The story of the ‘burnt rotis’ recounted by former President Abdul Kalam has become the stuff of folklore. When Kalam was very young, his mother once served burnt rotis to his father. The young Kalam, who expected a flare-up, was extremely surprised to see that the father ate it without making a fuss. Later, when his son asked him why, the wise man said, “A burnt roti doesn’t hurt anyone, but harsh words do.”
Contrast this with the story of the man in Uttar Pradesh, who pronounced triple talaq to his wife the other day because she served him a burnt roti. Maybe, he had little idea of what he was getting into. The police have registered a case against him for domestic violence. Further, proclaiming divorce through triple talaq can get him up to three years in jail, where he can, at best, long for the rotis made by his wife.
Men like him will have to reconcile themselves to the idea of recognising the economic role played by the humble housewife, even if they do not care about the love and affection bestowed. When India’s Manushi Chillar was asked in the question-and-answer round after she was shortlisted among the top five for the Miss World pageantry which profession deserved the highest salary and why, her reply was, “A mother.” The answer is believed to have helped Mansuhi bag not only the main title but also the category of ‘Beauty with Purpose’.
Muslim society is particularly harsh on their women, who have been at the receiving end of a male chauvinistic order for generations. For a large number of Muslim men, particularly in such states as Uttar Pradesh, women are no more than an object of pleasure. In fact, in discussions about mahr, a gift the husband gives a wife at the time of marriage the value has been recommended “to be not less than 10 dirham, so it doesn’t resemble the payment of a prostitute”.
In more progressive societies, housewives prefer to call themselves “homemakers”, which is now being recognised as a profession. There have, in the recent past, been several attempts to determine the worth of a homemaker, particularly in terms of calculating insurance premiums for this category of customers.
Although coverage for non-working spouses is often overlooked while taking out insurance policies, especially if the household is in a lower income bracket, there is increasing realisation that the economic replacement cost of a non-working spouse has to be taken into account.
As such, the worth of a housewife has been variously estimated between the equivalents of Rs20 lakh and Rs3 crore. Perhaps, our man from Uttar Pradesh can now sit in his cell and calculate how many millions of rotis his wife was worth.