Graphic by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint
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New Delhi: The advertisement is over a year old, but internet has a long memory and a short temper.

As Ganesh Chaturthi fever gripped parts of the country over the weekend, a section of Hindus were also taking a break from the euphoria to lead a #BoycottRedLabel movement on Twitter — the tea, not the alcohol.

A seemingly innocuous advertisement of the beverage, released in September 2018, was retrieved from the archives of the world wide web to give parent company Hindustan Unilever (HUL) a hard time.

The ad shows a Hindu man approaching a Ganpati idol-maker to take home a murti of Bappa for the first time. The elderly idol-maker offers parcels of knowledge about Hindu traditions and tales to his customer, leaving the man suitably impressed. But then, because it’s time for his namaaz, the idol-maker puts on a skull cap, revealing his Muslim identity. The Hindu buyer is surprised, feels betrayed and disappointed.

“I have some work today, I’ll come back tomorrow,” he says, excusing himself from the interaction.

The idol-maker asks him to at least stay for (Red Label) tea. Facilitated by a glass of chai, the Hindu man’s bigotry disappears when the Muslim man explains why he does what he does: “Bhaijaan, yeh bhi toh ibadat hai” (Brother, this is also worship).

The last frame reads, “Inspired by a true story.”

Victim complex

For many Hindus on the internet, HUL’s campaign was more about showing their community as bigoted and exclusionary than about fostering a sense of secular harmony among people.

“Very easy to pick on Hindus,” user indy_jones3 wrote, while internet-famous Payal Rohatgi (with “Ram Ram ji. Can anyone in this advertising world make an advertisement preaching Muslims in India to not slaughter animals on Eid,”) also joined the chorus.

Some users even made placards asking others to “Boycott Red Label who insult Hindus on Ganesh Chaturthi.”

At the foundation of this outrage was a sense that Hindus, who constitute nearly 80 per cent of India’s population as of 2011 census, were the victims of selective targeting.

This isn’t even the first time that Red Label, let alone HUL, has been at the receiving end of the Hindu population’s ire at the perceived threat to their cultural pre-eminence. Earlier this year, the tea brand was under fire for depicting a Hindu man deliberately losing his elderly father in the chaotic crowds on the Kumbh Mela, only to change his mind and return with a cup of Red Label tea.

“#RedLabel encourages us to hold the hands of those who made us who we are. Watch the heart-warming video; an eye-opener to a harsh reality,” the brand’s tweet read.

Hindu nationalists fought vociferously against what they saw as an affront to their values and their holy festival — #BoycottHindustanUnilever trended on Twitter, with calls to avoid all HUL products, including the completely unrelated Vaseline and Dove.

Yoga guru and owner of Patanjali products Baba Ramdev capitalised on this opportunity, comparing HUL to the East India Company, which had laid the foundations for British colonialism in India.

What HUL wanted to highlight in their ad isn’t a work of marketing fiction — old parents are often purposely abandoned at Kumbh Melas, and have to make their way to the volunteer-run lost-and-found camps on site.

And the fact that discrimination against minority communities is on the rise is also well recorded — hate crimes were reported against Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis just days into BJP’s second term.

Incidents of communal violence have also risen by 28 per cent between 2014 and 2017 – marked particularly by increasing cow vigilantism and the use of hateful as well as divisive rhetoric by high-ranking politicians.

When Surf Excel’s Holi ad portrayed a girl protecting her Muslim friend from the onslaught of colours and water so that he could reach the mosque to offer his namaaz in white clothes, worried Hindus cried out ‘Love Jihad.’

They poured HUL’s Surf Excel down the toilet, demanding an apology for the advertisement that preached the ‘offensive’ idea of inclusivity.


Also read: Indians are Netflixing religion to match kundlis, find jobs, get a Green Card


The power of #

It’s not just about online posturing, though. The unfortunate truth is that the hashtag outrage of thousands of Hindus does come at a cost for those at the receiving end. Online anger has been mobilised into mob murders and lynchings over fake WhatsApp rumours of child kidnappings.

And brands know only too well the impact of a call to boycott them or their products.

In 2017, an online campaign demanding the boycott of Amazon for selling toilet seat covers with pictures of Hindu gods on its US website resulted in a police case. The Sector 58 police station in Noida had registered an FIR against the e-commerce giant for “hurting Hindu sentiments” under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code — promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc and performing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony.

Amazon promptly removed the products from its website, just as they would, a year later, remove a tweet endorsing outspoken Bollywood actor Swara Bhasker.

In 2018, Bhasker had dared to hold a #JusticeForAasifa placard on Twitter, pushing hurt Hindus to call for a #BoycottAmazon campaign.

Many online protectors of India took offence to her and other actors’ anger over the horrific Kathua rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl, while members of the Right-wing Hindu Ekta Manch — with a BJP leader in front — had waved the tricolour in support of the accused in Srinagar.

