Airtel bigotry controversy shows corporations are driven by profits, not philosophy

VandanaJun 19, 2018 | 18:48

Airtel bigotry controversy shows corporations are driven by profits, not philosophy

A woman named Pooja Singh wrote to Airtel on Twitter, stating that she did not want to interact with a customer resolution officer as he was a Muslim.

A screenshot of the Twitter conversation between Pooja Singh and Bharti Airtel India.

What did the company do?

Airtel got in another staffer named Gaganjot to take the conversation with Singh forward. The company did not realise what it had done till people on Twitter pointed out the "pandering to bigotry".


What did the company do this time?

It issued another response to Singh, in which it stated, "Dear Pooja, at Airtel, we absolutely do not differentiate between customers, employees and partners on the basis of caste or religion. We would urge you to do the same. Both Shoaib and Gaganjot are part of our customer resolution team. If any customer contacts us for an ongoing service issue then the first available service executive responds in the interest of time. On your query, we will get back to you as soon as there is an update."

It is interesting how companies are ready to provide us anything we want — undiluted communalism or secularism the next second — as long as we pay for it.

Singh is/was Airtel's 'communal' consumer whom the company was ready to serve. Thousands others, seemingly 'secular' masses, who outraged over Airtel's response, also found the company eager to call out Singh as a 'bigot' because they threatened to give up the services the company provides as a telecom operator.


Hindustan Unilever's Fair and Lovely showed us countless advertisements where women had marriage proposals turned down because they were not fair-complexioned. As awareness built and people called out HUL for promoting racism and misogyny, the company took a 360-degree turn on what beauty means for women. So, we now find Fair and Lovely ads showing women choosing challenging career options over marriages pushing them into lives of subservience.


Advertisements of products such as washing machines and cooking appliances that showed women as the only people responsible for household chores now show men sharing the responsibility with women in the home. But none of these changes, which companies flaunt as steps towards building progressive and equitable societies, were initiated by firms on their own. These changes were forced upon corporations because their consumers, people with enough disposable incomes to spend on the products and services being marketed, pointed out the regression being perpetuated through branding exercises.

So, here is the point.

Brands' hearts beat for profits  —  not philosophy. Brands look for markets and people in those markets who will buy everything the brand intends to sell.

They will sell to the communal, they will also sell to the secular. They will sell to the liberals, they will also sell to the conservatives. When the two markets clash, the debate will settle in favour of those with deeper pockets, larger bases and more clout.


Ideology is for us — because profits alone drive corporations.

The way corporations advertise themselves to us makes us perceive them as people with thoughts and feelings, who understand us and work for us.

The word 'corporation' itself originates from the word 'corpus', which loosely means body. But nothing could be further from the truth. We are not dealing with bodies or people, we are dealing with machines programmed to assess profits and choose responses accordingly.

This time, it was Airtel.

Tomorrow it will be someone else.

Our hatred, our misogyny, our racism, our sexism will find endorsement as long as we can pay for it. It might find rejection too  —  if someone is ready to pay more to build an alternative discourse.

Last updated: June 19, 2018 | 18:48
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