Sanjeev Kotnala: My Symbols, My Beliefs, My Culture

18 Nov,2020

By Sanjeev Kotnala

 

‘To Boycott’ is a powerful call when it is laid on the foundation of a religion, culture or nationality. The emotions get charged, and the societal pressures demand you to take only one side, the side calling for the boycott. Despite the need for sensitivity to ground realities,  time and again, brands and services try leveraging them for their advantage. Many a times with disastrous results.

 

I am a practising Hindu, I know the significance and the holiness of our symbols. Things associated with our Gods and Goddesses, Culture and Nation are sacred to me. No one has the rights to play with them, tweak them, misrepresent and misposition them. I have initiated project #IgnorantHindu for people who may have forgotten our religion and its simplicities. There, I share mythologies, story and reasoning around our festivals.

 

 

MORE EXPECTD OF AMAZON.

 

In the case of Amazon, it being an aggregator and not having full control of products sold on its platform is a lame excuse. The argument is open to debate. Hopefully, the services at Amazon comes with fully defined guidelines. If not, it is easy for it to build such contractual obligations. Every time, Amazon escapes by taking off the product and saying sorry. It has happened many a time.

 

Why can’t the clause of ‘Not using symbol and names’ built in the system? Amazon says: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account.” What are the ‘Selling Guidelines that the sellers are expected to follow?

 

Is the penalty mere removal of the account? Is that the cost of deep impact on my psyche? Why does Amazon not initiate legal proceedings against the offender? If it did so, there will be two benefits. One, such issues will not arise, and two the same group calling for the boycott would ask people to buy from Amazon.

 

On the other side, if Amazon or any other brand continues to play with fire and takes no firm action, things will change for the worse. Soon, in addition to carrying the tag of the country of make, products and associated  visual will require approval before they are uploaded, so that no religious sentiments are hurt.

 

‘To Boycott’ is a powerful call when it is laid on the foundation of a religion, culture or nationality. The emotions get charged, and the societal pressures demand you to take only one side, the side calling for the boycott. Despite the need for sensitivity to ground realities,  time and again, brands and services try leveraging them for their advantage. Many a times with disastrous results.

 

I am a practising Hindu, I know the significance and the holiness of our symbols. Things associated with our Gods and Goddesses, Culture and Nation are sacred to me. No one has the rights to play with them, tweak them, misrepresent and misposition them. I have initiated project #IgnorantHindu for people who may have forgotten our religion and its simplicities. There, I share mythologies, story and reasoning around our festivals.

 

Sale of such controversial products  actions can be seen as a violation of Section 295A. ‘Any person deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage religious feelings can be punished for the term prescribed or extended up to 3 years.’ And the repeat offence only suggests malicious intent.

 

Amazon should be happy that it is the silent tolerant majority demanding the boycott. One can only imagine the possibility if this was done against the symbols and beliefs of other religion.

 

Why can’t brands and services be sensitive to the social realities of their ecosystem?

 

 

WHY ARE HINDUS SO TOUCHE IF IT’S OKAY WITH SOME?

 

It is OKAY for some of the religion and countries to allow flags and signs to be freely used over undergarments, T-shirts, bedsheets and doormat. That is their problem. We Indian and specially Hindus are sensitive about the misuse of our religious symbols for a commercial purpose not only in India but in any part of the globe.

 

 

IT BECOMES EASY WITH SOCIAL MEDIA

 

Nowadays, with active social media, real and fake news spreads faster. There is a crazy urge to play the  fastest finger first in case of objections and protests. It is so easy to be an armchair protester. However, if found genuine by the majority it has possibility of turning into an ugly ground reality in no time.

 

 

PERSONAL POINT

 

I can be said to be well-educated and can be considered progressively liberal. However, I am sensitive about my religion, rituals, culture, nation and national symbols. I am completely against anyone (including people from my own faith) to play with them. To make fun of them. To misuse them for commercial gains. Liberalism and secularism do not mean taking pot shot on Hinduism.

 

 

ARGUMENT

 

There is an argument that people find it easy and open to abuse these symbols and pictures, as Indian’s and Hindu’s  have commoditised them with misuse over multiple product categories. So if you can have Lakshmi Cement, why not Hanuman beer.

 

The difference is that businesses in India use these names (as Brand), symbols and images in the most respectful way. There is no need to add subjectivity by confusing the judgement basis the user and the purpose.

 

 

JUDGMENT

 

In 2015, a bench headed by Chief Justice HL Datta said, ‘there is nothing wrong in people using pictures of God for commercial purpose in the products’. The courts said, ‘If I have my God on my car, house or home, then what is wrong with it. Why should we restrain people from using picture of God’. And indeed the judges have a point there.

 

 

THE NEED.

 

Personally, I am of the favour of creating a library of protected words, pictures and symbols across religions. That defines what cannot be used for commercial purpose. Be it brand name, visual depiction, advertising or any such commercial use. We are sensitives to misuse and we need to be protective.

 

Some may say, religion and religious symbols are just representation not the core of it. The true power of prayer and the belief is in the heart and the mind. A true believer sees his or her god in everything, everywhere, including in the act of  their misuse. When someone plays with the symbol, and misuses them, does their value and importance decrease?

 

The question has no answer. I don’t think there is a need to try answering it.

 

It is My Religion, My Symbol, My Culture And My Nation.

 

 

SOME OTHER INSTANCES OF MISUSE.

Just to share how tolerant the silent Majority been.

 

It is for each one of us  to judge if the protest is valid. When does the brand, product or service crosses the line. Here are some instances of misuse.

 

  1. 2020. (1) Amazon withdraws products featuring Hindu deities. (20 Enlighten Clothing Company removes GAESHA balance mini skirt (3) California- Use of Hindu Deities statues in Nightclub as decor. (4) Brahma beer by Budweiser (5) Protest against toilet seat cover with Hindu God images.

 

  1. 2019. (1) Another Brew Company withdraws Hanuman Beer . (2) Gucci trolled for selling Sikh Turban as an accessory. 2018. (1) Amazon withdraws Lord Ganesh stockings. 2017. (1) Jawed Habib uses Hindu Gods in the Newspaper advertisement. (2) On Amazon, doormats with tricolour were on sale. 2016. (1) Wayfair and Kess Bathroom mats. Toilet seats. Shoes. Dog tags with Lord Ganesh visual. (2) Hindu God-decorated skateboards and bedding at Amazon. 2010. (1) Newsweek cover depicts president Obama as Natraj.

 

Just to make the case, if you know of cases where symbol-god-culture-images and  iconography of Islam, Jew and Christianity has been misused, do share.

 

 

Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior marketing strategist and educator. He writes on MxMIndia on Wednesdays. His views here are personal

 

 

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