Jewelry brand Tanishq withdrew an advertisement featuring an interfaith couple on October 13 due to backlash on social media.
The advertisement was for the jewelry line “Ekvatam” (translating to “unity” in Hindi), and depicts a Hindu bride being surprised with a baby shower by her Muslim in-laws.
The advertisement caused outrage among a right-wing audience, which claimed that the ad promoted “love jihad,” a right-wing theory purporting that Muslim men strive to convert Hindu women to Islam through marriage.
On Twitter, #BoycottTanishq became a trending hashtag, and the following day, the stock price of Titan — Tanishq’s parent company — dropped 2.58%.
After the advertisement was withdrawn on all Tanishq social media channels, Tanishq publicly stated that the advertisement was withdrawn due to the “divergent and severe reactions” it had received, which were “contrary to its objective.” The company also noted that the advertisement was withdrawn for the safety of its employees.
The day after the advertisement was withdrawn and the public statement issued, an apology note was put up in a company store in Gujarat. According to TV reports, the note — in which the company “apologi[zed] to the Hindu community of Kutch on the shameful advertising of Tanishq” — was put up after a group of allegedly angry people entered the store and threatened the manager. Employees of the store and the police denied the report of violence or aggression by the individuals that demanded the note.
The right-wing response to the advertisement by Tanishq has itself elicited a response from various public figures. The Advertising Club condemned the targeting of Tanishq due to this advertisement, stating that “such baseless and irrelevant attacks on creative expression is extremely concerning.”
In the Indian Express, film director Prahlad Kakkar dismissed the criticism as political and therefore irrelevant to Tanishq or its customer base.
Kakkar drew a comparison to a previous advertisement by Surf Excel which depicted a friendship between a Muslim boy and Hindu girl: “Everybody loved the ads except the trolls. So why are we falling into this trap again and again? Brands should just ignore them. They have to understand that they can’t be playing safe all the time.” Brand consultant Harish Bijoor denied that the situation was as black-and-white in the Indian Express, stating that “some markets are ready for work social conversations, India is not.”
The overwhelmingly political response to the advertisement by Tanishq is widely recognized as a Hindu nationalist sentiment, which has been increasing in intensity since the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
80% of the Indian population is Hindu, while only 14% is Muslim.
After separating from Britain in 1947, India’s democratic constitution declared it to be a secular country. However, since the British Raj, Hindu nationalists have claimed that Hinduism is central to what it means to be Indian.
In the Tanishq incident, we see the different ways in which power and voice is grabbed: through violence, economic influence, and attacks on social media. Even if nationalism was originally an extremist perspective which was relatively less widely-held, when it is enabled by the leading political powers, the views of a minority extreme is able to sway what is being shown to the majority public, and thus is culturally normalized.
Culture and an understanding of identity is built in the day-to-day, such as through an advertisement showing an interfaith couple, or a political representative tweeting about love jihad as a threat.
These small actions can perpetuate values that survive long after the incident which put forth the value have faded from memory.
Ultimately, living in a world where politics influences advertisements and art is living in a world where culture is dictated from above.