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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 44, New Delhi, October 17, 2020

Tanishq Advertisement Controversy: Women are Objectified by Communal Extremists | Bhumika Rajdev

Hashtag #WeAreNotYourProperty

Saturday 17 October 2020

by Bhumika Rajdev *


Tanishq, the jewellery brand of India received severe backlash from the social media users due to its new advertisement projecting an inter-faith household. Netizens attacked Tanishq for glorifying the idea of ‘love-jihad’, a construct of Hindu nationalists, which eventually forced the brand to withdraw the ad film.

The ad depicted arrangement of a baby shower ceremony called ‘Pulikudi’ in Kerala by a North Indian (presumably) Muslim family for their pregnant South Indian (presumably) Hindu daughter-in-law. This short ad film projected people enthusiastically decorating the house for the celebration, and making tamarind drink, a significant Kerala’s ritual in the ceremony.

The communal attacks on the advertisement became evident from the first day of its release, 9 October 2020. The polarisation became widespread from 12 October 2020 when the hashtag #BoycottTanishq began to trend on twitter following similar communal slurs on other social media sites, like Facebook. The Hindu extremists were offended with the portrayal of the marriage of a Hindu woman with a Muslim man. They accused the brand for glorifying the idea of ‘love-jihad’, and promoting ‘anti-nationalist’ propaganda in the country. Netizens went even far enough to question the brand that why didn’t they show Muslim woman married to a Hindu man, a reversal of actual depiction in the advertisement.

The debate on the ad film manifested a misogynist face of the people across religions. The debate on the advertisement not only revolved around the upsurge of unwanted communal hatred, it turned woman into an object which defines ‘honour’ of the community.

This article attempts to raise questions on objectification of women in the society at large. It tries to highlight the hidden gender-based power relations in our society which are usually overlooked when it comes to the religion per se.

Let’s look at some of the arguments given by people who criticised the advertisement.

1. Why didn’t they show Muslim Woman in Hindu household? 

This comment might seem communal in nature but the subtext of it is sexist and patriarchal. This question in itself shows the power hierarchy between man and woman in our households. It legitimises the idea of ownership of male over female in our society. Patriarchal structure of social institutions such as family and religion and media has never allowed women to choose her faith or make independent decisions in her life. Women have always been contextualised in society in relation to ‘Men’. It is because of this that their identity as mothers, daughters and wives are constantly celebrated and reinforced. The reincarnation of similar misogynist mindset is clearly visible in the comments of the netizens who would have rejoiced if the advertisement had the premise of a Muslim wife in a Hindu household, seen as a Hindu husband’s control over a Muslim wife.

Religion has emerged as a major institution to exercise control over women, and a politically useful instrument for justifying interplay of domination and social hierarchies. [1] Objectifying women and considering her as a property of men shows deeper inequalities existing across religions which hardly get addressed in debates.

2. Tanishq is promoting Love-Jihad.

The bizarre terminology Love- Jihad, a construct of Hindu extremists indicates that Hindu woman married to a Muslim man has nothing to do with her individual choices, on the contrary she is forced into a relationship, converted into Islam in order to increase the number of Muslims in the country.

Castigating the company to be ‘Anti-National’ shows discomfort among people from a particular religious community as it has been normalised to put ‘honour’ of family in the identity of ‘women’.

3. Portrayal of Hindu woman in Muslim family has hurt our religious sentiments

Let’s look at some unfortunate statistics. The literacy rate of women in our country is 65.46%. ‘There is one rape case in every sixteen minutes in India’ [2]. India has one of the highest female foeticide incidents in the world. The female child population in the age group of 0-6 years declined from 78.83 million in 2001 to 75.84 million in 2011. During the period 1991-2011, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) declined from 945 to 914. [3]

It’s surprising that depiction of a happy family with inter-faith marriage hurt the sentiments of Hindu extremists and not the real status of women in the country.? Significantly, continuous objectification of women does not hurt sentiments of popular masses and all the rape cases where victims are waiting for justice from years also does not evoke voice for justice. But the ad films where women are shown as ‘mothers’, ‘daughter-in-laws’ and ‘wives’ outside the conservative frame of the religion and social system hurt their sentiments.

“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze” (Atwood 1985). [4] While the idea of ‘Hindu-Women’ seems progressive to the Hindu extremists in the country, their objectification showcases a delusive idea of freedom and respect sought in the maze of religion.

(* Bhumika Rajdev is School Teacher in the New Delhi region)

[1Vineeta Sharma (2018) How Can Feminist Theology Reduce Gender Inequality in Religion?. In: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 53, Issue No. 50, 22 Dec

[3DTE Staff (2018) India witnesses one of the highest female infanticide incidents in the world: study, Down to Earth, 19 September

[4Atwood, M (1985): The Handmaid’s Tale, McClelland and Stewart

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