The outbreak of the novel coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown has led to a humanitarian crisis for the working class, instigating an exodus of migrant labourers and putting an insurmountable pressure on daily wage earners.
Those who have decided to stay put are in no better condition. These include local vegetable and fruits vendors, street hawkers, car cleaners as well as our domestic helps. Most of them have been out of work due to the lockdown; only few have been fortunate with their employers not cutting their salaries.
If at all, the lockdown has made the middle and upper-middle class realise the importance of the aforementioned, especially our domestic helps. In fact, after restrictions were eased in the fourth phase of the lockdown, RWAs (resident welfare associations) and corresponding District Magistrates have been splitting hair on whether or not to allow domestic helps to resume work, as residents are demanding it increasingly by the day.
Amid this, Kent, a popular water purifier brand, put out an advertisement for their new automated atta and bread maker.
The ad reads, “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected.” This is followed by the brand ambassador Hema Malini endorsing the atta maker with the line, “Now, don’t compromise on health and purity.”
The ad is problematic on many fronts and has faced heavy flak on social media for the same. It is discriminatory and classist for insinuating that house helps are dirty. A simple and logical comeback to this would be, could they not wash their hands before kneading the flour?
The “don’t compromise on purity” is the final nail in the coffin of equality. Not only is the brand normalising the provincial notion that those belonging to a lower economic strata are dirty and impure, it is promulgating the parochial ideology, which social reformers are fighting hard to alleviate.
This is the same mentality which leads to shunning of sweepers, janitors and garbage pickers as being impure, just because they do the dirty work for us.
Besides, referring to them as maids is disrespectful, considering the word ‘maid’ is short for ‘maid servants’, and if you pay them to work for you, they are your employees, not servants.
After being lambasted on social media, Chairman and MD of Kent RO Systems Mahesh Gupta issued an apology on Twitter, saying, "Please accept our sincere apologies for having published the Ad of Kent Atta & Bread Maker. It was unintentional but wrongly communicated and it has been withdrawn. We support and respect all sections of the society."
The outbreak of COVID-19 has seen discrimination and ostracisation – on religious lines, against those who were infected and even against the doctors who were treating coronavirus patients. At this time, the onus is on the media industry to bridge these barriers through responsible content. Unfortunately, Kent has failed in that responsibility and a belated apology on Twitter seems nothing but hollow and mere lip-service.