An Indian water purifier company, a brand frequently endorsed by Bollywood actor and BJP MLA Hema Malini, is getting a lot of attention-- not for the right reasons.
The company launched a product-- an atta maker-- a machine that kneads the dough and may be a useful tool in the times of a pandemic where large parts of the world are still under lockdown-- effectively forcing Indians, highly dependent on their domestic help, to cook, clean, binge on shows and working from home at the same time. But, of all the things that the company could think of as an advertisement-- it came up with the most obnoxious, classist one.
The ad poster, which was initially posted on Instagram, speaks about the importance of a hands-free atta maker in light of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. So far, so good. Then comes the next bit of the poster which asks if you are "letting your maid use her hands to knead dough". Appalled already? Wait, there's more. The next slide says "Her hands may be infected."
The ad-makers suggested that domestic help may be carriers of Covid-19 although by now we know that anyone (absolutely anyone) could be carrying the virus. Data taken from the last two months would show that the virus has affected people across demographics.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inequality that is already prevalent in the Indian society. It has made class distinction and discrimination all the more evident. More than 400 million people in the country are employed in the informal sector, which includes domestic help. It must be remembered that Covid-19 is a global pandemic, and anyone can be a carrier - from a top-ranked politician to a people living on the streets. To insinuate that a domestic help, who may not be as privileged as you, is more likely to be infected is not just classist, it's also illogical.
There is no current data to point towards the exact number of domestic workers in India but according to National Sample Survey (2012), 39 lakh are employed as domestic workers by private households, of which 26 lakh are female. Following the Coronacirus outbreak and the lockdown, most couldn't make it to work anymore. The employers, meanwhile, wasted no time in making them feel dispensable. Many of them lost their jobs, several received pay cuts, and some of them were compelled to work, even as the government put the nation under complete lockdown.
The company's advertisement comes across as highly insensitive and even dangerous as it might deepen the stigma against domestic help, who have already been left penniless and deprived owing to the pandemic.
Twitter obviously outraged at the despicable ad.
The Kent ad is surely the most disgusting in recent times and must be withdrawn with an unconditional apology — Ajay Kamath (@ajay43) May 26, 2020
This Kent ad smacks of hate and discrimination.@India_NHRC pic.twitter.com/PXL0ap6fKy — john ekka (@johnekka11) May 27, 2020
This Kent Ad provoked some thoughts. In a classist way the ad suggests that only a maid’s hand could be unclean. As a working woman who’s life has been made easy by maids, I am indebted to these women who slog their ass to feed their families. Pity that Ad maker ridicules it. pic.twitter.com/6Z2ngK3Hny — shruti (@vyasshruti) May 27, 2020
Kent should purify and filter their thoughts first. What a sick ad! pic.twitter.com/OKsY4hLiN5 — Shilpa Nair (@NairShilpa1308) May 26, 2020
The corporate sector must be careful in the types of advertisements it puts out. This ad by Kent is downright offensive and I do hope the firm concerned not only removes the ad but tenders an unqualified apology to the workng class. Some people have infected mindsets. pic.twitter.com/QTAkhfIemo — Dhruv C Katoch (@Dhruv_CK) May 27, 2020
What a disgustingly abhorrent ad. Kent, and your advertising agency - you should be ashamed of yourself. Govt needs to make them retract this immediately with a public apology plus a substantial donation to migrant workers relief pic.twitter.com/Icsoj1LYED — Harini Nagendra (@HariniNagendra) May 27, 2020
After 'Kent ka shuddh pani', here comes Kent's 'shuddh atta'. And its 'shuddhta' or purity is a slur on humanity. Time has come to #BoycottKent. https://t.co/NEUz3iNlzx— Dipankar (@Dipankar_cpiml) May 27, 2020
This is the reality of upper caste elite India. They forget the fact that it is not these poor people who brought the virus to India in the first place. Resist corporate casteism. #BoycottKent pic.twitter.com/Ffak2NYAmw— Rebela Sharma (@Rebel33433094) May 26, 2020
wrong.offensive.chauvinistic.disrespect the entire community of domestic help.this advertisement jeopardise social cohesion and is detrimental to progress of the nation.#kent pic.twitter.com/qPIkP9jGW2— Vijayakumar IPS (@vijaypnpa_ips) May 26, 2020
Dear @dreamgirlhema ji! Do you endorse such feudal thought of the brand @KentROSystems We expect you to leave them as the Brand Ambassador as a sign of protest.#BoycottKent None of us should buy this product. https://t.co/vm4mPgJgr2— Manas Nayak | ମାନସ ନାୟକ (@ManasTheNayak) May 26, 2020
Following the outrage, chairman of the company, Mahesh Gupta has now issued an apology and stated that the advertisement has been withdrawn.
Please accept our sincere apologies for having published the Ad of Kent Atta & Bread Maker. It was unintentional but wrongly communicated and it has been withdrawn. We support and respect all sections of the society.Mahesh Gupta, Chairman— Kent RO (@KentROSystems) May 27, 2020