Tanishq ad mess shows India’s nationalists are at risk of mirroring their worst enemies

The most influential philosopher of the modern world, Friedrich Nietzsche, may have a message for the burgeoning mass of Indian nationalists.

Be careful who you choose as your enemy because that's who you become most like.”

Outrage over the Tanishq advertisement boldly underscores this. The stunning Hindu resurgence has been premised chiefly on a deep loathing and resistance of the rigidity, radicalism and intolerance of Abrahamic religionists, especially Islamists. Hindus have been vocal against mobs baying for Salman Rushdie’s blood over Satanic Verses, or mullahs issuing fatwa against Taslima Nasreen, or denying maintenance to 62-year-old Shah Bano, or terror killings over Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoons.

But while fighting that battle, is a social media-savvy section of Hindus beginning to mirror the very enemy these so resent?

The Tanishq advertisement is about a Muslim family trying to respect the traditions of the pregnant daughter-in-law. It enraged a big section of Hindus for two reasons.

First, our filmdom, ad industry and media are shy of showing the reverse situation, where a Hindu family is seen welcoming a Muslim daughter-in-law. Why? Are they afraid of backlash from orthodox Muslims?

When Sunny Deol put sindoor on a Muslim woman in Gadar or Mani Ratnam showed a Hindu man marrying a Muslim woman in Bombay, Muslims mobs hurled bombs, burnt vehicles, and even tried to sever a cop’s hand.

Or do Muslims have to be always shown as the large-hearted, accepting and generous when often the reality is the opposite? There are not many Muslim households that accept interfaith marriages without the partner being converted to Islam.

Second, and the more serious one, is that the ad comes after a flurry of incidents in which Hindu brides or male suitors have been tortured, raped or even killed by Muslims over interfaith relationships.

In 2018, 23-year-old Delhi man Ankit Saxena was lynched in daylight by his girlfriend Shehzadi’s relatives. Just last week, 20-year-old Delhi boy Rahul Rajput was beaten to death for the same reason.

In 2017, a Hindu woman in Jharkhand was gang-raped by her father-in-law and uncle-in-law before being killed and thrown into river Garna with her limbs tied for refusing to convert to Islam. This week, a Hindu woman married to a Muslim set herself on fire and died after alleged torture by her in-laws.

These are grave and there is a pattern. These also breed resentment and poisons the air.

But do they justify the rage over the Tanishq ad? What is the potential damage that such venting can lead to?

The ad does not show a regressive Muslim family. It is from all angles a loving family. Even if the ground reality of such interfaith marriages is many cases, this ad seeks to change that with a refreshing message. The public outrage only acts as a negative reinforcement for the effort and may discourage other creative persons to venture into that zone of amity.

Also, obsessive nit-picking and habitual baying for revenge will make it extremely difficult for those who want change in Islamic society to find a voice. A cornered community will shout down any appeal for reform. There must always be room to save face, to leave baggage in the past.

And lastly, this episode has been eminently bad for business. If disproportionate reactions and trigger-happy boycotts keep happening, it will scare away overseas investors and weaken Indian companies’ confidence. The Indian chapter of the International Advertising Association described the episode as “extremely unfortunate”.

The doxing of the Tanishq brand manager on social media was especially ugly, with the added angle that he turned out to be a Muslim.

Building a nation is not a video game. It is about reflection, not reflexes. Response, not reaction. Otherwise, you lose, without even each other’s shoulders to lean on.



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