June 26, 2009

ToI stoops to new depths


THE TIMES OF INDIA piece “Beware of the Maid” (18 June, 2009) is a contemptible piece of writing that not only displays a complete lack of sensitivity and basic decency, but also shows up the standards of journalism in the Times of India group. It trivializes serious issues such as the abuse and ill-treatment faced by thousands of domestic workers — who are compelled by circumstance to be mute sufferers — by turning the focus of blame squarely on the victims.

Starting off with a note on Hollywood celebrities who have had affairs with nannies and various other types of domestic help, Sharma shifts the focus to India. Her opening point itself is completely off target as she says how “the issue that was till now the domain of the West has come closer home”. Wrong, so wrong.

It is no secret that class and gender distinctions plague everyday life in our society, and that the brunt of it is borne by those in the margins, including domestic workers, who have no recourse to redressal for the sort of ill-treatment meted out to them on a daily basis. Sharma’s bizarre display of ignorance only reinforces the prejudices faced by these women.

She then goes on to talk about the rising infidelity of men “at the hands of maids”, thus again making the assumption that the blame is automatically ascribed to the woman. In the very premise of her article, she appears to absolve men of all blame for cheating on their partners, reinforcing the harmful and regressive gender stereotype of men being unable to contain their desires. This reminds one of the ill-considered dress codes imposed by certain colleges on women students with the thought that it is their manner of dress that provokes sexual harassment, or worse, the theory that some women ask for it by their mode of dress and behaviour.

Sharma also objectifies domestic helpers — already powerless women, often illiterate and usually forced to work without any sort of expectation of fair treatment — as sexual objects by using some shockingly inconsiderate (and one hopes misrepresented) quotes from a noted psychologist. The author writes, “The fact is that men don’t really fall in love with a maid but feel like exploring the alternative world of headless, harmless women.” Notice the carefully chosen words “headless, harmless” — implying that playing around with such women is “safe”. She also adds how, since domestic workers in India are unable to stand up and fight for their rights, it gives men the power and control they crave. A female professional is quoted as saying that it enables men to “unleash the beast” in ways that they know their wives and girlfriends won’t put up with!

On the whole, it is demeaning and disrespectful on multiple levels. Besides the stereotypes of “men will be men when it comes to sex” and “women must behave appropriately”, there is also a deep contempt displayed for the working class. From the tone and the words used, it would appear that the writer thinks of the domestic help as a lower form of life, “harmless and headless”, and therefore not worthy of respect as a fellow human being.

She ends with some friendly woman-to-woman advice: “choose your maid with care”. Nothing about choosing your partner with care?

It has been long since one stopped expecting any sort of standards from The Times of India, but this time they have stooped to new depths. With popular culture and the media intent on maintaining the status quo in a society mired in patriarchy and class imbalance, one wonders what hope remains for those who need it most.

22 comments to ToI stoops to new depths

  • Sunitha

    I am glad this piece has been written. Thank you.

  • I couldn’t believe the original story could be as bad as Payal makes it out to be, so I checked it out (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/4667727.cms) – it’s even worse! What a shallow, prejuidiced, disrespectful piece of utter rubbish! Payal, thanks for your very calm and considered response.

  • Thanks for this piece. I’m going to share it with as many people as I can.

  • Disgusting. Thanks for writing this, Payal.

  • Ms. Tic

    Just wrote an angry angry comment on this column. WTF! And this is a very well written piece 🙂 thanks for bringing rubbish from TOI to our notice (strange as that sounds to be thanking someone for!)

  • Kanni

    I have to agree with the article. Here in my city, we were long warned about maids after quite a few instancesof blackmail of their employers. It is rampant here and by now most of us take the precaution to see that they are not allowed in the house when the lady of the house is not aorund. A very common thing in our city. So this warning by TOI is timely though I do agree that in many instances it is maid who is the victim.

  • SOB

    That was a jaw-dropping opener. Apparently in Sharma’s quaint world, rape and consensual relationship come under the same category, especially when it involves disposable human beings like kaamwali bai.

  • I wrote them a letter on this. They have not published it.


