–Kakali Das |
The Clothing brand, FabIndia pulled down its Ads after receiving severe backlash from the right wing groups online. In the Ad, FabIndia had titled a festive collection of clothes as Jashn-e-Riwaaz, meaning celebrating traditions, which has now been pulled back. It basically said “As we welcome the festival of love and light, Jashn-e-Riwaaz by FabIndia is a collection that beautifully pays homage to Indian culture.” Now, BJP leader and MP, Tejaswi Surjya from South Bangalore on Twitter said, “Deepawali is not Jashn-e-Riwaaz. This is a deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals depicting models without traditional Hindu attires must be called out. And brands like FabIndia must face economic costs for such deliberate misadventures.” Post that, it went viral with the hashtags that trended saying #boycottFabIndia’, and people claiming that they would no longer buy from that brand. According to NDTV, FabIndia issued a clarification that said, “Jashn-e-Riwaaz is not its Diwali clothing collection; Jhilmil Si Diwali is yet to be launched.”
What about the ease of doing business in India? What happens when the brands don’t know what they can and can’t say? And what about the mainstreaming of this sort of trolling online?
These kind of trolling from the Member of Parliament as opposed to any random people on the internet shows how intolerant this entire system has become. The chilling effect it has on creativity, the alienation of Urdu as a language of Muslim specifics in any of the creative art, strips off the very fundamental rights as citizens in this country. Where does the laws of freedom of expression finally stand in this world? We have a fundamental right to freedom of expression and speech; in fact, the right to creative expression I would say. Where does this leave our freedom of expression, because it’s fundamental to us as citizens? If we would constantly be afraid of offending people, effectively we do not have freedom of expression left in the country.
We have had various incidents earlier like the Tanishq incident and others that played out, but it’s different this time because the call for boycott and for economic consequences came from a member of parliament. Where does this leave the ease of doing business in India?
Clearly, it isn’t an easy task to do business in India anymore. We are talking to a certain section of India which seems to believe that we can’t say or act a certain way which seem to be anti-Hindu. A few days ago, when the Prime Minister was in Uttar Pradesh inaugurating an Airport, he closed his speech by saying that Diwali is round the corner, ‘Vocal for Local’. Now, is there anything in this country that is more local than FabIndia? They have over 300 stores employing Indian people across India. They reached out to at least 50,000 artisans whose livelihood was smashed in the past year and a half, due to Covid-19. And, the PM has an MP from the same party uttering something completely contradictory.
“I think that economic boycotts that aren’t due to somebody’s religion or gender or gender inclusive sexuality don’t get covered under the horizontal discrimination under Article 15. Was this a call for an economic boycott contrary to article 15, and was it based on religion? Arguably, Yes, because what they seem to be saying is that – don’t use Urdu words like Jashn-e-Riwaaz as opposed to Riwaaz which when you’re talking about a Hindu festival,” Karuna Nandy, advocate, SC said.
Failing to understand that languages aren’t correlated with religion is the major issue here. Languages emerge from cultures, regions. So, as opposed to a freedom of expression argument, it’s more of a structural equality argument. I think, what’s worrying though is that there was this one influential member of the ruling party that put out this tweet, and now it has created a brawl and everybody is having a discussion about it. What’s even bigger a problem is that this ‘influential member’ of the ruling party is advising people what words or language to use and what not. Most poetic writing in India, until, may be, 70s was written in Urdu, or in blend of these two languages, Hindi and Urdu, because it was considered more poetic, and Urdu is as much an Indian language as Marathi, Assamese, Tamil, Kanada etc. Even within his tweet, there was the idea of the kind of attire that was permissible. His friends are then saying that women should be wearing bindis, likening women’s faces to Mysore park. This is very telling because fascism and right wing politics haven’t even left aside these clothing brands and their Ads. It tells you what to read, wear, eat and now even asks you to wear a bindi if you’re Hindu. Does these flagbearers of #SaveHindu #SaveRSS Campaigns wear Dhoti for the sake of ‘saving’ their Hindu traditions? When we look at the patriarchy, the fascist dominance – the problem here is making the lives of the citizens in this country a living hell.
