Two years ago in 2019, when Netflix released a limited series Leila, starring Huma Qureshi, Siddharth, Rahul Khanna, Sanjay Suri and Arif Zakaria among many others, my friends were obsessed with it. They kept telling me why I should watch it and how it is a reflection of our present times and politics in so many ways. I almost got irritated with the constant mentions.
I wanted to remain in my own bubble – happy, citing my own marginalisation of being trans* as a reason to be unavailable for anything beyond issues that concern me directly. More than that, it was my privilege of hailing from a Hindu, oppressor caste location that allowed me to do so.
But now, if I want to claim even a tiny bit that I am a person who cares, it is impossible to remain nonchalant. One kind of marginalisation does not give me the license to feel apathetic towards other forms of it, nor does it give me an understanding of any other marginalised experiences. Fortunately, I have friends and family from diverse locations of gender, caste and religion and if I want to continue being a good sister or parent or friend, I can no longer be indifferent to events other than those that affect me. I doubt that anybody with any semblance of empathy can in the present political climate.
A series of events that took place recently, has made me uneasy and even scared. It started on 9th October when the clothing brand FabIndia put out their promotional video for their newly launched festive Diwali collection. The collection was named “Jashn-e- Riwaaz”, and the whole campaign faced major backlash. The brand had to finally retract the advertisement.
Now, why was the ad problematic? Why was it taken down?
The brand was accused of “defacing” the Hindu festival of Diwali by naming its festive collection Jashn-e-Riwaaz (celebration of tradition in Urdu). FabIndia faced trolling and cyber abuse on social media for “hurting religious sentiments”. Some social media users even called for a boycott of the brand, making their campaign one of the top most ‘trending‘ controversies. The BJP Yuva Morcha President Tejasvi Surya was among those who slammed the ad in a post on Twitter.
A FabIndia spokesperson responded by saying – “We at FabIndia have always stood for the celebration of India with its myriad traditions in all hues“. But clearly, our ruling government thinks differently.
Earlier this year, a similar incident took place with the Tata Group’s jewelry brand Tanishq. They were forced to withdraw an advertisement that showed an interfaith couple at a baby shower organised for the Hindu bride by her Muslim in-laws. Tanishq withdrew the advertisement after trolling and physical threats to the company employees and stores.
Even before the controversy over FabIndia could have died down, a Member of Parliament(MP) from Karnataka expressed being offended by an advertisement of the tyre manufacturer Ceat, starring Bollywood actor Aamir Khan. The 30-second advertisement which showcases Aamir Khan requesting the children of an apartment complex to burst as many crackers as they want, but inside the society premises and not on the roads, hurt Hindu sentiments, in the opinion of the MP.
BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Uttara Kannada and former Union minister Anantkumar Hegde wrote to Anant Vardhan Goenka, MD and CEO of Ceat, on 14 October, which went viral after it was uploaded to his official Facebook page.
His letter says from the second paragraph onwards, “It is a very common scene in many Indian cities where Muslims block busy roads and perform Namaz. At that time, vehicles like ambulances and firefighter vehicles are also stuck in traffic causing grave losses. I also request you to highlight the issue of noise pollution in your ads. Every day loud noise is emitted from mics (sic) arranged on top of mosques in our country when Azan is given,” Hegde wrote.
“Nowadays , a group of Anti-Hindu actors always hurt the Hindu sentiments whereas they never try to expose the wrongdoings of their community,” Hegde alleged, adding that Ceat’s advertisement starring Aamir Khan has “created an unrest among Hindus”.
This does not end here, the most recent among advertisements to have stirred a controversy is the Dabur Fem ad. The ad showcased two young women preparing for their first Karva Chauth, discussing the significance of the festival, ending with them going through the rituals, indicating they are partners. Following severe backlash the advertisement had to be taken down.
The Fem ad is in no way perfect. It promotes colourism, and uses queer identities as a token to show itself as modern. Just not that, it tries to show inclusion through a hetero-patriarchal ritual to which many queer people might not resonate with. But was this the reason for which the ad was taken down? Unfortunately, no!
The ad was pulled down after Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra issued a warning. He called the ad ‘objectionable’, and threatened to take legal action against Dabur. He said that the advertisement showed lesbians celebrating Karva Chauth and in future they would show men taking ‘feras’.
After reading this, if you are not scared, you are quite possibly a person who is not just Hindu, but from an oppressor caste location, cis-gender, heterosexual and in very close probability, a man. My blood cuddles at the mere thought of the country I live in, turn intolerant by the day. Chills run down my spine, I am scared and I feel I am not safe. And I know many many more people who feel much more unsafe than me every day, all the time.
I witness every day the country I live in, walk further away from a world I dream and envision. I live in fear. Every time I go out, I talk, I express, or I look around, I make sure that I am not stared at, or glared at. I am afraid I would be punished for my opinions, for being who I am.
I am unable to have faith in my constitution any more, in any system of justice, or any assurance my country provides. I see that intolerance and violence are rampant and silencing dissent is slowly becoming the norm. I am worried about the state of affairs, and I hope you are too.