' picture such as this goes a long way in showing that there still exist many educated men from our generation--men who fought for Nirbhaya https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Delhi_gang_rape and stand for women's safety, but are nonetheless unable to shake off the idea that a woman's role in society can be gauged from the size and texture of her rotis. It goes to show that despite India's equality and safety movement, my mom's premonition for women, at some level, was accurate: no matter how educated we are; we will always end up in the kitchen.
A picture speaks a thousand words. This one did just that.
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