Ranjona Banerji: When Fab India was forced to take down its ad

20 Oct,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

The weird horror of the defenders of Indian “culture” (ie the BJP idea of Hinduism) was on full display on social media this week. As ever, this defence has no connection with events on the ground or with reality or with anything other than the usual blank hatred for Muslims and the rest of the non-Hindutva world.

 

The target was the clothing chain Fab India, for this daring ad, where it used the words “Jashn-e-Riwaaz” to showcase clothes for celebrations. Which includes the upcoming Diwali festival.

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s members, silent as they are when farmers are murdered, people die in thousands from an uncontrolled, rampaging virus, suffer from starvation and under-nutrition, fuel prices skyrocket, jumped in to rescue Hinduism from the terrible ordeal of the Urdu language.

 

How dare Urdu words be used, said BJP MP Tejasvi Surya. How dare none of the models in the ad wear bindis, asked BJP supporter and some sort of TV personality, Anand Ranganathan, when bindis complete a look like Jerry completes Dorothy. Don’t ask.

 

Fab India took the ad down because in India no one wants to take on the vandalism of the BJP or face rightwing rage. Although boycotting and shaming companies are now widely used tools on social media, India sets the trend of getting outraged with companies and commercial entities for NOT being bigoted, prejudiced and discriminatory.

 

While advertising in India has many issues, not least the stereotypes it perpetuates about women, perhaps under the circumstances one can understand why. To step even slightly over an overly policed line can be disastrous. As with Fab India for merely using an Urdu phrase.

 

However, and here’s the rub: is it wiser to give in to rightwing pressure that is born of hatred or for the long run, would inclusivity serve you better? How many customers would you actually lose by using an Urdu phrase? People who want the sort of image that Fab India offers are unlikely to stop going there because of this one ad.

 

In the Trump years, several companies stood up to right wing pressure and the bullying tactics of the president’s support system. Neither Twitter nor Amazon seem to have suffered much as a result. And it is Facebook, which supported overtly and covertly, Trump’s lies, which is increasingly under the scanner.

https://time.com/6107835/sophie-zhang-facebook-testimony/

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-58784615

 

In both these linked articles, it is clear that Facebook facilitates authoritarian governments and politicians. We already know this from the Cambridge Analytica episode and from the long reach of the BJP in India. Of course, there is no Hindutva rightwing outrage against Facebook in India. Quite the opposite. BJP sympathisers and moles get employment from the tech giant instead.

 

It’s a tough call for commerce, no doubt about that. As it is, the economy is in a right mess. This festive season is a much-needed opportunity to make up for all the losses of the past few years.

 

You have to save employees, real estate, brand recall and whatever other jargon is used these days. It is not easy to withstand the onslaught of Hindutva violence, especially when it is backed by the government and the police are unlikely to help.

 

Although Fab India gave in and took down its ad, one can only hope that somewhere, somehow, big business can find the courage to stand against hatred and for a more inclusive India. I know, I know. Stop laughing. It’s unlikely. But one can dream, can’t one?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday, and sometimes on other days as well. Her views here are personal

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