By trolling a jewellery manufacturer for an advertisement that featured a Hindu daughter-in-law and a Muslim mother-in-law, on the grounds that it extolled what is rather senselessly termed as “love jihad”, fundamentalist bigots may well have expanded the reach of the product far beyond the audience it was targeted at.
For news of the merciless trolling that forced the manufacturer to withdraw the advertisement has now reached shores far and wide, trashing India’s much touted reputation for inclusivity and tolerance. While this was the unintended consequence of the poison injected into the outpourings against the advertisement, there were others that were clearly intended.
The first was to underscore that toxicity is an essential ingredient of contemporary social discourse and is here to stay. The second was to define the limits of inter-personal relations that some sections of society will accept, which was made clear by trolls asking why the advertisement did not instead feature a Muslim daughter-in-law and a Hindu mother-in-law.
Along with khap panchayats and honour killings, such reactions only confirm that antediluvian notions of marriage being viewed as a form of conquest are alive and well. The third is that not even the most eminent of Indian corporates ~ for the jewellery brand is owned by one of the country’s oldest and largest conglomerates ~ is immune to the pressures of bigotry. By withdrawing the advertisement at the first sign of trouble, the company clearly thought discretion was the better part of valour and who is to say it was wrong to take this position.
For had it persisted, it may well have been accused of promoting enmity ~ and not the amity it sought to project ~ between communities and faced charges under several sections of the Indian Penal Code that have been twisted beyond recognition in contemporary India.
The saddest aspect of this unsavoury saga is that on the face of it, the advertisement copy contained just the sort of syrupy platitudes on amity that one usually associates with state-sponsored advertising.
“Beautiful things happen when people come together,” a description on the company’s website says, along with the slogan: “The beauty of oneness. One as humanity. One as a nation.”
The company has justified its decision to withdraw the advertisement by saying that while the intention was to “celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life”, the severe reactions to it were “contrary to its very objective.” And to think it was not so long ago that the Supreme Court upheld the right of citizens to choose their spouse, and to convert to another religion if they so wished.