At a time when hate hangs heavy in the collective psyche of the citizenry, especially the poorly educated, Titan would have been well-advised to refrain from advocating social reforms. It would have been well-advised to look after its bottom line as all good commercial houses, like that of the Tatas, are committed to do.
Islam, unlike the other Abrahamic religion Christianity, which also proselytises, has not changed its core belief that it is the sole true religion.
It is true that after 2014 love and compassion have been shown the door. But the task of letting them in should be left to politicians and activists. These are not normal times. Distrust and hate have seeped deep into the body politic. In states where the saffron party holds sway, the police are less likely to interfere with right-wing extremists on the rampage. Even in opposition-ruled states, the police will be usually reluctant to confront thugs, for fear of escalating the communal content of the violence. Officers who have to take split-second decisions would find it difficult to decide to confront the rabble for fear of the situation getting out of hand during such charged and troubled times.
Titan, the Tata company that manufactures and sells watches and jewellery, was the subject of interest and dissection last week. To sell its jewellery during the festive Navratras and Diwali season, it released an ad that featured a pregnant Hindu woman and her doting Muslim mother-in-law who arranged the baby shower ceremony according to Hindu customs in the Muslim household.
Incidentally, this could happen in sophisticated families where religion is not the sole purpose of existence. In middle class families, this is less likely! Islam, unlike the other Abrahamic religion Christianity, which also proselytises, has not changed its core belief that it is the sole true religion. Spurred on by this belief, it insists on the conversion of the non-Muslim partner to Islam and therein lies the rub.
The main Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic, has dropped this condition long ago. Husband and wife are free to worship their own God and follow their own beliefs without causing fuss or flutter in the matrimonial home, even if the arrangement ends in the partners turning indifferent to their respective faiths.
The bold truth is that after Hindutva came into its own in 2014, the extremist elements in the Hindu fold resent Hindu women being romantically involved with Muslim men, though I have not felt the same hostility if Hindu men married Muslim women! Mixed marriages, in fact, are extremely rare in the India of today. Considering the massive mix of creeds, castes and cultures that define modern India, it is to be expected that boy-meets-girl will traverse religious and caste lines with greater frequency, especially in urban settings where religious differences matter less.
The Hindu right is drawn mainly from less sophisticated backgrounds. The cry of ‘love jihad’ resounds with this class of the majority community. This fact must have been known to the advertisers. I would not be surprised if Titan’s decision makers had anticipated this reaction and gone into the project with their eyes wide open. Earlier too, Titan had had a similar experience in Tamil Nadu, where an ad that appeared to show Tamilian Brahmins in a better light had to be pulled down!
After the Tamil Nadu experience, Titan would normally not have ventured into an even bigger hazard in the north of the country, where Hindutva extremists lurk around corners. So, if they insisted on sailing with unshut eyes, like the great whales, it is because it brings them the attention that translates into sales. Only Titan and market forces can eventually tell us if the gamble paid off, if indeed it was a gamble!
That state and local governments bow down to thuggery of the type recorded in Gujarat with the Tanishq ad was a fact of life even before Modiji arrived on the political horizon. The favourite target of the lumpen has been the ubiquitous cinema hall. The Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have been known to stop the screening of films that offended their sensibilities and the Rajputs have done the same in some northern states. An obscure Maratha body chose a highly regarded library and collection of rare historical books in Pune city to burn.
It is not easy for the authorities and the police to intervene at such times. Direct confrontation on emotional issues should be reserved for fights that affect the course of national or state politics because direct confrontation in disputes of limited interest to the general population can turn into major conflagrations that need to be avoided at all costs.
If, for instance, the Gujarat Police had laid down the law with the opponents of the Tanishq ad, the likelihood of a communal riot would have intensified. True, the police are bound to implement the law but in our polity it also needs the political party in power to support its actions. In Gujarat this support would be absent.
What was Titan actually trying to do with this ad? Trying to sell its products, of course. Perhaps, with the publicity garnered through the attacks on its shops it may actually profit, but at a cost. Was it trying simultaneously to reform society? They are not cut out for such roles. No commercial venture is.
The virus of communal hatred has to be controlled lest our progress is hampered beyond the damage demonetisation and now the pandemic have caused and are causing. This is for our youth to visualise and counter. Young India, not Titan, should assume this mantle of fighting this menace.
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