One the one hand, we have our finance minister travelling to the US asking people to invest in India; we have our own PM saying that they are improving the ease of doing business in the country, and that they want our businesses to grow. And one the other hand, we are creating this kind of uncomfortable space for businesses where they are unaware of what they can and can’t say. Culturally, any foreign company which would come to invest in this country had to be supersensitive regarding what and what not to say. And even for the Indian companies under the people who have been born and brought up here, it’s getting more and more difficult each passing day.
Moreover, there is threatening everywhere; we had seen gunda-ism in the case of Tanishq. People marched to stone, break the class and threaten lives. In the case of FabIndia, it’s economic threatening. One can get offended by anything but there has to be a limit. We need to respect people and brands as well if they have a point of view, and I am sure that if FabIndia stands behind this campaign and shows the differentiation between religion and culture, there’s a chance it could educate and infuse a fraction of the sense of acceptance and tolerance amongst each other.
Besides, all of these fuss is happening on social media; a ton of people who tweeted aren’t known at all; their real names, identities aren’t revealed. None of these tweets go into either the parliament or court or any of these institutions of democracy. It’s just created and handled on social media. And this very ruckus on social media compel the brands to withdraws their Ads each time. Are we legitimising in our society a certain level of Islamophobia each time such baseless incidents take place?
It must be realised that the political parties have a large number of trolls, many are on payrolls who retweet and continue to push and trend an idea. They are paid to do so and that’s how they make news or a tweet go viral.
I think, it’s a design, that there are various actors across the board – some on social media, BJP in government, RSS, other groups such as Bajrang Dal etc., and different actors play different roles. For ex, there is a BJP IT cell which works primarily on social media, and which is very much a party driven enterprise. So, there are members of our society or, perhaps, the entire structure who are finding ways to use the cow’s trotter to oppress the minorities in order to make them believe that they are in India by mercy of a majority dispensation.
This is purely structural. Earlier in the times, we would say “Holi Mubarak” and not think twice about it, but now we are made to think and rethink about what we say, possibly, hundred times over. It’s as if, there are land mines and traps that are being planted, and anything can set in on where Hindu society is concerned.
I am a Hindu by birth, which I had no choice in. And I don’t wear Bindi. It is my choice. How can an MP from South Bangalore speak on behalf of all Hindus? In the image of the Ad that went out, the models were wearing sarees, blouses, gajras, ghagras, dupattas, kurtas, bandhgala etc. Now, at what audacity can anyone claim that this image isn’t Hindu enough just because there’s no bindi in it?
And basically, these aren’t Ad campaigns by FabIndia that are made in a conventional sense; these are Ads which is more like targeted pieces of communication during a certain occasion or season. The brands should never apologise, and rather take a stand. Obviously, sometime they would succeed and sometime not, but it’s time they at least have a conversation. In the recent Zomato incident, they did try and take a stand.
Yes, it’s getting trickier by the day, but definitely, backing down without thinking of a way of responding to any kind of an allegation or the trolls would make this system even bitter to survive in. We are all individuals, who are a part of the business, but we are all a part of this community too, and in order to protect what we have in our heads as an idea of India, we must find smart ways to go about it.
Also, it’s true that at the end of the day, they have livelihoods to support, showrooms to protect. Brands would, thus, certainly take the quickest path they can out of controversies, but this would mean that with every passing day the road is narrowing and the chances of thriving in this system is shrinking.
I think, every people must think what really does matter at the end of the day. For ex, what’s happening with the environment!? In the next 50 years, there won’t be any community or religion left to protect the environment, the way we are destroying it. What are we trying to save then? Religions? Communities? We have petrol, diesel prices that cost more than jet fuel, and somehow we are all living with it. There are hungrier children in India than anywhere else in the world. Unemployment continues to sore; many people haven’t worked for more than a year. There are fewer women in jobs than there have been in recent past. The number of children in schools have actually deteriorated for the first time in decades in our country. We have set ourselves back on healthcare, education, malnourishment, women’s health – on a number of women who died in child birth. All of these matters are matters which our government doesn’t particularly enjoy dealing with. What they do enjoy dealing with is – HINDU, MUSLIM and ELECTIONS.
So, the more we refuse to speak up and acknowledge what is going on in the society, the wider the space we create for it to expand, and that for me is a scary prospect. The quieter we become, the more space we create for the loud and unintelligent noises to change who we are and the fabric of India as a country.