Right-Wing Trolls Made an Indian Brand Withdraw its Ad on Interfaith Couple

Critics of the ad accused it of promoting “love jihad”, an Islamophobic conspiracy theory. The company called the outrage saddening.
Pallavi Pundir
Delhi, India
October 13, 2020, 2:51pm
tanishq hindu muslim communal India
Screen grab of the Tanishq ad, which was taken down from the company's YouTube page. 

An Indian jewellery brand was forced to withdraw an advertisement after facing vicious trolling. Tanishq, the company, pulled the ad that showed a baby shower for a pregnant Hindu woman by her Muslim in-laws. It was released on October 9.

The hate campaign resulted in #BoycottTanishq trending on Monday, October 12. Many who opposed it claimed that the ad promoted “love jihad” and sexism. Love jihad is an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that gained prominence in India in 2009.

According to the theory, Muslim men lure non-Muslim women and convert them to Islam. The proposition has led to violence and cultural pressures against interfaith marriages, which is legally allowed in the country.

Tanishq took down its 45-second ad from its campaign called ‘Ekatvam’, or oneness, on Tuesday, October 13. Its YouTube description read, “She is married into a family that loves her like their own child. Only for her, they go out of their way to celebrate an occasion that they usually don’t. A beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions and cultures.”

Hours after the video was pulled, Tanishq issued a statement about the purpose of the ad, and the flak it received. “This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective,” the company stated. "We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well being of our employees, partners and store staff," the statement added.

The outrage is reflective of the communal fault lines in India. Advertisements that send out positive messages such as communal harmony have often become soft targets of right-wing trolls.

Last year, an Indian tea company, Red Label, received flak for an ad showcasing Hindu-Muslim unity during a Hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturthi. “What happens when a cup of tea breaks deep-rooted prejudice,” reads the ad’s YouTube description. The comment section of the video (below) is still littered with messages about the ad vilifying Hindus and calls for a boycott.

Another advertisement from 2019 by detergent brand Surf Excel received a barrage of communally insensitive messages for promoting interfaith unity. It showed a young girl helping her Muslim friend reach the mosque in the middle of Holi celebrations. Holi is a Hindu festival. Critics said that it hurt the sentiments of Hindus and portrayed the festival in a bad light.

Interfaith relationships are often targeted by proponents of “love jihad”. Last month, the police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) formed a special investigation team to probe cases of interfaith marriages in the city of Kanpur. The investigation started after a family claimed their daughter was a victim of “love jihad.” UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself has spoken about formulating official strategies to tackle “religious conversions in the name of love.”

Earlier this year, the Indian government stated that “love jihad” is not defined under the law and no such cases have been reported by any of its agencies.

A 2014 report by the India Human Development Survey found that less than 5 percent of Indian marriages are interfaith in India. The theory of “love jihad” is a part of what many human rights defenders see as bias against Muslims by the right-wing.

The civil society has observed a sharp rise in communal violence ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, and got re-elected in 2019.

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