A bridal wear brand’s recent kanyadaan ad with Alia Bhatt has gone viral, for all the right or wrong reasons – depends on which side of the debate you are on. The one minute 41 seconds film bluntly questions the regressive Hindu practice of ‘giving away’ women during their wedding that many believe forms an integral part of holy matrimony. How accurate really is that claim though?
Bypassing that important, and oft conveniently ignored, question, critics of the ad are hurling abuse at the Manyavar brand and Bhatt for daring to confront a patriarchal custom that should have been declared obsolete a long time ago. There are sharp allegations online, on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter particularly, that the film is an affront to the religion it represents.
Watch the advertisement here:
What values does a religious custom stand for if it demands to be upheld at the cost of women’s dignity? Why is there tolerance to blatant objectification of daughters and sisters, as in kanyadaan rituals, but intolerance to valid arguments challenging its relevance? In the choice between reformative alterations to backward social customs and sexism backed by religion, why do so many people go for the latter?
Kanyadaan Ad With Alia Bhatt: Why Brands Must Keep Pushing Against Inequality
A lot of the noise is empty of any reasonable defence of the practice of kanyadaan beyond that it is supposedly a part of India’s “real” culture. But is it really? In an interview with SheThePeople earlier this year, Hindu priestesses at the forefront of solemnising weddings here said kanyadaan was never a part of the rituals as mentioned in the ancient Rigveda, taken to form the foundation of religious practices in Hinduism.
Rohini Dharmapal, a second-generation priestess, said the increasing popularity of Rigvedic marriages today in the age of gender equality isn’t a style statement. “It is about bringing a paradigm shift. The bride and groom, for instance, have equal participation in the rituals.” Dr Bramaramba Maheshwari added kanya is not daan but pradhan (chief).
But challenging even the grimmest bits of religion seems to touch a raw nerve every time.
Those up-to-date with their advertorial knowledge should have known nothing better than to expect such backlash, as is unfolding, when the wedding wear brand launched their #KanyaMaan ad campaign (a play on the word ‘kanyadaan‘). Because the ad world of late is a routine target of religious fanaticism that has even resulted in rollbacks from some of the most powerful brands in the country. Tanishq came under fire twice, in quick succession last year, for ads that showed an interfaith marriage and anti-cracker message respectively.
Ads hold major soft power in shaping public ideology and nudging empowerment. So despite all pushback and threat of falling into disfavour, brands must continue standing in solidarity with women. They will be recognised well as champions that did not back down in the face of hatred when true equality finally dawns.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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