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Column: Gender Equality: We Need Equitable Division Of Labour, Not Cooking Work

By Sandeep Sahu

My late mother, I am sure, would have certainly balked at the proposition. She would have been positively horrified at Twin City Commissioner of Police (CP) Sudhansu Sarangi’s exhortation to young women the other day not to marry those who don’t know cooking. A member of the old school, she enjoyed nothing more than cooking and serving the choicest dishes for all and sundry, not just her family members. She wouldn’t allow me anywhere near the kitchen, forget about cooking.

With that kind of an upbringing, it’s hardly surprising that I am a complete disaster as a cook! In all these years, all I have managed to learn by way of cooking is to make tea. On the couple of occasions, I tried my hand at cooking, I made a complete mess of it. On the first, I tried making an omelette but had to throw the stuff into the waste bin since the dish I ‘cooked’ turned out to be a mangled mess of burnt egg. On the second, I again set out making an omelette but ended up making it ‘bhujia’ instead! But at least it was edible. After this, I had to abandon the idea of cooking altogether.

Before you brand me an MCP, let me make it clear that I am all for men learning cooking. Though I failed miserably in my Mission Cooking, I love playing the ‘tahalia’ (helper); peeling off onion, potato and green peas, slicing vegetables and stuff like that. I am also perfectly fine washing soiled dishes and helping out my wife in the kitchen in any other manner I can. I also do sundry other works at home like cleaning the toilets, clearing the cobwebs, buying provisions and vegetables and so on. Thus, I can legitimately claim to have outgrown any gender bias that I may have grown up with.

Making knowledge of cooking an eligibility criterion for men to get married may have been meant figuratively rather than literally. But there is little doubt that the idea behind the CP’s comment was unexceptionable. Gender equality demands that man and wife share all domestic chores, including cooking, more so when both are working. I would like to believe many men are already doing it. I have many friends who relish cooking and are wonderful cooks themselves, even better than their wives. [In fact, I envy men who can cook well.] With gender biases melting away – as in my case – in the new order, more and more men would certainly come around in future.

But if women in Odisha take the CP’s exhortation too literally, I am afraid it has the potential to upset man-woman relationship and cause an upheaval of sorts socially. What about a prospective groom who doesn’t know cooking at the time of marriage but is ready to give a solemn commitment – maybe even a signed undertaking – that he would learn it after the marriage? Will his commitment be accepted and the marriage go ahead? Or does he get ‘rejected’? Even assuming that women would reject a groom without culinary skills outright, will their parents go along with her decision, if he is otherwise a ‘suitable boy’? Since we are talking gender equality here, does a groom also have a right to impose a condition on the prospective bride – doing a job or knowing driving, for example? In any case, there could well be many women, both working and housewife, who, like my mother, love to lord over the kitchen – especially in rural areas where modern-day concepts of gender equality haven’t reached yet, if not among the urban, educated elite

A more practical solution, in my view, would be leaving couples alone to work out their equation without either side dominating or imposing conditions. What we actually need is a mutually worked out equitable distribution of domestic work between husband and wife and not necessarily an equal sharing of cooking responsibilities.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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