An Indian government advertisement, featuring actor Akshay Kumar, promoting safer cars with six airbags is facing flak on Twitter with criticism that it appears to promote dowry. The ad, tweeted by Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, shows Kumar scolding a father for sending away his newly-wed daughter in a car that has just two airbags.
While a section of Twitter users praised its attempt to promote road safety, others felt it encouraged dowry by hinting that the car was given by the bride’s father.
Akshay Kumar Road Safety ad: How it perpetuates problematic ideas on dowry
Billed as a “commitment to bring down road accidents in India with awareness & public participation,” the advertisement saw Kumar dressed as a policeman who is scorning at a bride’s bidaai (farewell) ceremony. He intervenes the tearing father to say that the newly-wed couple would be a lot safer in a car with six airbags instead of just two.
The scene cuts to the couple walking out of the car, and the arrival of a new car. The groom is seen counting the number of airbags in the new car to six. “You should smile now that your daughter is safe,” Kumar tells the bride’s father, after the car has been changed. However, there are no signs of the groom’s parents in the entire advertisement, or any explicit implication that the car was not a “gift” from the bride’s parents – in other words “dowry.” Yet it remains problematic and tone-deaf in its execution.
The practice of paying and accepting dowry, a centuries-old tradition in South Asian households has been illegal since 1961 and is a punishable offence in India. But the practice is often veiled as a gift that the bride’s family offers in the form of cash, cars, clothes and jewellery to the groom’s family. This system continues to thrive leaving hundreds of women vulnerable to domestic violence and even death.
The ad comes in the wake of the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, which was released on 29 August. It showed 6,753 women losing their lives to dowry-related harassment in 2021. The same set of data, for 2020, revealed that 19 Indian women died due to dowry harassment every single day.
Earlier this year in August, the country woke up to the horrific news of Mandeep Kaur’s death by suicide in New York following years of domestic abuse. Soon after, a clip of her last video before her death, in which she narrated her ordeal, went viral on social media. Kaur died by suicide on 3 August after alleged physical and mental torture at the hands of her husband for close to eight years. Torture for not having a son, demands of dowry – Mandeep’s family later recounted the horror that her marriage was. This is one of the many cases where women had to suffer abuse over demands of dowry.
Why is responsible advertising the need of hour?
In the age, where advertisers have great power to influence people, it is important to adopt best advertising practices. One must not sell regressive ideas, no matter how clever the advertisement is. Advertising is indeed a burgeoning industry, but this utter lack of accountability hinders many to do the right thing.
Women, have been typically portrayed as sex symbols or through unrealistic prism of perfection (mom who nurtures, wife who cooks), a trend that continued well into the 90s, need better representation on reel, and with fresh content. Brands have a responsibility to help shift our social norms and make a positive contribution to driving gender equality.
It is not funny to draw parallels between road safety and bidaai. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Let’s do better, change the POV. Here’s a pitch: How about a young professional who’s looking to buy her life’s first car ends up researching on the importance of six airbag car and just goes to get one?
It’s time we rethink and reset our media strategies to reflect on the impact we may leave behind.