Stop blaming ‘women and feminism’ in Zomato row — check your privilege instead

The trajectory against Hitesha has quickly gone into feminist bashing, when the conversation should actually be about entitlement and privilege.
Hitesha Chandranee and Kamaraj
Hitesha Chandranee and Kamaraj

The story of the altercation between the Zomato delivery executive Kamaraj and Hitesha Chandranee, a woman based in Bengaluru, has led to many polarised discussions on social media. Many people are proudly asserting whose side they are on, and have decided that social media will be judge, jury and executioner.

The incident that took place last week became public after Hitesha posted a video on Instagram with a bleeding cut on the bridge of her nose, saying she was assaulted by Kamaraj, who delivered her Zomato order. Kamaraj, on the other hand, has alleged that it was Hitesha who verbally abused him and hit him with her slippers and that he was trying to push her away in self-defence when she hit herself on the nose, causing the cut from her ring.

Even as the investigation is ongoing, people have been quick to use the opportunity to bash feminists, citing Hitesha’s alleged guilt as the reason.  Many have been harping about Hitesha allegedly using the ‘woman’ card and others have been making statements like ‘not all men are bad’ and ‘not every woman is good’.

This is not new – it’s a trajectory of misogyny that has been all too common, be it the Indrani Mukerjea case or the Jolly murders in Kerala. These instances are used to justify society’s general unwillingness to believe women, sexist statements and humour, and arguments against affirmative action and laws for protecting women against social evils like domestic and sexual violence, and dowry.

But, people blaming feminists here makes no sense for several reasons. Hitesha never claimed to be a feminist in the video. Even if she did, how does the demand for equality and intersectional justice have anything to do with her allegedly lying, if at all? 

For the same reasons, the claims that Hitesha initially got away with an alleged lie because of ‘toxic feminism’ also fall apart. Feminism argues, among other things, that patriarchy is a lose-lose situation for everyone, including men, because it perpetuates toxic masculinity – meaning that a man who is not cisgender, heterosexual, brutish, and unemotional is not ‘manly’ enough. That said, patriarchy does provide more privilege and protection to men, especially if they are cis, straight, and upper caste. The argument that feminism is ‘toxic’ is rooted in fear that an egalitarian, feminist society will take away these unfair advantages that such men enjoy. 

Besides, feminism does not claim that all women are angelic. Quite the opposite, feminism asks for people to be judged on their conduct without gender being a factor. That is, women should not be held to a higher moral standard than men just because they are women. 

It is also worth noting that those saying ‘not all men’, are rather quick to shout ‘yes all women’ when an individual is found to have been a wrongdoer. If there is so much as a suspicion of wrongdoing committed by a woman, the argument quickly goes into ‘look what she did, how many more such terrible women are ruining men’s lives.’ On the other hand, men have found many champions (‘innocent until proven guilty’, ‘where’s the proof?’) even if they have been accused of a crime in the court of law. These are markers of a society deeply entrenched in patriarchy and misogyny.

The conversation in this case, rather, should be about entitlement, class divide and the prejudice it perpetuates. When an incident such as this happens, we are usually quick to believe the Savarna, upper class narrative, because those who are disadvantaged are often painted as uncouth, dishonest and untrustworthy. 

In this case, the alleged entitlement on the part of the customer is not new, especially when we consider the gig economy — where it may be delivery executives of food delivery platforms such as Zomato and Swiggy, or ride hailing platforms such as Uber and Ola. 

Remember, the altercation started — and this has not been disputed by either party — because Hitesha objected to her food being delivered late.

Gig economy workers earn per task and are not entitled to a fixed salary or any benefits that salaried employees receive. Combine this with rising fuel prices eating into wages and long hours on the road to meet their targets and earn enough — they aren’t left with much. [Important to note that Zomato recently adjusted its remuneration for delivery executives upwards to account for the increase in fuel costs]. 

The gig economy largely came into prominence after the 2008 recession as a way for people to make money with the resources they had on hand. Marketed as independent contractors and not employees tied to any company, they were told they would have the freedom to choose how long they wanted to work and how much to make. Due to this, they have been largely unregulated. This, to some extent, is what the Code on Social Security seeks to address. 

By Zomato CEO, Deepinder Goyal’s own admission, delivery executives travel 100-200 km a day for food deliveries, and as summer approaches, they will be doing so in the harsh heat as well. They have been working in the middle of a very-much-still-here pandemic, while privileged people are only returning to office when convenient. 

For the risk they undertake on a daily basis to make a living wage, customers often forget that the person they are interacting with is also an individual with their own agency. It’s a problem that the privileged have always had with the service industries, treating them as ‘less than', as they have less social capital. 

According to Kamaraj’s version of events, Hitesha even called him a ‘slave’ at one point, and asked, ‘What can you do?’ It’s symptomatic of a larger problem — one where we conveniently tend to forget the power dynamic, and that Hitesha, a beauty influencer, has more social capital than the delivery executive Kamaraj does. 

Have there been untoward incidents previously with gig economy workers? Yes. Will there be more? Most likely, as is the case with any profession. Intersectional feminism certainly recognises the class-based power dynamic in such situations and acknowledges that gender is only one of the many identities of a person. It would be wrong to assume that feminists will automatically support Hitesha only because she is a woman. Even if you are the kind who stays away from labels, in this case, and all others, woman-bashing is hardly a solution.

Views expressed are the authors' own.

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