Tanishq Ad Controversy: A religion issue or a gender issue?

What defines Bharat? My teacher would ask and we would scream in chorus- “Anekta me Ekta ”. In times like now, in this pandemic, when the only one thing we require is unity and compassion, when a brand comes up with a collection that is a mixture of all the traditional forms, what can be a better messaging than showcasing the harmony that exists among humans irrespective of the man-made barriers like race, religion, region and caste? On a personal note, being an alumni of a design school and a business school, I can very well gauge the thought process that must have gone into the creation of the collection as well as the campaign. And it really saddens me to think that a brand like Tanishq that happens to be a Tata brand, a company that has done more service to the country than any other enterprise, is accused of supporting love jihad, a conspiracy theory alleging that Muslim men target women belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love.

Here’s a few concept notes about Tanishq’s latest collection that would provide you an insight into the idea of the ad.

A woman or a set of ovaries and vagina?

Do I think the ad was unrealistic? Probably it was. Not because it was about a Hindu daughter-in-law in a Muslim household but because it was about a daughter-in-law being respected in the first place. Kangana Ranaut rightly asked,

Though it wasn’t there anywhere in the ad that she wasn’t accepted before, it’s the one and only truth in our country. A woman is precious, undoubtedly. However, it is not because she’s a human. It’s because she carries something precious. It’s actually two precious objects called vagina and ovaries that have a human form surrounding them called woman. And this set of precious objects is identified by the family, caste, community, region, religion and race etc and not by the human form that carries it. The carrier’s consent doesn’t matter. The ownership lies with the aforementioned parties and this ownership is readily transferred through marriage. This organ set is magical though. It works in a number of ways-

  1. It is a certificate of honor for the owner parties- family, caste, community, etc
  2. It’s meant for the pleasure of men
  3. It churns out heirs as well as more vagina
  4. It comes with a genie, guessed it right- the woman who serves the owners her entire life, with a smile and without a complaint

Jokes apart, the patriarchy considers the woman as a property that’s transferred to the husband’s family and that’s where the ad did wrong. It gave the ownership of the Hindu woman to the Muslim husband. What obviously wasn’t visible to the miffed audience was the consent of the woman because how dare she choose her own family.

And as a lot of people asked, would it have mattered if the roles were reversed? I don’t think so. Here’s a similar ad by Swarovski for Diwali 2019:

Now this ad is called cute. Does all the questions that applied to the Tanishq ad apply here? Definitely yes. But nobody cared because the woman here is owned by a Hindu family and they are following all Hindu traditions.

Realistic or Euphoric?

Progressive I would say. As a content creator, I follow ads and try to see it through various lenses. And while the market is full of cliches and regressive plots, only a few brands take the risk of challenging the status quo with something extraordinary. Tanishq has been that kind of brand for me. Remember this ad?

I have never been a fan of jewellery. Somewhere it always reminds me of the expectations that the society has placed on the women- to decorate themselves, to take care of the family, to carry the symbols of marriage and so on. Most jewellery ads have been like this except a few. And that’s why it’s really heartbreaking to see the outrage against yet another amazing ad.

Some of my other favorite Tanishq ads:

The so-called Love Jihad in Tanishq ad or Regressive Portrayal of Women on TV- What should you protest against?

Recently, I watched a few episodes of a series called Anupama with my family. The protagonist was an uneducated women in her forties whose life revolves around her family. She literally worships her husband and his validation is the most important thing in her life. However, her husband hates her and has an affair with another woman. The only reason he “tolerates” his wife is to keep “his” family together. What the makers intend the audience to feel is love and respect for the protagonist and hate for the vamp- the other women in her husband’s life. What I actually feel is pity on both the ladies and hate for the manipulative husband and his spineless mother.

And how do we react to such regressive portrayal of women? By awarding them TRP! Because that’s what we aspire our women to become. I watched a few episodes to give my mother-in-law some company but was appalled to witness the two women fighting to have the husband’s name on their mehndi. And I wondered

  • If people dying from love-jihad is more than the number of women dying due to domestic violence and suicide after being tortured by the family
  • If a woman being exploited by the same-religion family is better than a woman being cared for by a different religion family

Whose side am I on?

Now that I have made a point, this is an obvious question that would follow. And it’s a question I hate to answer but I would nonetheless. I am a proud Hindu. I am an over-sensitive person who understands the world through human emotions. I started painting and dancing before I could write and walk. I have witnessed inequality and have been a victim too. I don’t inherit any ideology from my family. My belief is purely based on my experience of life and I believe in “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The entire world is a family) but to understand this, one really needs to open their mind and heart.And unfortunately, this knowledge would not come from a news channel or a WhatsApp message.

God created man and man created religion, to stay close to God. But God is a mother. And how can a mother hate any of her children? But religion can because it is created by man and hence is a reflection of their flaws. How do you follow a religion? Just like you eat a fruit. Keep the healthy parts and discard what is bad for humanity.

On a totally unrelated note….

Does art understand religion? Hardly! Do we even know how many everyday objects we love and relish come from different cultures? Don’t think we ever did that math. I remember a personal story that stayed with me since childhood. I was training to be a classical dancer. We followed a Guru-Shishya tradition. Our classroom was a temple with Lord Jagannath sitting on a throne. We were not allowed to enter the class with shoes on or without taking a bath. We mostly practiced on simple percussion instruments. But for public performances, we used to invite additional musicians. The flute player was my favorite. The way his flute played the Geet Govinda verses, sometimes I used to forget my steps. He was a Muslim yet, he would offer flowers and incense stick to the idol. He would remember Goddess Saraswati before every performance. As small kids, this would often confuse us. But he would say- “ Art is the only identity of an artist. You see a Hindu God in the idol. I see a friend, a lover, a guide.”

My mind also wanders to the first year in hostel- small smelly rooms, shared washrooms and bad food. And a crowd from every possible corner of the country. What was the only common emotion- that of loneliness. What did we do that year? Shared our experiences. Lighted a bon-fire and threw sesame seeds on Lohri, roamed in the over-crowded streets of Chandni Chowk during Iftaars, literally searched every nook and corner of the city to have Onam sadya, struggled to make a proper Rangoli on Diwali and spent cold December nights in Church on Christmas Eve.

I am sure everyone has some personal stories on unity and harmony that if shared would overpower the hatred we are forced to consume every day. How many would they be able to stop?

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