“There’s an organised set of trolls tracking what I do and say,” Bhasker had told ThePrint in May, adding that “I’m too far down that path now, I’ve crossed that bridge”.

After the actor started campaigning for Kanhaiya Kumar and other “candidates from secular platforms,” during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, she had said, “I’ve lost four more brands.”

Despite their hard-lining Hindu(tva) stance, the pious packs of online trolls don’t discriminate when it comes to the kinds of brands they boycott and urge others to. With fashion, online shopping, food, detergent and tea now out of bounds, apparently, one can only wonder what a true Hindu is actually allowed to use anymore.

Most recently, the trolls even declared they were ready to stop eating halal meat of McDonald’s, which only broke a profit in 2018 after 22 years in India.

Unorginally, #BoycottMcDonalds flooded the internet, with hungry Hindus, like user @HasdaaPunjab asking the chain to “Go To Hell,” along with the thinly veiled threat of “If you not want to end up like ZOMATO, ensure that JHATKA MEAT is served.”

In late July, when a customer whose Twitter handle was @NaMo_SARKAAR (now deleted), refused to take an order from a Muslim man, Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal had said that his company “wasn’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values”.

Just cancelled an order on @ZomatoIN they allocated a non hindu rider for my food they said they can’t change rider and can’t refund on cancellation I said you can’t force me to take a delivery I don’t want don’t refund just cancel

— पं अमित शुक्ल (@NaMo_SARKAAR) July 30, 2019

Overnight, more than 5,866 one-star ratings hit the Zomato app, with over 100K tweets of #BoycottZomato and #ZomatoUninstalled surging on Twitter.

Patriotism is blind, especially when conflated with religious identity

If, as the Hindu majority claims, it is being unfairly attacked and underserved, then being a minority should logically be a good thing. And yet, the same Hindus who rally against minority appeasement are also fearful of becoming a minority in their own country.

A series of false equivalences, like Bhasker using the word ‘Hindustan’ on her placard must mean she is against all Hindus, is also a significant trope in Hindu trolling.

The logic doesn’t need to stick, as long as enough people get behind it.

When Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel was accused of saying that he didn’t want to expand to “poor nations” like India and Spain, the internet backlash was so strong that it carried those who didn’t even bother to read the app’s name.

#BoycottSnapchat may have been trending, but those blind with rage accidentally uninstalled Indian e-commerce app Snapdeal instead.

If things weren’t already complicated enough, Snapdeal had already dealt with a similar controversy of its own before this — brand ambassador Aamir Khan’s statement that “India was intolerant” had pushed customers to respond with…intolerance. They asked for the company to fire him.

Names don’t even have to be similar for trolls to misdirect their wagging finger. In August 2016, a cartoon carrying Myntra’s logo, which had showed Krishna ordering a sari for Draupadi from the online fashion retailer went viral.

Soon, people starting uninstalling Flipkart-owned Myntra, as the Quartz reports, “for an ad it didn’t even make”.

These hashtag revolutions might seem like trivial politics of distraction, but they have the power to affect actual change and not just for those directly involved.

#MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are some examples of effective online mobilisation for social justice. But for some, they are used to promote only one idea of equality — in which they are at the top of the food chain.


Also read: ‘I don’t f**k fascists’: How politics is shaping the dating lives of Indians on Tinder, Hinge


 

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9 Comments Share Your Views

9 COMMENTS

  1. If you are always keen to talk about 5-10% so called Hindus then why not we point out 50% of so called Muslims. The Print have some hidden agenda against Hindus. I am a hindu and have many good friends from different communities. Reading your articles always give a sense of hatred. I don’t know what you want to achieve but let me tell you one straight thing. Those so called hindus don’t know how to read or write English. So please stop this shit.
    #OneIndia

  2. What happened to the French magazine which published about a religion? What happened to Swedish cartoonist who painted a religion in comical way. Does Swara Bhaskar hold her placard for the affected, in the name of freedom of expression. Selective amnesia to say the least.

  3. Why do they have to bring in religion in their business promotions? Also why to bring in negativity and then claim that their products bring positivity? Also why to paint some religion in bad picture and other religions as good and secular?

  4. It is a very simple thing to understand: it is ok in the media to promote any negative stereotypiing of hindus wirh the standard trope ” freedom of speech, you are the majority, blah blah blah… ” I would think that making a toilet seat with a hindu God on it would be a cause for condemnation.
    Why make religion-based commercials in the first place? Ie it not trting to exploit religion ( one way or another) for commercial gain? He who lives by the sword dies by thw sqoef

    Freedom mans responsibility. People need to remember that. Also since there are no pro hindu voices in the msm..social mwdia is their only platform with their swift and indiscriminate “justice”

    Conveniently forgotten is the outrage and fatwa against Salman Rushdie for painting a negative pic of islam. Just put any picuture of mohammad and sit back and watch the worldwide outrage and even killings.

    Try making an anti christian commwrcial in the US and see the outrage.

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