When it comes to empowerment of girls in India, liberating them from kitchen duties is yet to happen in our society. Most parents may be open to educating their daughters, and even “letting” them have a job. But one thing that most Indian households still agree on is that all girls should learn to cook, and that too exceptionally well. A girl may be a topper in her class, or have scored the best marks in her college, but to elders, it seems her qualifications are of little importance, if she cannot cook dal properly.

Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel recently told girls at the Kasturba Girls Hostel that they should never let go of kitchen duties. As per an article in DNA, she said, “You all are doing good in your studies. You did good with other things as well, I’ve seen it for myself, but don’t let go of the kitchen.”

According to her, if girls know how to cook tasty dal, they can have a good equation with their mothers-in-law in future.

It seems that female empowerment in Indian kitchens, where any girl cooks only if she wants to and not because she has to, is still a distant dream.

Patel’s statement reflects the mindset of millions of Indian households, where a girl’s expertise in kitchen will always be of more importance than her qualifications, pay cheque or even behaviour

No girl deserves to be shoved into kitchen duties at a young age

There is a reason why Patel’s statement doesn’t come across as shocking. In most Indian homes, girls take up kitchen duties even before hitting the teens. It starts with learning to serve food to elders and men in the family. Then it quietly proceeds to  helping out with cutting vegetables or making tea. Their marks or expertise in sports or arts are never enough to relieve them of these duties. This is because we are still a society where a woman’s prime duty is that of a homemaker. She must feed her family and good culinary skills always earn a wife or daughter-in-law a good rapport.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel recently told girls at the Kasturba Girls Hostel that they should never let go of kitchen duties.
  • Her statement reflects the mindset of Indian households, where a girl’s expertise in kitchen will always be of more importance than her qualifications.
  • So many girls become wiser than their age. When rules differ in a house for a boy and girl, it makes them aware of their position in society.
  • They do not just lose valuable study or play time to kitchen duties, but a part of their innocence too.

Good culinary skills are in fact one of the prime qualities which a bride’s family pitches for a prospective matrimonial alliance. Hence, to be married off easily, families encourage girls to take up cooking at the earliest. No one asks girls whether they want to cook or not. They must learn to cook because it is a duty entrusted on their gender by our patriarchal society. Even those who do question are forced into submission by threats or incentives. So many girls become wiser than their age. When rules differ in a house for a boy and girl, it makes them aware of their position in society. They do not just lose valuable study or play time to kitchen duties, but a part of their innocence too.

Is empowerment of girls even possible in our country when they do not even have a choice to not cook?

When will politicians and elders stop endorsing that girls belong to the kitchen? Will no number of awards or degrees or felicitations help them break free from these kitchen duties? When will people understand that cooking is either a skill or a hobby. It is certainly not a duty a girl should perform just because society deems her as belonging to the secondary gender. Not every girl may like to do it. Instead of being stuck in the kitchen, she may want to read, or play or just do nothing, an activity every child is entitled to.

Telling young girls to not let go of the kitchen is as good as tying a hefty weight to a runner’s legs and then expecting her to run fast. There is more to life then learning to fry lentils to your mother-in-law’s liking. Because there is more to a saas-bahu equation in the household than that. We need to stop telling our girls that it is their duty to cook or please their mother-in-law. Because it isn’t. If we want to truly empower our girls, then it would be better to change the society’s outlook. To teach in-laws to not seek unpaid domestic help in form of brides. To stop judging a girl’s capabilities by how well she fries her lentils. But mostly to end these age-old dictates and let the girls just be girls and enjoy their childhood.

Picture Credit: Planet Kitchen

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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