Kent ad is honest. You are not
If the Kent aata-maker ad infuriates you, you are insufferable for me.
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Outrage is a good time pass. It’s a nice vent too. You may have been wanting to vent anyway, but it helps to add a cause to it. Today Kent, apart from purifying water and air, doubled up as that cause which allows people to vent.
Kent’s fault? A politically incorrect copy. Incorrect and unjust behavior is forgivable as long as it remains within the four walls of your house. If you are privileged and your house has walls in multiples of four, you got to guard that behaviour from leaking out through all walls, doors and windows.
But if you go and put out an admission of unjust behavior on your social media wall(s), you turn yourself into a cause for outrage. Even if what you are doing and saying is what the world does and says.
Someone genuine and sincere at the ad agency that Kent must have hired to tell Indians why they should stuff their house with Kent products thought people must be worried about the hygiene standards their maids maintain. So the Kent aata-maker, which is also the Kent bread-maker, thought it should address that fear and woo buyers. So innocent - no sarcasm intended - was the copy writer that she was oblivious to the politics of language. The ad calls ‘maid’ a ‘maid’ because how does it help if you begin to call them house help or house staff?
Whether one calls their help a house help or maid or kaam wali bai is actually dependent on the economic status of the person assigning titles. It makes no difference to the economic status of the kaam wali bai.
But outragers haven’t taken note of that. They are outraging over why should someone believe maids are more prone to carry the infection and less aware about how to maintain hygiene. Good. You have told Kent that. Now, repeat that to yourself because the Kent copy is a spillover – now spilled all over Twitter and Facebook - of the biases we carry for our maids in our heads.
The ad at least thinks for them, even if it claims to be thinking about your concern for hygiene.
Many are calling the ad classist. There is no class in saying that the maid is dirtier than you because that is pure ignorance. There is also no class in deducting salaries for maids if they go on leaves for over a week. Many say the maths is simple. If we are going out and we ask them not to come, then we pay them because it is not their fault. But if they go home or fall ill or have to take care of someone ill at home, we don’t pay because it is not our fault.
It certainly is not. The fault lies in the abundance of human labour in this country. They call it manpower to sound sophisticated. Nandan Nilekani wrote a whole book explaining the power of this manpower. Only, he and others who consider India’s population its asset, fail to explain how those powering India have been rendered so powerless that you can call them dirty and get away with it.
The fault lies in the abundance of human labour in this country. (Photo: Reuters)
Among those walking back home without even slippers for their feet were the maids who many would not call maids because it sounds like an insult. What an honour we accorded them. On their face we call them Didi; behind their backs, they care a damn about what we call them.
This bias has come through Kent, but it originated from us.
And please do not take the moral high ground because you paid them their salaries while you did the jhadoo, pocha and bartan yourself through the lockdown. They are not dependent on your largesse just as you are not dependent on them. You can do the jhadoo-pocha, they can earn their living too. If those who pay stop paying, those who have to spend will stop spending. The economy stops moving. Everybody loses.
But what are you paying them anyway? The abundance of labour has allowed us to hire help at dirt-cheap prices. Abroad, as they say, and as you yourself have said so many times, “Sab kaam khud hi karna padta hai.”
The poor are dirty, we believe. The poor also steal and kill, we feel.
Remember a leading English daily told us about how we should protect ourselves from our maids and drivers? The paper said, “Even as we live together, our world and that of the people who work for us are worlds apart.” A similar world of difference exists between us and the people we work for.
That is what we believe. The maid is a nice person, but she may not be clean. Given that so many of us have not bothered to pay their salaries, despite getting ours, maids may really not be in a position to spend on priced products that promise hygiene. Maids constitute the unorganised sector in India. There is no way to ascertain how they fared during the lockdown. Because there is no data of their employment. If there is no data on their hiring, there obviously is none on their firing. There is no data on what we pay them. No minimum rate on what we should pay them. The only empiricial evidence we are in possession of to prove their existence at the moment is the Kent ad.
Sanitisers are costly and masks that we would consider safe enough are beyond the reach of the pockets of our maids. They may tie a cloth around but without a brand label pasted on it, many may not consider the protection it offers protective enough.
She may be honest but poverty may compel her to steal from us. We must watch out. Watch out. But stop blaming the Kent ad for what runs through our minds.
Faced with outrage, Kent has withdrawn the ad. You have won this round like you won all other rounds on political incorrectness put out on social media walls.
Kent RO Systems chairman apologises for its insensitive ad! pic.twitter.com/GIQKC8GcxY— Kala Vijayraghavan (@Kala_ET) May 27, 2020
Kent’s next ad will be so politically correct, it will consider itself absolved of what it has done.
Like we absolved ourselves by calling the bai a house help.