Food is as essential to life as breathing. Besides its function to provide essential nutritional support to the body, it plays a dominant role in our social lives as well. It is intrinsic to our cultures and inherent in the rituals, festivals and ceremonies. In fact, FOOD in rituals and customs has become so intrinsic that we fail to recognize their discriminatory character and their impact on our society anymore.
There is a lot that can be derived from the practice of food distribution in the “Patriarchal Indian society.” Patriarchy is not just a system of society but a concept so deep that it stratifies the society not only vertically (caste system) but also horizontally (gender discrimination).
The shackles of patriarchy are so hermetic that they have come to encroach something as fundamental as food.
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The IHDS (India Human Development Survey) 2011 found that one in five women in Delhi and half of the women in Uttar Pradesh ate after the men of their house. Five years later, when the survey was conducted in 2016, the numbers worsened One in three adults in Delhi and Six in 10 adults in U.P. said that men ate their meal before women. This disparity is also seen in food distribution. Men eat first and women eat whatever is left for them in the end which is mostly neither sufficient nor nutritionally affluent. This affects both women and girl child in the long run.
The ill-fed situation of women is not the only problem. A bigger issue that looms over large is the fact that women are gauged on the basis of their culinary skills for marriage. Her education qualification and radiant personality take a back seat when it comes to finding a “suitable” husband. India society believes in undermining the value of the person who prepares food. And concentrates more value on the person who “brings food”.
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There is also a tradition of keeping fasts for the sake of the harmony and happiness of the family and longevity of life for husbands. The burden of both the tasks is to be carried by the women of the house.
They are supposed to skip meals for the sake of the family and stay hungry till midnight for the husband. Isn’t the husband responsible for his wife and children too? Do both not share the responsibility in this harmonious union of marriage?
The discrimination that food creates between the “even-handed” genders, is widened by the archaic mindset and the poor notion of equality of the Indian society. Justifications like “He needs more energy because he does more physical work; He goes to the gym; More almonds for him because he plays sports; Extra chicken on his platter because he needs it for his metabolic growth coupled with certain “social corrective measures” for girls, have converted this creek in to a river. “Thin girls look more beautiful; a girl who cooks more and eats less finds a better husband; Do not feed her more chicken, she will start with her periods early; you need to be accompanied by men to buy a bottle of liquor because you are a girl.”
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Stereotypes and Thought Process
Shethepeople.tv spoke to Ashita Ohri, Business Development Executive at Fueladream.com, who was appalled by the fact that men get more food on the pretext of irrational reasoning. She says,
“How the boy gets more chicken on the same table because boys need more energy. And girls can sleep on empty stomachs even on their periods is infuriating.”
Delhi university graduate, Chaitanya shared her view on how advertising helps to entrench the gap of food disparity between genders. “Not just one, there are many ways-from advertising to consumption. In advertisements, we only see women cooking. There are many families who feel degraded, if they see their son making even a cup of tea. But girls are taught from a very young age that they have to work in the kitchen only. They don’t get enough nutrition that a girl child needs.
I was on the student council at school and worked on the health record of classes from 6th to 8th. I came across many cases where girls were under nourished; they were learning self-defence so they need to be in good health. When we confronted their mothers about the same, all we can recollect from their replies is, “ladki hai, kalko sasural chali jaegi, ladke ko toh rakhna hi hai.” (She is a girl and therefore will be married off soon, the boy will stay with us forever.)
All these instances come to explain that the degraded position of women, their ill-fed situation, discrimination in life, harassment in marriage is all part of a vicious circle that will take centuries to break.
Divyangna Singh is an intern with SheThePeople.TV