By Manavi Nag
Recently, an advert from jewellery brand Tanishq depicted an interfaith marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man. The advert featured the inter-faith household celebrating a baby shower with Hindu customs. However, the seemingly harmless advertisement was met with extreme backlash that resulted in Tanishq taking it down and issuing a statement. A Tanishq showroom in Gujarat also posted an apology note after people allegedly stormed into the store, demanding one. But what was the problem with the ad and was this a one-off event?
People believed the advert was that it was an interfaith marriage and supposedly normalised “love-jihad,” which is a theory that alleges that Hindu women are forced into converting to Islam through marriage. This theory can be easily dispelled through many real-life examples and proves invalid. The advert was supposed to be an emblem of harmony and a culmination of faiths through marriage, but it was turned into a political boycott under the facade of nationalism and preserving Hindu ideals.
Nationalism and inter-faith marriage can co-exist harmoniously but the fact that an interfaith marriage is as a threat to an entire nation and religion is a reflection of the flimsy grounds on which something can be considered anti-national.
The fact alone that this ad was considered a threat and offensive towards Hindu culture, is a sign of the disturbing times we live in, wherein a progressive and beautiful ad used to market jewellery is condemned and taken down due to mass trolling and hate.
This isn’t an anomaly of an event. A number of adverts have been boycotted because they are supposedly anti-national.
In 2015, during the Cricket world cup, an advert by Fevikwik (owned by Pidilite) was aired. The advertisement showed two soldiers, one Indian and one Pakistani at the Wagah Border. The ad showed the two soldiers trying to out-march one another when the Indian soldier realises that the Pakistani soldier’s shoe sole has come out. The Indian soldier fixed it for the Pakistani soldier and the text “Todo Nahi Jodo” (Don’t break, join) flashed on the screen. This advert was a ray of fresh air during the monotonous adverts, that usually air during Cricket World Cups. However, it was promptly classified as anti-national by the BJP Party and its supporters. MP Chintamani Malviya said the advert was an insult to Indian soldiers and was anti-national. India and Pakistan have been conflicting countries for years, rooting back to the Partition. He even wanted to take criminal action against the visionaries of the advert like the director, script-writer and company, for treason.
Once again, this advert was supposed to emulate a message of peace and harmony between two traditionally conflicting countries. It was trying to send across a message saying that when bonded together, we are stronger than ever, rather than if we’re broken apart. However, this advert like, Tanishq’s, was deemed anti-national because it showed Muslim and Hindu soldiers being polite and helpful toward one another. Continuously it is observed that under the illusion of nationalism and preserving Indian ideals, harmless ads that are progressive and envision peace and harmony are subject to controversy and even treason.
In addition to this, it is not only the ads that spark debates about nationalism, but also the people featured in them. Deepika Padukone, one of Bollywood’s most well-known actresses’ visited Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) standing in solidarity with the students, in the midst of violent protests that had broken out, this January. Not many Bollywood icons are as vocal and public about their political stance as Deepika was. Although, Padokone’s actions outraged many and prompted boycotts. Quickly, she was labelled anti-national and was an example of what many Bollywood stars feared. Ads that she was featured in started to slowly disappear from television according to sources. Brands even started to disassociate from her and while some channels restricted the number of ads that featured her, some stopped showing the ads as a whole until the situation had calmed down in fear of backlash, being labelled anti-national and losing key audiences. One of the brands also asked to stop casting ads that featured her wholly for the next two weeks.
Social media was outraged with Deepika’s actions and even called to boycott her upcoming release at the time Chhapaak. Members of the BJP Party publicly called to boycott the movie as a result of Deepika’s actions as she was “anti-national.” Provided that Deepika Padukone is also a highly successful woman not only in Bollywood but also Hollywood, her gender and level of success was definitely a contributing factor to the amount of hate and backlash she received. However once again, we see the theme of people using the shield of nationalism as a way to cause harm and spread backwards sentiments. In addition to this, instances like these should make us question the extent to which people will go to harm others with the protection and cover of nationalism as an excuse.
There is an exhaustive list of instances in which adverts have been censored, limited or completely taken down because they flaunted anti-national ideals. But when did an inter-faith marriage become anti-national? When did an Indian soldier helping a Pakistani soldier become anti-national and when did standing in solidarity to those fighting violence become a valid reason for ads and movie boycotts? Today, anything can be deemed anti-national by a large population of people, but what really is anti-national and when did things like peace-promoting ads and actions become that? Nationalism is no longer a valid concept but rather an excuse, facade and shield that many people use as a way to bring down forward and progressive steps in the right direction. The censorship and deletion of ads in the name of nationalism should make us question a lot about the political climate we live in.