OPINION: Bigger fishes to fry, India, than getting irked by ad celebrating interfaith relationship

OPINION: Bigger fishes to fry, India, than getting irked by ad celebrating interfaith relationship - We The World
Image courtesy of @natkhat via Twitter

Mazhab nahi sikhata, aapas mein bair rakhna (Religion doesn’t teach harboring hatred among selves); Hindi hai hum, watan hai, Hindustan humara…(We’re Indians, and Our nation is India)

Isn’t this what India is all about? Unity in diversity? We are supposed to take pride in the culturally-diverse nation we are. And yet, here we are, in 2020, being offended by an advertisement that shows two beautiful cultures and religions.

A 43-second advertisement by India’s leading Jewellery brand Tanishq has erupted social media furor eventually prompting the makers to pull down the advertisement.

The Youtube description of the advertisement read: “She is married into a family that loves her like their own child. Only for her, they go out of their way to celebrate an occasion that they usually don’t. A beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions, and cultures.”

But people, especially the right-wing launched a hate-campaign on social media, propelling #BoycottTanishq on the top of Twitters Trending hours after it came live.

Seeing the upsurge of hate comments and trolls, likes and comments were disables in the ad posted on Facebook and YouTube. But later the video was completely removed.

But the beautiful advert was a celebration of oneness. Just the way love should be — knowing no boundaries, religions, or cultures.

And yet, the advertisement began to garner massive hate and trolling campaign on different media platforms. It doesn’t come as a surprise that there are a few prominent figures among these bigots. 

Opponents of the advertisement say it promotes ‘Love-Jihad’ – a radical Hindu term used to attack Muslim men for converting Hindu women by the mean of marriage.

“If Hindu-Muslim ‘ekatvam’ irks them so much, why don’t they boycott the longest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity – India?” Opposition Congress party MP Mr. Shashi Tharoor wrote on Twitter.

Hind-Muslim marriage is a taboo in India and is often looked down upon, but attaching extreme interpretations, like ‘love-Jihad’ comes of late.

In India, arranged marriage is still the dominant form with inter-cast marriage occupying only 5% prevalence, even lesser is interfaith marriage, as per the India Human Development Survey.

India’s culture often holds a woman accountable for traditions, notions of ‘purity’ familial honor and if she dares cross the boundary she is seen as besmearing the family’s traditions and culture.

The BBC noted, India’s chronic phobia of interfaith and inter-caste relationships has been increasing in the backdrop of a Hindu nationalist government, a fact opposition has been upholding in parliamentary debates and addresses.

It is interesting to see, among the ones who have criticized the advertisement on Twitter is Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut, who has questioned the execution of the ‘fearful Hindu girl in the advert.

Why the Hindu woman was ‘fearful’ expressing her gratitude ‘apologetically’ to her in-laws, she asked on Twitter.

“Isn’t she the woman of the house? Why is she at their mercy? Why so meek and timid in her own house? Shameful,” Ranaut wrote on Twitter.

Kangana is largely a supporter of Narendra Modi and is seen as a critical dissent of systematic patriarchy in the Bollywood film Industry.

But it doesn’t end here. Apparently, the Brand Manager was issued death threats and there were demands for him to be fired. The shares of the company also dropped by 2.5% the next day. 

The brand had to eventually take down the ad and issue an apology. Tanishq said, referring to the advertisement of their ‘Ekatvam’ (Hindi for united) jewelry collection, the idea was to ‘celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life.’

The company said since the film has ‘stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective,’ they’re withdrawing it for the sake of hurt sentiments and the well being of their staff.

We are living in the 21st century. This is 2020 for crying out loud!

And all we care about is that an ad depicting love between two religions actually promotes ‘Love Jihad,’ an Islamophobic conspiracy theory insinuating that Muslim men lure non-Muslim women into conversion under the pretense of love.  

According to the 2011 Census, Hindus constitute around 80% of the population; Muslims contribute to around 14.2% while Christians and Sikhs constitute about 2% each.

Despite this religious diversity and multi-ethnicity, there has been a growing hatred and intolerance on the basis of religions. 

Why do we see any religion other than ours as a threat to our beliefs and culture? As a kid, back in the day living in Mumbai, all I knew and saw and came to believe in was communal harmony.

Where, people from different walks of life came together in celebration, irrespective of the festival, occasion, or religion. But that’s just a memory now. Secular India is now a notion of the past. 

This growing hatred towards other religions stems from the act of various fringe groups with extremist views that carry out attacks on anyone not subscribing to their views and beliefs.

Be it by way of the boycott culture, mob lynching, or honor killings.  

Call me anti-national all you like for pointing this out but these have seen an increase post-2014. Time and again there have been leaders in influential positions issue controversial statements and threats under the pretext of protecting their faith.

There have been prominent personalities whose loyalty to the nation has been questioned. What was their crime? They belonged to a community that is looked upon with fear and hatred.

How often have we heard the phrase “Go back to Pakistan!” or “Go back to where you came from!” only because we belong to a certain community? The instances are just too many. And the government has done nothing but stay silent.  

At a time when we should be concerned about the pandemic, the swooping GDP, growing unemployment, and farmer suicides, we are demanding a boycott of a brand that dared to challenge the patriarchy and bigotry in our system and depict the harmonious coexistence of two different communities.

Well done  India! You have again proved that secular India is a myth! 

Are we so fickle-minded to be offended by a harmless ad? No religious community, be it the majority or a minority has a right to dictate terms on what the norms should be.

India is a secular country and each of us has the right to live the way we want and choose to follow a religion we wish to follow as long as we do not break any laws.

Every citizen of this country has the right to choose the person we wish to marry. Stop crying out Love Jihad every time you see an interfaith marriage.

We really need to calm down and stop getting offended at the drop of a hat and focus our energy and attention on more graver concerns.

Note: Opinion pieces, as the term suggests, on We The World is a way of upholding diversity of opinions and thoughts. Posts published in this section are the author’s own views.

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