I saw the now-withdrawn Kent RO ad for its dough kneading appliance last week when someone sent it to me on WhatsApp. They must have thought that they were appealing to the people’s newfound love for anything “contactless” in the COVID-19 era when they joined the bandwagon of “Contactless and safe product/service” advertisements that we are bombarded with these days. And they must definitely have thought that their key message “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected” was surely going to strike a chord with womenfolk. I wish I could meet the brain behind this ad who successfully brought out an ad that is pathetic on so many levels – implying that (a) domestic helps are always females (b) kneading dough is certainly a woman’s, that too a maid’s job, and (c) letting maids deal with food is a bad idea since they have more chances of having “infected hands” because you know… they belong to a lower class, most probably have a lower sense of respect for cleanliness and obviously because they do myriads of ‘dirty’ work that the lady of the house would never do. Wow! Slow clap to this genius! Honestly, the only thing that really surprised me in this ad was that they didn’t show a pair of dark hands to portray the maid kneading atta. That would have completed the stereotype.

While the company released an apology that was lame, what annoyed me more was the statement released by Hema Malini, the brand ambassador and the face of the Kent campaigns, who along with her daughter appeared on the poster for this particular ad too. She has, without an ounce of shame, washed her hands off the whole controversy by stating that the views of the advertisement do not resonate with her values. Alongside calling it inappropriate she also adds slyly that the company has tendered a public apology, showing that she doesn’t even have the decency to apologize herself for a shameful ad that she was part of. Which brought this very important question to my mind – what exactly does she believe is her role as a brand ambassador endorsing products to customers? Does she not have any responsibility in confirming that her face and brand value are used in the right way for marketing? Is she saying that all she does is pose for some pictures to be used for the advertisements and she has no idea what the ad shows? If so, that in itself is a major question mark on her integrity and ethics as a public figure. But I’m sure that it was just a half-baked statement released to save her face (It didn’t!). The obvious truth is that she, like many others, would not even have felt that there is anything wrong with the ad.

The reason is very simple. Domestic helps are considered simply as a property they own by a huge section of our society. I saw some perfect examples of that mentality during the lockdown period. When the lockdown was first announced, some of the highly educated, “high-thinking” ladies around were seen complaining – “What is this rule about not ‘keeping’ our maids during lockdown? It is our individual choice whether we want them to come or not.” These women did not understand that government rules applicable to all citizens apply to the domestic helps too – simply because they don’t see them as citizens with equal rights and duties; they are “my maid” and that alone. Worse yet, they could not think of how those people are equally susceptible to infection from the virus and staying in is equally important to them as well. “But then who will do all the work in my house? 15 days is too long” is what they said when it started. Almost two and a half months now, I wonder how they have survived.

Now you would think that doing all the work without help would put some perspective in their heads about the role their domestic helps play in making their lives easier and teach them to have some respect for them. Hell no! Not these entitled souls! Sitting in the comforts of their homes, enjoying full salary for themselves and their husbands for the mandatory and right now, convenient work-from-home they have to do, these ladies refuse to pay their maids for the lockdown period. Their logic? – “Why should I pay her when I did all the work and she didn’t even have to come?” Think of the audacity to ask such a vile question about a maid who is forced to stay at home due to government restrictions to combat a pandemic, a maid who is does not have the option of working from home for no fault of hers and who still has to find a way to feed her family! According to these elite queen bees, there is nothing insensitive or cruel about not paying them for this forced leave of absence because “They care only about money. They will do the work only to get money. So, let them earn it when they work.” Of course, they care about money you dolts! Everyone does! We all work primarily to earn and make a living. But you know what the difference between us and them is? We have the luxury of picking out a job we like, doing something for the satisfaction it gives as much as for the money. They don’t! They don’t scrub your floors because it was their calling or because it gives them a sense of fulfilment. They do it only because they need to do something that pays them, something that will get them their daily bread. Screw you if you can’t understand that!

As long as we have nitwits like them who think of domestic helps as their slaves, property they own and ‘keep’, I don’t think any amount of online outrage is going to make a difference to what we see on screen. Today Kent RO and Hema Malini, tomorrow someone else.