The lockdown has tested people’s perseverance, strength, and kindness, like no other incident has in recent years. While it has brought out the best in some, it has exposed the worst in others.
From WhatsApp group chats, that in several housing societies have been filled with increasingly offensive forwards and tone-deaf debates on whether domestic workers should be allowed into the building, to several advertisement campaigns promoting demeaning and discriminatory ideologies – classist behaviour has been at an all-time high.
Companies Are Marketing Their “Corona Friendly” Products Through Classist Ads
Electronic products that require less human engagement and effort have become increasingly popular during the lockdown. With access to salons being cut off, the sale of electronic eyebrow hair trimmers and battery-run razors has gone up. People are investing in dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines to reduce their workload.
Several companies that manufacture these products, however – in an effort to make the most out of the surge in sales – are promoting their products through classist, inflammatory, and fear-inducing advertising campaigns.
An electronics retailer, Lotus Electronics, circulated an advertisement that promoted “contactless” household work through their products with a clear insinuation to avoid domestic workers.
The renowned Kent RO Systems, has recently faced huge backlash online and from domestic workers’ unions, for their advertisement campaign circulated for a bread and dough maker.
The advertisement asks consumers – “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected. Now don’t compromise on health and purity. Bring home Kent Atta Maker and Bread Maker.”
Not only is the advertisement insensitive and in poor taste, the intent is to instigate fear in the minds of consumers towards domestic help, so they purchase the product instead. It encourages discriminatory and classist behaviour towards domestic workers.
The Response To The Ad Campaign Was Immediate And Angry
The campaign unleashed an immediate social media storm against the ad, with several reporting it to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) as well.
Geeta Menon, the head of Shri Jagruti Samiti – an organisation working for domestic workers’ rights – called for the withdrawal of the ad “on how Kent products are to be bought, to save oneself from the unhygienic domestic workers’ hands.”
She says that their union’s survey reveals that 80% domestic workers have been told not to come, 70% have not been paid salaries since April, and 50% of domestic workers above the age of 50 have been dismissed arbitrarily.
“In these times of vulnerability and safety of all, discrimination, prejudice, casteist and communal behaviour are in the DNA of some of the privileged classes and companies,” she told The Quint.
Kent has since withdrawn the ad and tweeted out an apology, calling it “unintentional, badly communicated and wrong”.
Don’t Let Fear Turn Your Privilege Into Elitism
The new version of universal untouchability that COVID-19 has brought, continues to especially discriminates against the underprivileged.
A survey by the Domestic Workers Sector Skill Council (DWSSC) says that 38% of domestic workers are facing problems in arranging food. Over 30% do not have money to survive the lockdown period. They’re living through unimaginably difficult conditions, and people’s increasingly elitist, classist, and discriminatory behaviour is only making things worse.
The lockdown has tested how people use their privilege – to help others, or to hold it over them.
Don’t allow capitalistic discriminaton to induce fear and hateful behaviour in you. Be aware of your privileges, and use them to help those that don’t have as much of it, during these daunting times.
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