The Great Indian Kitchen: A film on what every married woman in India already knows

Urmila Chanam
Posted February 3, 2021 from India

Watched "The Great Indian Kitchen" last night, my first Malayalam film. I finished dinner and washing dishes and sat with my knitting to enjoy the movie but watching it was like going back to my domestic chores, exhaustion and frustration all over again because the film is about the drudgery a married woman in India lives through on a daily basis.

The message is strong- wake up women, life is much beyond your kitchen, praises of how tasty your food is, there is a beautiful life waiting for you to discover, and your identity need not be about your food, clean home and appeasing everyone.

The film shows everything we already know or we are living it ourselves. The drudgery of cooking, preparation of lavish meals three times a day, cleaning dishes, storing and throwing waste, cleaning the house, toilets, courtyard and garden, worship activities, laundry done both manually and using a washing machine, packing lunch boxes for husband for office, pickling and preservation of food, entertaining guests and catering to their needs for good food and drink, no personal time for recreation or rest, no friendship or social life outside of home and family, no permission to daughter-in-law or married women to have a career so that the smooth functioning of the household remains uninterupted (meals for everyone, cleanliness of the house, help and support for guests and –in laws).

There’s more about the mother-in-law who’s also a disempowered woman, a victim of the same situation and unable to help and improve the quality of life of daughter-in-law or daughters. The film shows forced sexual intercourse in the marriage without taking into consideration the married woman’s physical and mental exhaustion or depression, non-involvement of the married woman’s family (of birth) in the incident of marital problems, left to deal with it alone saying “ woman has to adjust to everything”.

All advice involves pushing her towards her marital family only, equality does not exist between the husband and wife. The wife cannot say anything to the husband to correct him, all his manners, attitudes and actions are stringent and immovable and the wife is supposed to accept it. The husband, male members of the family and even menfolk in the community exercise absolute control over the life of the married woman with the custom of community male members complaining about the daughter-in-law to husband and father-in-law. Control is exercised over social media activity and expression, customs and superstitions like not eating left-overs in spite of refrigeration are practised. The supposed impurity of menstruating women complicates life for women, giving them more tasks to do and the menstrual stigma, taboo, myths and isolation make women feel like an outcast, lesser than menfolk, lonely and uncomfortable.

This can be a cause of conflict and contempt between husband and wife when the husband is a staunch believer of isolation of menstruating women and practices purification exercise on coming in contact with menstruators. There is a sense of entitlement felt by menfolk in terms of being served like a king by women at home. The extent of their reconsideration is evident in how they extend no cooperation or help in running the household. These conflicts between husband and wife result from overburdened wives and entitled patriarch husbands. Such a background offers a high risk factor for domestic violence.

I felt so tired after watching the film- both emotionally and mentally (you will understand why after you watch the film). Why do women put up with all this, why do I put up with all this? My daughter asked me what the solution is. Children have a knack of asking the toughest questions easily.

Well, how about acknowledging the contribution of married women who do all this for us? How about respecting them at all levels? How about rephrasing some of the introductions from “she is JUST a housewife” to she is “family/community enabler”? How about government-sponsored social security for married women? In layman’s terms, an allowance and pension for her all throughout her life; can be a part contribution from the government and part from the family? Some women will walkout, some will stay. Some will succeed in negotiation, some will try and fail.

Irrespective of the path they choose, what we as members of the society can do is to have a deep respect for their contribution. It sounds like its too meagre an effort to address such a big social evil but I think, respect is the first step and foundation for all other measures to stand on.

(The writer is a World Pulse Voices of Our Future Advanced Digital Empowerment Program alumni.)

Comments 5

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Feb 04
Feb 04

Hi Urmila,

While reading your story I also felt exhausted. Because I imagine a woman who's life depends on her husband. I ask the same question, what the solution?

If I have the opportunity to choose, I would rather to be single than to be a slave in a home.

Nini Mappo
Feb 05
Feb 05

Dear Urmila,
I read your summary of the movie and I echo the same tiredness that you speak of. It makes me think of Meghan Merkle--empowered, feminist, vocal, strong, joining a patriarchal family with pomp and hope. Her presence in the royal family gave hope that a patriarchal system might listen to reason for equality. But her voice was taken away, and she eventually got fed up with it all and goes to show just how deeply entrenched patriarchy is. How hard it is to change. That's why the battle-field is the woman's change what she believes of her self and her place in the society, not just in the home as you the movie portrays. I hope that the movie made women wake up to realize how subjugated they are and that there is better. They are equal, and fight for it. Because if their participation in the home/community is assumed as what they will naturally do, it is difficult for it to be valued, appreciated, or remunerated. It really is a long walk to freedom, because women still want to get married, and men still want wives, and control :/

Hello, dear Urmila,

I was hoping that this movie is available on Netflix, but it's not. I would love to watch it. You truly are a great writer. Reading your narrative of this movie gave me exhaustion, too. But I am sad that this is a reality among many women in India. What is the solution? Maybe part of a long list of solutions is to educate boys and men that they need to do household chores as well. Marriage is a partnership, not slavery for women.

In the Philippines, when young men begin to enumerate that they want to marry women who can cook, clean, iron clothes, and so on, they will eventually be told jokingly to get a housemaid instead. But even in our country, there is still that expectation that women maintain the cleanliness at home and put all things together. I'm grateful to be married to a man who understands "reducing the burden" at home and helps around in the house.

I agree with Mae Ann, if I get married only to do all those things mentioned above, then I'd rather be single.haha. Thanks for sharing, dear sister.

Shofali Agarwal
Feb 09
Feb 09

Hi Urmila,
Your daughter asks a very important question - the behaviour you model for her is going to teach her to react in a similar situation that is all too familiar in our Indian culture. The cycle must be broken so that one day, when YOU are the mother-in-law, you will take charge and change the culture. Thank you for your important story and asking those difficult questions. We need to find the answer.

Feb 10
Feb 10

Hi urmila,
U have summed up the problems faced by a married woman perfectly.

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