(In response to an article by Jane Borges, in the Sunday Mid-day, 'Help-less in Mumbai', about missing our maids during the lockdown and re-assessing the depth of their value in our lives)
One of the many issues facing Indian society is its deep throbbing patriarchal nature. An Indian woman subverts patriarchy by hiring house help. She evades having to ask her husband for help with household chores, in a manner that causes no upheaval in her married life. The act of hiring house help is one of hopeful liberation. Her life remains blissful but in a deep fog of patriarchal resentment, which leaks into myriad daily interactions. The argument remains unattended. Whether the woman is a working woman, a homemaker by choice or one without a choice, patriarchy can either roar or take the form of gentle whispers .
Secondly, in a traditional households with joint families there exists several layers of hierarchy between the same genders or the opposite genders, age related as well as status and position related birth. The one holding the most power either by position or age, wields an unfair baton on the rest. This is again subverted by the idea of delegating work to household help to keep the peace. The joint family poses a web like maze, with irrational power structures that hold a woman with the least power in a death like grip all her life. The help comes to the rescue to release her woes of unending patriarchy and matriarchal power structures that exist within the home. But the argument remains unattended.
A home has to be run every single day. It is a structure the holds us, shelters us, keeps us together in all kinds of weather, psychic or physically. It is the thread that creates harmony, unity or destruction and dysfunction. It also holds our cultural and social structures, like an uneasy scaffolding. In India household help is that scaffolding. It helps keep both positions stealthily eerily quiet. The day this labour force dries up, we will be forced to look at our faces in the mirror, the time for patriarchal positions as well as matriarchal hierarchies in Indian households will have to be undone. The argument will have to be attended.
During the lockdown, the home devoid of house help, was silenced. The doorbell did not ring its shrill voice. The home had lost its disturbing intervals. In homes where the work was equitably divided, both genders were at peace holding each other when too fatigued, survived quite well. The hot sweat of the unwavering weather was shared in the kitchen together. When one failed to perform out of sheer exhaustion, the other stood up to take over. What was discovered was the quantity of household work done by the partner who kept everything seamlessly going. It was a sense of renewed appreciation of household labour, and that we as Indians can achieve the same as many American households, if only we try enough to undo boundaries that exist within ourselves. Household labour equals emotional labour and to be afraid of losing power, to force your partner lose equal opportunities, makes a home lose its balance. And after all, a fine balance is the best of all.
This writer acknowledges the privilege she holds while writing this article.