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‘Who will take care of the house when we are away or rest?’ Why do women still need to ask this question? Isn’t it time men finally took responsibilities?
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in 2012. Our aunt had come to visit us. All of us were talking and laughing when my sister said, “Jethima (Assamese word for mother’s elder sister) why don’t you spend the night at our home? You can go back tomorrow morning.” But jethima replied that she won’t be able to stay since there was nobody to cook at home. Both of us said nothing and she left in the evening.
What is interesting is when she had said that there was nobody to do the cooking when she is away, she meant there were no women. She had three sons and her husband. And thus, the burden of most of the household work, including cooking, fell on her shoulders.
However, it wasn’t only jethima but borma (father’s elder brother’s wife) and pehi (father’s sister) who have said over the years that they can’t leave their house. The question that they would raise is, who would ‘take care’ of the house?
And so, what jethima and all the other women said made me think of the meaning of mundane activities like cooking and cleaning, and their social connotations. It was interesting to me because, in our family, it is three women (mother, two sisters) and one man (father).
And since childhood, we have seen our father do a lot of household chores, including cooking. There has existed an equitable division of labour in our household activities. It has been crucial in our socialisation and the building of our world-view.
This perhaps has become clearer than in the period of lockdown. As we are all locked in our houses with little opportunity to go out, it is this division of labour that sustained us. All four of us have designated ‘duties’ we perform every day.
One of the activities that highlight this well is grocery shopping. Since the lockdown was put in place by the government, it has only been father who has been going out to get the groceries. But when he comes back, the sanitisation of vegetables and fruits become a ‘household’ affair.
One of us gets the salt and the utensils, then the other two wash the eggs, fruits, and vegetables. At the same time, the clothes that father wore are washed by either mother or father. While we, some times, get into little tiffs amid this activity, it is also one of the activities that enforce the feeling of being a family.
One of the other activities that have made this lockdown bearable is cooking together. Keeping track of our designated duties, my sister and I make breakfast and evening tea. Meanwhile, our parents make lunch and dinner together.
We work our housework schedules around the other parts of our daily lives – like writing, attending online meetings, and watching television. For instance, father and mother begin their preparation for lunch at around 11:30 am. But took an hour-long break between 12-1 pm as they watched Mahabharata together. They resume their lunch making activity at one. Similarly, my sister and I make breakfast by 10 am since we have online classes and other work 11 am onwards.
Doing these things together gives us the time to relax and talk while also making everyday chores a little interesting. It also makes us realize the labour that we take for granted, that our domestic workers perform.
At the same time, these tasks help us take off our minds from the crisis that we are dealing with. This period of lockdown has once again made me realize the significance of doing household work together.
Picture credits: Still from short film Ghar Ki Murgi
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Rituparna Patgiri teaches in the Sociology department at Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW), University of
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