Jewellery brand Tanishq is facing severe backlash online after putting out an advertisement featuring a heartwarming Hindu-Muslim family celebrating a ritual related to a pregnant woman. The troll army is out in full force, calling for the brand’s boycott with the hashtag #BoycottTanishq. Why? Because apparently, showing an interfaith couple celebrating a baby shower is promoting ‘love jihad.’ For a country that prides itself on being one of the most culturally diverse, historically harmonious, and communally secular, does outrage over an ad endorsing peace suit the tone of India’s identity? Have we become so intolerant or bigoted so as to receive an advertisement about cross-cultural love with hostility?

The ad released October 9 shows a Muslim family organising a baby shower (goad bharai) for their Hindu daughter-in-law who is pregnant. Describing the ad as “a beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions, cultures”, Tanishq showcases this spirit: “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.”

Those criticising the ad said it endorses “love jihad”, which is known in right-wing circles as a method used by the Muslim community to induct Hindu women into their religion through means of marriage or love. If anything, the ad shows the Hindu woman being able to subscribe to her faith even after marriage. Does it not promote the power of union through love? Is it not a message that despite Hindu-Muslim riots, violence, slurs, there is scope for communities to respectfully co-exist?

Amid the backlash, to reiterate the message of communal harmony in their ad, Tanishq on October 12 tweeted, “One as a Nation. One as Humanity.’ That is what ‘Ekatvam’ stands for.”

Other Tata Products Also Face Backlash

Following the ad’s release, Titan and Tata, the parent companies behind Tanishq, also got stuck in the controversy. In the wake of this outcry, some have even called for a boycott of other Tata brands like Voltas and Starbucks. The brand has disabled comments on this particular Tanishq ad on YouTube.

Meanwhile, Bollywood actors who have advertised Tanishq jewellery previously – like Deepika Padukone – have also come under attack. Trolls didn’t spare Padukone and were quick to connect her recent summons by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) to the conversations.

This tone-deaf trolling of any and everything even remotely connected to the outrage, if it suits the agenda, is what hampers us in moving forward as a tolerant society.

There’s one issue of why this ad must really create so much controversy. And then it also raises question of social media led mob behaviour. Was it necessary to arbitrarily connect the two issues – of Tanishq and Padukone – just so the anger could be collated with larger force? Doesn’t repeatedly targeting a woman on no solid grounds indicate moral corruption? Are we today so blinkered by hyper-nationalist agendas that we have forgotten what it was to be peaceful?

Notable Personalities React To Ad

Some notable people and politicians too have supported the boycott trend against Tanishq, weighing in on the argument of having the ad pulled down. Author Sanjay Dixit wrote, “Tanishq jewellery’s ‘Ekatvam’ series’ ad projects a fictional ‘interfaith’ union, a Muslim family, a Hindu daughter-in-law being allowed to do a Hindu ritual.” Meanwhile, Kothapalli Geetha, BJP politician and former Member of the Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh, noted that the ad was “highly objectionable”.

Writer Shobhaa De meanwhile extended solidarity with the brand’s message, saying on Twitter:

Such Ads Are Made Because People Like To Hear About Them

This is not the first instance of an ad being caught in the centre of a communal storm. In 2019, Surf Excel had faced similar criticism for a Holi ad showing Hindu-Muslim harmony between kids. The accusations on this Unilever brand had been similar, with critics calling for a boycott citing “love jihad”.

Other brands that have promoted advertising based on themes of Hindu-Muslim community feeling are Sony’s Kaun Banega Crorepati, Google, and Coca Cola. And the fact that this theme is used liberally in ads is for the precise reason that it still holds favour with the audiences.

Such ads exist because they are popular, because people want to hear about them. They also exist because we need brands to showcase that they are indeed secular. And so there are still people out there living in the hope that communal furies and fears would subside; that the idea of religious co-existence should be but natural; that beyond the world of trolls and hate speech, goodness might still prevail.

After being trolled for the ad throughout the day, Tanishq finally decided to pull it down. But does it set the right precedent? Won’t Tanishq’s move to pull down the ad only give more power to trolls on social media, who now know that if they create enough noise, they can have their way? Clearly being praised by one section of social media for delivering a message of harmony and love was not enough. The pressure and hatred got to Tanishq, and that sums up how social media works in our country today.

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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