A TV commercial for a life insurance company currently on the airwaves is an example of how a skewed conception of gender roles endures even when we are supposedly becoming a more modern and liberal society.

The commercial in question has been around for a bit but no one seemed to take offence. Until the education secretary of the Delhi government, Rina Ray, took it upon herself to point out that it was objectionable. She has lodged a complaint with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the Delhi Commission for Women and insists that the commercial be withdrawn and an apology issued by the company.

The objectionable commercial features a father saving up to fund his daughter’s education and ends with the tag line: Hai toh pyaari lekin bojh hai bhaari (though she’s loveable, she’s a burden). It spells out the mindset prevalent in this country: a girl, or woman, is a liability. One that changes hands, from one set of guardians, to another. Any investment made in the girl’s well-being, therefore, is often with an eye on making her more eligible in the marriage market. This might sound crude, but reality is often not palatable. This is not to suggest that there are no exceptions but they are too few in a nation of India’s size.  (Times of India)

I think that Hindi speakers ought to protest against the gross distortion of their language by this officious Bengali. In the first place, the jingle says: Khushiyan to hai pyaari, magar thodi bhaari hai.  The “bhaari” term refers, quite clearly, to the happiness and not to the girl. Second, the ad referred to is one in a series. In a different version of the ad, a man who is getting married finds the earth giving way below him when he thinks of the expenses involved. In another, a man is handed his baby (of unspecified gender) by the nurse, and goes through the same experience. In all versions, the same jingle plays.

If we had ads like the ones we used to have ten years back, the man would have been worrying about his daughter’s marriage and his son’s education, and the wedding ad would have had the bride’s father worrying about the wedding expenses. Quite clearly, our ads have progressed quite a bit now. But there is no pleasing some people.