Being the largest democracy in the world that is home to the most diverse groups of people with different beliefs and ideologies, one would think India would be more open-minded and progressive but certain instances are bound to prove you wrong. In a series of events, many advertisements and brand campaigns were taken down for all the wrong reasons because apparently there is no place for acceptance and progression in the frail Indian ego.
Dabur, a popular FMCG brand, recently aired a commercial showing a same-sex couple celebrating Karwa Chauth, a festival that is otherwise heteronormative in nature. The vision behind the ad was to promote inclusion and equality and support the LGBTQ+ community. However, the advertisement was greeted with a popular epidemic that has currently taken over the world: Boycott.
The campaign was soon withdrawn by the brand after Madhya Pradesh’s home minister called for legal action and quoted “Today they are showing lesbians breaking their Karwa Chauth fast… tomorrow they might show two boys taking pheras, getting married.” In a country where a 2-year-old girl child receives rape threats and the face of a woman is burnt with acid for refusing a proposal, is a gay couple getting married really an issue worth fighting against?
The backlash received by the brand raises serious questions on the type of content that is deemed appropriate in our country. On one hand Nirma’s hema, rekha, jaya aur sushma are expected to take on household duties because it’s a woman’s job to wash clothes with no backlash regarding the deep-rooted sexism, and on the other hand a lesbian couple celebrating a festival is criticised because it disregards our “culture”. If the Indian mentality is so easily triggered by radical and modern thinking, then maybe it is time to change that mentality.
In another similar incident, Sabyasachi’s mangal sutra campaign was called objectionable because it showed intimate pictures of models wearing the luxury mangal sutra with a low neckline. Seeking direct inspiration from Bollywood movies, some Indians still believe aurat khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai. According to them, a woman’s body is associated with vulgarity while a man’s body is associated with pride and masculinity.
Taglines like Imperial Blue's “Men will be Men” are appreciated and campaigns reflecting equality, feminism and LGBTQ+ rights are met with abusive and violent trolls. Whenever someone strives to create change and break free from the outmoded norms, they end up being banned. If this is the vicious circle of progression in our society then we need to rethink the values we are inculcating in the younger generation.
If freedom of speech is still relevant in this country, I have one thing to say.
I refuse to accept that my country is the one where a woman being beaten in broad daylight is acceptable but an advertisement promoting equality calls for riots.
I refuse to accept that my country is the one where it is okay for men to rape their wives but the character of a woman is still judged on the basis of the length of her skirt, the color of her hair and the hour on the clock.
I refuse to accept that my country is the one where two people in love are shamed because of the sex they belong to and the fragility of our sentiments vanishes when male ministers and politicians talk about the dignity of a woman lying in her clothes.
If this is your idea of India and our culture, then it is an illusion. Our culture is about learning and unlearning. It has room for growth, improvement and development. It gives its people the freedom to learn equality and unlearn age old prejudices. If your idea for this country does not align with progression and acceptance, do not blame the country, blame yourself.