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Tanishq – Interfaith Marriage, Corporate Responsibility, and Social Media Outrage

Written by Mehar Bahl,

November 7th 2020,

 An affectionate mother-in-law leads her unsuspecting daughter in law to a beautiful baby shower. The backyard is as decked up as the girl herself, who in her white saree, gajra, and glittering gold jewellery, looks resplendent. The daughter is delighted and visibly surprised at the lengths her Muslim family has gone through to celebrate the event with a traditional Hindu ceremony. Unable to keep herself from smiling, she turns to the mother in law in, who says that the ceremony may not be a tradition of the house, but ensuring the happiness of the members indeed is. At this heartwarming moment, the voiceover comes on to address the sentiment expressed – Ekatvam – Oneness. Within a short, forty-five second clip, Tanishq attempted to spread a message of love, of unity, of the need for togetherness that sustains a secular India. 

So, of course, people were offended. 

If they had taken offence at the blue blouse that goes against the white gold saree, or the sheer excess of gold bangles, I might have understood. If they had taken offence at the ceremony being held outside with a great crowd that had given up on masks or any other precautions, I definitely would have understood.

But apparently, they were offended because a Hindu girl had been married into a Muslim family. Further, they assumed that the advertisement was an encoded message about Muslim men who ‘trick’ Hindu women to fall in love with them (perhaps they steal love potions from Lavender Brown) so that they could convert them to Islam.

 I forget that the vast majority of the public has fragile, perishable sentiments and that their day is not complete without some drama, the kind that daily soaps provide. Truly entertaining really, how the mother in law’s slap defies all laws of gravity when her hand lingers in the air, swiping a much wider arc than humanly possible before it hits the daughter in law’s face. Perhaps they did see the mind-numbing whack, and I missed it. 

The Tanishq advertisement is not the first time someone has hurt the public’s sentiments with progressive posturing. In 2019, netizens were in uproar against a Surf Excel advert showing a Hindu girl protecting a Muslim boy from Holi celebrations with water pistols blazing and colours flying. Even in the childhood innocence that surf excel chose, free from the perceived terror of inter-faith marriage, the outrage was unavoidable. A year before that, Close Up had to pull down an ad that dared to show not one, but two Hindu – Muslim couples. Blasphemous.

For each troll defiantly calling for Tanishq’s boycott, progressive counterparts lambasted the jewellers for caving in. By choosing to compromise on their message, Tanishq highlighted that their priority lies first with their predicted corporate interests, second with their supposed progressive ideals. Their caving diffuses the positive message that the ads had intended to spread in the first place. But in the face of threats, such a resolute stance is easier imagined than adopted. Tanishq has always attempted to make strides with its advertisements without realising that their audience not only lacks maturity but is too politically motivated and subjugated, has internalised extreme ideological constructs – to be able to appreciate such attempts. While in America, companies like Nike have seen their value go up after socially conscious advertisements, the same corporate confidence is absent.

Studies have shown that instances interfaith marriages in India are dismal. The highest mixed marriage rate goes to 7.8% in Punjab, which considering the diverse religious population is not a very high rate at all. Constitutionally we are secular, but practically, we are hypocritical. The hate speech and threats are the lighter spectrum of the violence – when the public is genuinely incensed (translation: when people in real life dare to marry someone from a different faith), the result is honour killings. 

 It was in 1990 that the National Commission for Women set up a statutory body to look into the prevention of honour killings amongst certain ethnic groups by considering the legal, constitutional and other provisions available as well as assessing the challenges faced by women. However as recently as in 2015, some 251 honour killings were reported in India by National Crime Records Bureau – a significant number, yet activists feel it is an undercount due to misreporting of honour killings as murder. 

The characterisation of the crime with the term ‘honour’ is inherently problematic. It projects such a crime to be ‘honourable’ but also because it relegates such crimes to culture, suggesting that they are limited to specific groups that have inherited rigid traditions. In reality, these crimes are prevalent all across the country. The attempt is to restrict a woman’s autonomy and impose subtle coercion that we do not readily recognise as crimes. In 2014, The Hindu tracked 583 rape cases dealt with by Delhi’s district courts in 2013. Forty per cent of these ‘rapes’ involved couples who had eloped with consent. The women’s parents often filed these cases.

What the trolls seem to forget, is that despite the dismal numbers, interfaith marriages are still very much a reality. Sameena Dalwai, half Hindu, half Muslim professor at Jindal Global Law School, has written fondly of her multicultural family that has more hybridity than we can imagine – Tamils, Marathis, Chinese all living together in harmony. She calls herself the ‘unborn baby’ in the ad. And she is not the only one. A ‘giving away’ of the daughter, as patriarchy likes to call is not a defeat, if anything it is a victory – for the Muslim household that she went to has understood her faith, and has respected it. The girl carries over a set of values that fuses with another, at times radically different set of values, to create beautiful, bubbling new life. 

The ideology that these trolls subscribe to is one that sees women as ‘the other’, as a not member of the family, as one who will, in time, ‘go to her own house’ (and God forbid it is a Muslim house!). 

Growing communalist tendencies have paved the way for these instances of outrage. In this respect, it is hard to overlook the nexus of politics and religiously motivated violence. The nihilation of the constitution and a complete dismissal of basic humanity is leading India down a path, embedded with minefields. If the snap of a butterfly wing here can create a tornado there, intolerance today can start displacement tomorrow. 

As someone whose ancestors migrated from what is present-day Pakistan, the first-hand accounts that I have heard talk about a displacement, a painful one – an uprooting that undid their life and thrust them into a reality that they had not imagined possible. I believe that what began then as a process of division and separation has taken form today as intolerance. Needless to say, that it was politically motivated then and is politically motivated now. But I refuse to understand how people are blind to the realities that those with vested interests construct for them, and thrust upon them – realities created to forward selfish, personal, banal interests. Protests and violence ignited based on a non-existent concept, an incorrect assumption, a ‘conspiracy theory’, bring to light the exact extent of our ideological and mental subjugation. It is unacceptable, for we are living in servitude, with our minds enslaved. Social media bubbles, political parties catering to our worst sensibilities, and corporations unwilling to place ideology over profit have all lead to this division. And now that I have written to my heart’s content, being the two-faced hypocrite that I am, I will say I am speechless. 

Experience Further: Off Jodha Akbar, the song plays out against the backdrop of the couple’s growing, yet hesitant attraction toward each other as they try to navigate the complexities of the court, reconcile their faiths and keep under the radar of extremists. As Akbar muses upon the irreconcilable differences that exist between them, he finds his confusion mirrored in Jodha’s demeanour as they both struggle with the question of belongingness. A marriage of convenience turns into love because both show immense patience and are inclined to trust. Vivid imagery, symbolism and the poetic lure of Urdu lend a heartwarming quality to the song, which makes it hard to stop humming along or purge your heart of its haunting, enchanting beauty.

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Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

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