Cyber-bullying has yet again forced a major Indian brand to withdraw an advert featuring a story of communal harmony among Hindus and Muslims.
Jeweller Tanishq met with an online backlash for running an advert showcasing an inter-faith marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man. The commercial featured a Muslim family celebrating the baby shower of their Hindu daughter-in-law, but has now been withdrawn, a spokesperson for the company told The Independent.
The YouTube description of the commercial 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.”
Critics, however, accused the company of promoting “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory coined by Hindu right-wing fringe groups who believe Muslim men try to woo Hindu women and marry them in order to convert them to Islam.
The advertisement received massive backlash from people accusing it of being anti-Hindu, and the sheer volume of trolling targeting the company saw #BoycottTanishq sit as one of the top trends on Indian Twitter throughout the entire of Monday. Employees and directors of the company were also among those targeted.
Please @TanishqJewelry also show an ad where a muslim woman celebrates eid with her hindu in-laws.
Also hire few dozen exxtra security guards around your showrooms and offices because that offense generally tends to become deadly. #BoycottTanishq https://t.co/ImACJ3mFEs
— Maddy (@jai_in_) October 12, 2020
Speaking to The Independent, activist Saket Gokhale describes the concept of “love jihad” as an extension of the rising Islamophobia in Indian society. “If you look at the social media accounts of those outraging [against Tanishq], they are always connected to the BJP (the ruling party of India) in some way or the other.”
He said: “With every subsequent boycott campaign they keep pushing the Islamophobic agenda. It started with people boycotting the brands that (Bollywood) actor Aamir Khan endorses, after his wife’s comment about feeling unsafe in India, followed by a campaign against any restaurant offering halaal food, to any mention of Hindu-Muslim unity.”
Mr Gokhale called the withdrawal of the advert “disappointing and unfortunate”. He said: “The ad wasn’t making any political statement. There has to be a reason for taking something back, it can’t just be trolling.”
A spokesperson for Tanishq said: “The idea behind the ‘Ekatvam’ campaign is to celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life, local communities and families during these challenging times and celebrate the beauty of oneness. This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective.
“We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well being of our employees, partners and store staff.”
Faced with the threat of a backlash from right-wing trolls, some Indian brands have chosen to take a stand in the past. In an incident involving Zomato, the food ordering app, a right-wing student activist claimed to have cancelled his order because the delivery executive was Muslim and demanded a Hindu delivery agent. Zomato reacted to the person’s tweet saying: “Food doesn’t have a religion, it is a religion”.
We are proud of the idea of India – and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values. 🇮🇳 https://t.co/cgSIW2ow9B
— Deepinder Goyal (@deepigoyal) July 31, 2019
Other films and adverts have faced heat for showcasing inter-faith marriage or communal harmony in the past, but activists say it is something that was never as vilified in India as it is now. Last year, a detergent brand Surf Excel came up with an ad featuring two Hindu and Muslim children, with the girl protecting the boy from stains of Holi colours during the festival.
The ad was also perceived as being anti-Hindu by some, and a deluge of tweets asking for a boycott of the brand followed. And in the last few months, Hindu right-wing sympathisers on Twitter and other social media sites have demanded bans on multiple companies including Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal for similar reasons.