Memos from Asia

Twitter Storm in India over a Jewelry Brand’s Ad about Religious Harmony

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On October 9, Tanishq, a leading jewelry brand in India, released its new ad under the Ekatvam campaign. The campaign, which translates to oneness, is a celebration of India’s unity in diversity, but the short video created a social media storm instead of getting the love reactions that the brand was expecting.

What the ad contained?

The video showed a pregnant woman, dressed in a traditional Hindu outfit, being accompanied by her mother-in-law, dressed in clothes often worn by Muslim women, to the surprise Hindu baby shower being arranged by the families. People, from both religions, are seen working on arrangements and waiting for the pregnant woman. The woman asks her mother-in-law that the ritual isn’t even celebrated in their house to which she replies, “but the ritual of keeping daughters happy is celebrated in all homes”.

The Love Jihad controversy

The effort from the brand’s marketing team didn’t go well with a lot of Twitter users. The message of Hindu-Muslim unity was sidelined and the Love Jihad conspiracy theory took the center stage.

Love Jihad is a conspiracy theory that many rightwing Hindus have accused Muslim men of being a part of. According to its believers, Muslim men fake being in love with Hindu women to marry and force them to accept Islam. The theory has no solid proofs and in court, India’s National Investigative Agency (NIA) after investigations didn’t find anything that supported claims of a large conspiracy. (Hindustan Times)

India’s right-wing Twitter users who believe in the conspiracy theory were not happy with the ad saying it promoted Love Jihad and asked for a boycott of the brand by trending hashtags. The outrage over such an ad and calls for boycotting brands aren’t new phenomena. After the right-wing Bharatiya Janta Party won the 2014 election and Narendra Modi became the prime minister, the trolling and boycott calls have gotten worse. BJP’s own IT cell has been found using fake news to troll opposition and its critics through organized trolling, on multiple occasions which relies on the right-wing users of Twitter. (Scroll)

The islamophobic conspiracy theory had many buyers and a lot of them raised questions like why the Hindu woman was in a Muslim household and not the opposite. The supporters of the ad said such questions just showed the misogyny and treatment of women like property by some people. The well-known opposition politician Shashi Tharoor called the opposers of the ad “bigots” and said that the oldest symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity was India so why they don’t boycott it as well.

Aftermath

Tanishq couldn’t stand the trolling and the threats of a boycott. The next day the jewelry brand withdrew the ad from its site and social media handles. Part of their statement read, “This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective. We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well being of our employees, partners, and store staff”. (mint)

The withdrawal wasn’t enough for some Hindu organizations. There was a false report of an attack on a Tanishq store in Gandhidham, Gujarat but it turned out that some people barged into the store, used abusive language, and wrote an apology on a board in the local language, Gujarati, on behalf of the store but no physical attack took place. (The Indian Express)

A similar incident of protestors demanding a display of apology for six months were outside the physical store of Tanishq was reported from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. (The New Indian Express)

The Home Minister, in an interview, said, “Such small incidents cannot break the social harmony of our country. I believe there shouldn’t be any form of over-activism”. (News18)

Considering the whole controversy was based on a conspiracy theory that has been disproven in court, such incidents raise huge questions about the religious divides in India today and the effects of social media on the ground. What are your thoughts on social media activism? Let us know in the comments below.

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