After Dabur, Sabyasachi receives flak from rightwing troll police

Profits over principles: Indian companies kneel to social media trolls


October 28, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

After Dabur, Sabyasachi receives flak from rightwing troll police

The ad that was launched earlier last week depicts a lesbian couple participating in the festivities of Karwa Chauth, a north Indian rite traditionally meant for married heterosexual couples(Photo/YouTube)

Days after Dabur took down the Fem bleach advertisement for not sitting well with the popular opinion, Sabyasachi now finds itself on the receiving end for a luxury mangalsutra ad campaign, becoming the third controversial ad this month.

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Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s latest ad campaign to promote his luxury mangalsutra collection has triggered a social media turmoil as the ad features heterosexual and same-sex couples posing for pictures wearing his newly launched ‘Royal Bengal Mangalsutra’. Terming the ad “obscene”, many social media users have gone on to call the campaign an attack on Hindu culture.

Recently, Dabur India withdrew its latest ad for Karwa Chauth campaign by Fem bleach on Monday, it also issued an unconditional apology for “hurting people’s sentiments”. The move by one of India’s leading FMCG companies comes after receiving legal threats from a minister amid massive backlash from rightwing trolls on social media which also led to a drop, albeit temporary, in its share price.

The ad that was launched earlier last week depicts a lesbian couple participating in the festivities of Karwa Chauth, a north Indian rite traditionally meant for married heterosexual couples.

Quickly snowballing into a controversy, the ad attracted sharp criticism from members of the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, who trolled the company and the ad incessantly for hurting Hindu sentiments. The controversy also saw Dabur’s share price fall by 1.51 pc on Monday, though it may have been unrelated to the calls for boycotting the brand flooding social media platforms, particularly Twitter.

“Today, they showed a lesbian breaking the fast for Karwa Chauth, looking at her partner through the seive,” said Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister, Narottam Mishra.

“Tomorrow, they will show two boys taking pheras and getting married. This is objectionable,” he added.

Mishra went on to threaten to take legal action against Dabur and amidst the entire controversy, the company panicked and pulled the ad and completed the act of kneeling down to public pressure by issuing a public apology as well, saying their intention was not to offend any beliefs, customs and traditions, religious or otherwise.

“No legal action could have taken basing the case on homosexuality grounds as long as there is no obscenity involved, however, since the Karwa Chauth is a Hindu custom, the case could have fallen on the sections of hurting the religious sentiments,” Sonali Kusum, an assistant professor of Law at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai tells Media India Group.

“Dabur’s ad was utterly preposterous and against the Hindu value system. It was specifically sketched to attack the traditional Hindu culture,” Vijay Shankar Tiwari, the National Spokesperson of Vishwa Hindu Parishad tells Media India Group.

He says the withdrawal of Dabur’s ad is a lesson to all the companies that potentially attempt to mess with Hinduism in order to sell their products.

Indian companies wannabe progressive

Though time and again Indian companies have shown progressive and inclusive tendencies, they often lack the spine needed to stand up to right-wing trolls who tend to dominate the Indian social media platforms under the benevolent eye of the government that somehow fails to notice the bigotry and inflammatory messages posted by its supporters and their numerous bots.

As a result, the few companies that have tried to even spread a basic message of interreligious unity or even dared to acknowledge the diverse Indian culture, by simply using Urdu, a language mainly spoken by Muslims in northern India have had to face the rage of the easily outraged trolls.

FabIndia collection under the banner Jashn-e-Riwaaz (Photo/FabIndia)

FabIndia collection under the banner Jashn-e-Riwaaz (Photo/FabIndia)

Take for instance, clothing and home décor retailer, FabIndia. It had launched its Diwali marketing campaign with a special festival collection under the banner Jashn-e-Riwaaz (Celebration of Customs). This simple use of a term in Urdu to describe the festival of lights that is Diwali caused an uproar amongst the right-wing users of social media who accused the purely Indian brand, founded over 60 years ago by an American, of trying to Islamicise the biggest Hindu festival.

Some trolls went to the extent of finding imaginary connections between FabIndia and the American intelligence agency, the CIA. Unfortunately, instead of standing up for its campaign which was simply a modest nod to Indian diversity, could not muster the courage to stand up to the trolls, even though there were numerous users who applauded the company for its campaign. The very next day the ad was pulled and the name of the collection changed to a bland and uninspiring “Jhilmil si Diwali”.

Taking the off-road

Tyre manufacturer Ceat is a rare Indian company that has stood up for its beliefs and campaigns. The company’s latest ad was also at the receiving end this month due to an ad that featured Bollywood actor Aamir Khan asking people not to burst crackers on the road after India wins a cricket match since crackers can disturb drivers and cause accidents.

The Ceat ad featuring Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (Photo/YouTube)

The ceat ad featuring Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (Photo/YouTube)

A simple, social message was enough to offend plenty in India. Among those offended by the common sensical ad was Anantkumar Hegde, a member of the Parliament belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party, who wrote an open letter to the top bosses of the Kolkata-based company saying that the company should rather address the problems faced by people when Muslims offer their prayers or Namaz on the roads and “when they block roads for their festivals”.

However, unlike FabIndia and Dabur, Ceat stood its ground and ignored the trolls and the open letter. The company has displayed same Teflon like behaviour when dealing with trolls for its previous campaigns in the past.

Thankfully, Ceat may be rare but not the only species of Indian companies with a backbone and some common sense.

There have been instances where firms like food delivery giant Zomato have thoroughly trashed right-wing trolls who attacked the firm for using a Muslim delivery person for an order placed by a Hindu customer. The company’s CEO Deepinder Goyal has rarely shied away from stepping in to speak his mind about the pitifully low levels of tolerance seen on social media in India nowadays.

‘‘An ignorant mistake by someone in a support centre of a food delivery company became a national issue. The level of tolerance and chill in our country needs to be way higher than it is nowadays. Who’s to be blamed here?’’ he tweeted on October 19 in response to yet another online viral controversy involving Zomato.

Many management consultants say that most Indian firms are not yet ready to stand up for what they believe in and are more likely to focus on profits than principles.

“We have seen a food delivery company receiving a lot of backlash from the right-wing yet, the company stood their ground. While another jewellery brand that showed inter-religion marriage withdrew their ad as soon as it received public outrage,” says Samir Kapur, a senior management consultant based in Delhi.

“Suddenly, if a brand tries to become rebellious by doing something against popular opinion and receives backlash, it will then attempt to return back to the its comfortable shell of brand ethos,” Kapur says in response to the withdrawal of ad by Dabur and FabIndia.


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