Updated Aug 28, 2017 12:01pm

The good, the bad and the ugly sides of Sanam Jung's Maasi No 1 competition

This week, Sanam Jung's morning show Jago Pakistan Jago held a Maasi No. 1 competition.

Yep, you read that right. Over the course of three days, the show hosted a competition pitting four teams of two people each against each other. Each team comprised of a celebrity employer (aka Baji) and household help hired by that celebrity, and the teams were supposed to prove that their respective household help was 'Maasi No.1.'

The participants included Sadia Imam and her help Nusrat; Saima Azhar and her help Irum; Javeria Saud with her help Fiza and Fiza Ali with her help Sumbreen.

Our immediate reaction to news of this show was "that's so inappropriate." However, we can't deny that the mistreatment of household staff and associated offenses like child labour are huge issues in Pakistan that don't get discussed enough.

Also read: Restaurant owners in Pakistan speak up about neglecting domestic staff at dinner

Might it be possible that Sanam Jung's show actually promoted progressive messages about the issues at hand?

We watched the show closely to decipher what worked -- and what didn't.

THE GOOD


1) Sanam Jung repeatedly reinforced the message that household help should be treated with dignity and respect

Let's face it -- in our current social landscape we tend to place great value on class and wealth, leading to the marginalisation and mistreatment of those who work menial or labour-intensive jobs. It's no secret that child labour is a huge problem even in urban centers, or that families routinely mistreat their domestic staff.

Sanam Jung's repeated reminders to treat household help with respect were welcome. When a viewer called and said "Saima ki maasi best hai", Sanam responded saying "Irum naam hai inka," which served as a reminder that household staff are individuals, not property, and they should be addressed with respect.

We just hope that her message doesn't fall on deaf ears.

2) The celebrity 'bajis' tried to promote this message too

Even though several of these moments came off as being slightly self-promotional, the celebrity 'bajis' echoed Sanam's sentiments. Sadia Imam talked about how she treats her domestic staff just like family, saying at one point: "Everyone lives like family in our home. We all eat on the same dining table. [Nusrat] eats the same food as me on my dining table."

It's good that Sadia Imam shared her example on national television, encouraging others to reconsider the conditions in which their domestic staff has their meals.

In the makeup challenge, the bajis were using their own high-end makeup products on their staff, challenging the mindset that household help only 'deserve' cast-offs.

3) Even though there was only one winner, everyone was to walk away with gifts

Host Sanam Jung made it clear on several occasions that although only one 'team' would be declared the grand winner (with a prize of Rs50,000), everyone who participated would receive gift hampers.

4) The participants tried to challenge negative stereotypes associated with domestic staff

One judge countered the misconception that domestic staff is incorrigibly unreliable or prone to be AWOL with an example of her maid who was a loyal employee for 21 years. "She raised all my kids because I was a working woman since the start. She died last year and my entire family, my brothers and sisters included, mourned her death. I had a beautiful relationship with Surriya...She cried with me when my mother died."

THE BAD


1) At times the show fell back into an 'Us vs Them' mode of address

The show constantly othered the domestic staff, as if they were subhumans or did not have the benefit of the polished upbringing of their better-off Bajis.

For instance, the same judge, who was singing the praises of Surraiya (above), says that Surraiya was fat and dark-skinned but had a lovely voice, so people assumed that her daughter had picked up the phone. Typically, good manners dictate that we don't highlight or point out someone's flaws (even if they only exist in our narrow perception of what consititutes beauty). And that courtesy needs to be extended to our domestic staff. They're people too.

Similarly, during a cooking competition, instead of discussing the general need for good hygiene in the kitchen, there was a whole conversation between judges Akif Ilyas and Naheed in which they pointedly talk about how maids need to be clean when handling food.

Also, the staff was repeatedly referred to as 'aap ki maasi' in their presence, which is the equivalent of ignoring them or suggesting they're invisible or don't matter in the context of a conversation between 'Bajis'.

2) Some comments subtly belittled the household staff or questioned their intelligence

The domestic staff was asked demeaning questions like 'When does your Baji get mad at you?" or "You haven't ever burnt clothes, have you?" The questions inherently assume that incompetence is inevitable when it comes to domestic staff. On the flip side, would Sanam Jung ever be asked 'Do you ever say politically incorrect things on live TV?' or 'Does your producer berate you when you mess up on live TV?'

3) Sanam Jung repeatedly made comments that reinforced common notions that domestic staff is not entitled to basic rights

Throughout the show, there were problematic exchanges that reinforce the common perspective that house help shouldn't expect good treatment and that basic necessities like food and conveyance are more like luxuries for them.

When Sadia Imam revealed that meals are cooked specifically for her domestic staff because she's usually on a diet, Jung remarked to her help that "You're really enjoying yourself in that house." When Saima Azhar bragged that she sends a Careem to pick up her maid when the latter is sick, Jung remarks, "Oh wow, an airconditioned car is sent to pick you up! You've really spoiled her." Saima Azhar insists, "No, you have to take care of them." Jung replies, "You have to take care of them; otherwise, they run away."

THE UGLY


1) The 'maasi dance' was cringeworthy, and while we're at it so was the competition's title

While it is subject to debate, we thought the use of the word 'Maasi' was inappropriate.

Although Sanam Jung defends her use of the word 'Maasi', saying that in Punjabi or Sindhi, it's a term of endearment and what you call your aunt (mom's sister), we feel uncomfortable with its usage because of the derogatory connotation it has acquired in society over the years.

They're real people, earning their living through hard work. The least we can do is address them with respect and by their name.

Coupled with the dance that made use of mops, wipes and brooms as props, the term Maasi #1 acquires a sense of hilarity, which only goes to show that its usage should have been reconsidered.

With cringe-worthy lines like "Shishay ki tarah saaf hai iska dil", let us warn you that this awful jingle will get stuck in your head like a bad Katy Perry song, only it's much, much worse.

2) Dressing the household help up as brides reinforced the problematic idea that only marriage and good looks can lead to happiness

The challenge in the second segment involved the bajis dressing up their help as brides. This was problematic on several levels. First, the relevance of looking good to their profession is unclear; it's almost as if the show is buying into the notion that there's something wrong with 'looking like a Maasi' and that to make them happy, we have to deliver them from their uncomely appearance.

Second, the segment involves the use of expensive makeup, heavy joras and lots of jewellery to transform the help into brides, which pushes the idea that exorbitant amounts of money have to be spent in order to look good. This is simply not true, and it's an unfair message being pushed to women coming from lower socioeconomic groups.

3) Everyone forgetting the household staff's names

The domestic staff had been introduced by name in the very beginning of the show, but they kept getting referred to as 'maasi' or 'naukar'. Once names had been exchanged, they should have been used.

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