    I cannot imagine how appalled I am that national newspaper should publish a piece of misogynistic nonsense such as the piece above. I do not quite understand what the writer is trying to say, apart from how “men are led astray by domestic helps”. This view is not only uber-elitist, but also ridiculous in its very essence a “victim-blaming ” of sorts. She uses instances from Hollywood and popular soap operas to make that connection. This is not journalism, this is sensationalism. In this highly chauvinistic classist view she tries to absolve the wrong doer, the man and puts the blame on the victim. Only too often is this attitude reflected in a parochial patriarchal society- mush to the detriment of women everywhere. A piece like this in a leading national daily not only calls to question the editing that goes on, but also reduces the credibility of your other stories

  • Excellent post. I saw that article and thought it was pretty inappropriate. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one.

  • Madhubala

    While on Shiney,to read C P Surendran’s piece in Open (www.openthemagazine.com)–Fall of Shiney and Mob Catharsis

  • Thanks for this piece, Payal – while on the article, the other point Sharma seems to miss is that while the Hollywood stars have been accused of “sharing a special bond” – i.e. having an affair / consensual sex – with the maid/ nanny, Shiney Ahuja stands accused of rape. Slight difference, I would think, obvious to even someone up in arms against the “nanny brigade”.

    and why should a dermatologist be called on to comment upon this? maids bending and displaying ample cleavage. please, stop Kalpana Sharma, already.

  • What surprises me is that there hasn’t been more of an uproar over this article. What’s more, it appears in print in today’s edition of the paper (in the Sunday supplement), albeit in a slightly altered form. That said, it’s not really much better since it retains its classist and sexist biases.

  • rdangeo

    They didn’t publish my comment either. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote but I did comment on how classist and sexist the piece was. I guess they got an avalanche of angry reader comments after this post was written.

  • What a vile article. I really hope the writer and publication will be held accountable for printing such bigoted garbage.
    Did anyone else notice the awful prose?
    “While this brings to forefront the case of rising infidelity (in the hands of maids), it also grabs attention to the nanny brigade. So far they have been doing home’s dirty work and considered undesirable, how did they become a man’s object of fantasy?”

    Utter crap, every way you look at it.

  • Rakesh

    There is alot more happening than the two sides of the argument believe in. Though I too used to believe in the Robin Hood theory that the poor always gets suppressed and hence sympathy is always with them from many. But since I personally had been a victim of a maid’s sexual desires and many un-invited touch which if seen would have landed me in great embarresment in the family, I would just say that there is always two sides of any coin.
    So people who dont agree with TOI’s article, I would like to tell them… there are good and bad in every section of the society… Like, if a Hollywood or Bollywood Actor with a settled life and family, is found involved in relation with Domestic help, there are for sure many many Domestic Helps who are involved in encoraging employer to commit actions and then earn much much more from the black-mailing business… than they could earn from regular salary…

    Like I said above… there is no need to believe in one idea (Feminism or Male Chauvinism). Keep an open mind and heart to understand the balance of our social System.

  • Poulami

    Thanks Payal!!
    I am glad people did notice that piece of atrocity called “journalism”..

  • rdangeo

    @Rakesh–A false sexual allegation is a setback for feminism as well because it builds on an already loaded assumption that all victims of rape are exaggerating or lying or in it for the attention or money. The article itself is presumptive of this notion, plus it compares celebrity affairs with their nannies which is pretty silly considering the fact that this case was about rape and not infidelity.

  • S

    Thanks for writing this, the ToI never ceases to annoy me.

  • Open Fan

    Ref Open Magazine article on Shiney by CP Surendran (ex TOI), the author of this article is no longer with the magazine. OPEN magazine holds very high standards and is a sensitive, intelligent and liberal read in an environment of utter insensitivity and quickfix journalism.

    I do beseech you ALL not to judge OPEN by that single boo-boo. Please go to http://www.openthemagazine.com and judge for yourself

    thank you. Wonderful blog, this

  • Shocking. I did not know about it till today. Thanks for writing this post.

  • Nice site, I like it, but it seems a kind of strange when using mozzila browser, keep it going:)

  • […] GOOD GIRLS DON’T TALK to Boys. And vice versa, although an exception may be made for good boys who are simply lured by bad girls. […]

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