Tanishq forced to withdraw ad showing interfaith marriage; How deep is India’s Hindu-Muslim divide?

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Indian Communalism has now taken over the Titan Group’s jewelry brand- Tanishq.

 Tanishq recently launched a new television advertisement for its recent campaign “Ekatvam”. The TV ad had the storyline of preparation of a Hindu baby shower by a Muslim family for their Hindu daughter in law. The advertisement aimed at doing away with the religious disparities, and keeping humility and humanity at the top. The video on YouTube was described as “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, cultures.”

The ad directly hit one of the most sensitive nerves of Indian society: Hindu-Muslim. It received mixed reactions and responses from the people across the nation. If it received immense support for the initiative, it also received several hate comments. One faction of viewers thought that the advertisement was a perfect example of the religious harmony prevalent in the country whereas another faction thought that it is promoting unethical messages such as “Love Jihad”. 

The chiders formed a hashtag named “Boycott Tanishq” which got trending on Twitter real soon. They claimed that the ad was totally unrealistic and did not show the reality of interfaith marriages. Soon, the brand took down the advertisement. #BoycottTanishq put immense pressure on Tanishq to respond to the outrage and mass criticism. Tanishq also said that it is “deeply saddened” with the rise of inadvertent emotions. After withdrawing the video, the firm claimed that it had done so to safeguard the well-being of its employees, store staff, partners, and all other people whose sentiments have been hurt.

According to the company, the motive behind the campaign was not to portray an unrealistic picture of interfaith marriages but to celebrate and normalize the idea of people from different communities, families, and walks of life coming together during these hard times. However, the video attracted opinions and reactions which were extremely contrasting to its initial objective.

A lot of people also stood in Tanishq’s favor saying that the film promoted nothing but unity and solidarity. On this, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “If Hindu-Muslim “ekatvam” irks them so much, why don’t they boycott the longest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in the world — India?”. Aniruddha Guha, a popular screenwriter, also expressed her views by saying that we live in a time when a film is forced to be taken down just because it promotes communal harmony and togetherness. Adding a little sarcastic tone to the comment she said that the virus is not the deadliest evil we have in India right now, but the parochial thought process. 

What was the storyline and what triggered people?

The ad started with an atmosphere of joy and celebration with several people all dressed up in the clothes aligned with their religion. The note of celebration was the baby shower of a Hindu woman married into the family of Muslims. Her in-laws were trying to replicate the customs and traditions of a baby shower in a way it would have been celebrated had she been married into a family from her own religion (Hindus). The film concludes the message of solidarity at the ends with the pregnant woman asking her mother-in-law (who was a Muslim) “yeh rasam toh aapke ghar pe hoti bhi nahin hain na? (these rituals are not celebrated in your household, isn’t it?) to which the older woman replies “par beti ko khush rakhne ki rasam toh har ghar pe hoti hai na?” (but there is a ritual to keep daughters jolly are present at every house).

The twist here is not the representation of a sweet and caring mother-in-law but a non-parochial portrayal of a compassionate “Muslim” mother-in-law, which triggered the religious emotions of a wide variety of viewers. It took only a few hours, for this ad to be listed as trending and attracting extremist views from both, the lovers and haters. The company fell prey to extensive trolling because of which it had to roll back the beautiful video.

Has this happened before with somebody else too?

We are not seeing Social media trolling of brands, their campaigns, or their products for the very first time. Similarly, the issue of apologies or reverting to their suppression is also quite common.

In this case, Tanishq had succumbed to the growing outrage and took a step back by taking the video down. But it was still different. The topic, the sentiment, the hate, or the context. This time, the country-wide debate was not about something peculiar but a very common issue of communalism in a country which is striving to become more and more secular with every passing day. The consonance highlighted not the fragility of the film or branding but the depth to which the termite of communalism is spread.

All-day on Monday, #BoycottTanishq was trending with people demanding condemnation and rectification for promoting “Love Jihad”, which is a term used to refer to an alleged campaign run by the Muslim community to convert Hindu girls on the pretext of marriage or love. What the ad depicted then was rallied as dangerous misrepresentation.

Taking part in the discussion, Kangana Ranaut, a famous Bollywood celebrity, tweeted: “The concept wasn’t as much a problem as the execution was, the fearful Hindu girl apologetically expressing her gratitude to her in-laws for the acceptance of her faith, Isn’t she the woman of the house? Why is she at their mercy? Why so meek and timid in her own house? Shameful”. Politician Geetha Kothapalli also took to twitter by questioning why only a Hindu girl is married to a Muslim man and why can it not be the other way round.

The pretext of these tweets is drawn from the rhetoric with ‘love jihad’. A derogatory term as per which the bride (or any other female per se) is extremely envisaged or undermined as well as infantilized, making the only possibility of the shot of a happily married couple possible only by the means of coercion. This has made the acceptance of the film context unimaginable for the people.

The incident also reflects the reality of how secular our country is actually. Secularism and communal respect look like long lost concepts that are not shared but enforced, that too not always.

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