On 6th day of all India lock down to counter alarming spread of corona virus and remedy COVID19 Odish Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik has issued a message to men of Odisha. He appealed to them not to further increase the burden of household work of women in the family during the lock down period when everyone including men are asked to stay home. Lock down of the country does not mean lock down of household work which are normally done exclusively by women in the family.He has demonstrated greater sensitivity in understanding the necessity for ensuring equality and equal opportunities for women and taking manifold measures to empower them socially, politically and economically. Be it registering more than seventy lakh women in self help groups across the State of Odisha for their access to numerous opportunities for their economic upliftment, increasing women's reservation in grass roots democratic bodies from 33 per cent to 50 percent and fielding women candidates of his party, Biju Janata Dal, in 33 per cent of parliamentary seats of the State during the 1919 general elections he has established exemplary leadership for the whole country. By issuing an appeal to the men of Odisha, on the 6th day of nationwide lock down, that they should not multiply the household work of women in the family by asking them to prepare more food items and dishes and rather spend time meaningfully with them and consume less and share more with them, he is making us recall Mahatma Gandhi's text book, "Bal Pothi", a primer for school children, written in 1922 in which he wanted gender equality at home by teaching men to do household work with men.
Mahatma Gandhi wanted men to do household work with women
That small book containing only eight pages have tiny chapters running into small paragraphs. It teaches children to get up early, brush their teeth, offer prayers, do exercise, develop the habit of spinning, maintain cleanliness and hygiene, answer call of nature in a reasonably distant place and cover the excreta with soil and use village fields to grow more vegetables and fruits. Mahatma Gandhi wanted children to learn all these valuable lessons through that book.
The last chapter of the book on ‘House Work’ merits serious attention. It conveyed the notion of gender equality right within the frontier of family. Through an imaginary dialogue among sister, brother and mother within the household, he tried to teach children that house work is a joint responsibility of both men and women and boy and girl who stay together under one roof and share unbreakable kinship. This book containing the chapter on ‘House Work’ is of enormous significance for 21st century world marked by women’s struggle for achieving gender justice and their empowerment. It is more significant for India undergoing lock down and shut down of all activities in face of corona threat.
The chapter begins with the instruction of mother to her son that he should do the house work in the manner in which his sister does. The son being brought up with a mental frame that house work is done by ladies only, refuses to go by the instruction of his mother on the ground that a boy plays and studies and a girl in the family performs her role to take the burden of house work. His sister protested by saying “Do we not also wish to play and study?”
The brother answers her by saying that possibly while playing and studying she would like also to work at home. The mother asked her son by putting a question “Shouldn’t boys work then?” Answering that question, the son states that in general boys remain attentive to their studies to take up responsibility of life as and when they grow up as adults and earn living for the family.
Hearing such reply from her son the mother teaches him that such an idea is entirely wrong and there is much to learn in house work. She explains that a child whether a boy or a girl can receive a lot of education by sweeping the house, cooking the food and cleaning cloths and utensils. She goes into details of such work and tells her son that domestic chores involve use of eyes, hands and brain without much effort. She
educated him by saying that such activities in the family constituted true education through experience.
The mother gave the valuable lesson to her son by saying that engagement with house work leads to acquisition of greater skill, building up one’s muscles and bodies and developing a sense of independence. She concluded by saying that the boy has to learn and do house work as much as a girl does in the family.
His book “Bal Pothi” teaching children to do household work regardless of the gender constitutes a vital lesson serving the cause of gender justice and women’s empowerment. The British Government did not permit Mahatma Gandhi to publish it. Even many of the colleagues and associates of Mahatma Gandhi expressed the opinion that Bal Pothi would bring about rebellion in the family. However, Mahatma Gandhi maintained that he wanted to create a good society by reducing the load of household work on women and making them free to avail of other opportunities beyond family.
In Japan men are taught to do household work with men
I had the privilege of visiting Japan in 2008. In every prefecture of that country a Gender Equality Centre has been established. One such centre set up in the Kochi Prefecture has prepared a text for children to teach them the idea that everybody in family, be it men or women or boy or girl, has to share household work.
This idea is not only confined to text book but also getting adequate coverage in the electronic and print media to bring about a change in the minds of citizens who grew up with the view that it is entirely the responsibility of women to perform the duties of cooking, cleaning and washing cloths at home.
It is due to such efforts that the Japanese people are slowly changing their mindset and now men have come forward to join womenfolk in the family for doing household work. After I saw that book, I conveyed to the authorities of that Gender Equality Centre that what the Japanese society is doing now was recommended by Mahatma Gandhi in the beginning of the second decade of the 20th century. They were astonished to know that Mahatma Gandhi had written a book for school children to educate them about the value of household work and the necessity of both men and women in the family sharing it.
Gandhi's Bal Pothi fires imagination of people
It is important to make “Bal Pothi” part and parcel of our school education. When I referred to the text of “Bal Pothi” in one of my lectures in Hyderabad on 30 April 2010 many women showed keen interest on it and wanted a copy to translate it to Telugu. In the year 2007, when I delivered a lecture in Chilkagaon, a village in Maharashtra, and referred to the text of “Bal Pothi” one lady Mrs. Renu Dandekar, a founder teacher of a school, approached me to learn more about it and later translated it to Marathi after obtaining a copy from me. She even discusses with children about “Bal Pothi” while teaching them in her school.
Utkalmani Gopabandhu wanted men to share household work
It is interesting to note that in Odisha, Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das wrote an article on education for women around the same time when Mahatma Gandhi wrote “Bal Pothi”. In that particular article Utkalmani regretted that women were not getting enough opportunities to pursue education due to the heavy burden of household work on them. Such reasoning explaining the lack of spread of education among women testified to his commitment to the issue of women’s progress. It is rather unfortunate that neither “Bal Pothi” nor such radical ideas of Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das is included in our school education.
It would be good for society and nation as a whole if we can refashion our school syllabus and education by incorporating these ideas which are now being followed in many of the developed countries. We can pay tribute to those leaders of our freedom struggle who while fighting for our independence were also fighting for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Their legacy endures. We need to live upto it for giving justice to women on whose strength the future of India will rest. That legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das is embodied in the appeal of Shri Naveen Patnaik to men to share household work with women in the lock down and shut down of India which is the largest ever in the recorded history of humanity.
.The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.