When advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather created the famous “Hindustan ka dil dekho” jingle to promote Madhya Pradesh tourism, they could not have foreseen that more than a decade later, it would be parodied by #MatAaoIndia, a Radio Mirchi campaign that asks tourists not to visit the country.
The radio channel ran a video under their short-lived social media campaign #MatAaoIndia, which translates to “don’t visit India” in Hindi. The 48-second jingle that has since been taken down ends with, “India aana aapke sehat ke liye haanikaarak hai. Atithi devo nahin. #MatAaoIndia (Visiting India is injurious to your health. Guests are not gods. Don’t visit India)”. Of course, just because it was taken down by Radio Mirchi does not mean that it no longer exists on the internet.
Newslaundry columnist Anand Ranganathan tweeted the video along with scathing criticism.
He wasn’t the only one. Swarajya called the video “a slander campaign”. Others on Twitter accused Radio Mirchi of maligning the country’s reputation. And, of course, some decided to label the channel “anti-national”, a word that is more commonplace in the far-Right lexicon than pollution is in Delhi. A lot of this hate was directed not just towards the radio channel but also its vice-president Akash Banerjee, who had tweeted the video with the caption, “With lumpen elements openly; we’ll soon have to update our #IncredibleIndia ads”, but later deleted it.
Radio Mirchi’s Mat Aao India campaign is frankly shameful. Hit the sick goons hard, but why direct the hatred towards your own nation?— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) October 27, 2017
What triggered this campaign?
A young Swiss couple was attacked by a group of hooligans at Uttar Pradesh's Fatehpur Sikri on October 22. They were beaten up with stones and sticks and sustained serious injuries. Quentin Jeremy Clerc, 24, fractured his skull and suffered nerve damage while his girlfriend Marie Droz, 24, was left with a fractured arm in the attack.
Clerc told investigators that after visiting the Taj Mahal, they visted Fatehpur Sikri, where four young men reportedly followed them for an hour, teased them, tried to engage them in a conversation, blocked their way and forcibly took selfies with Droz. When Clerc tried to intervene, he was hit repeatedly with a stick until he fell to the ground. Droz too was attacked brutally, while bystanders allegedly made videos of the couple on their mobile phones.
There are two reasons why this incident received more attention than everyday cases of tourists getting harassed in India. One, the severity of the Swiss couple’s injuries. Two, the incident’s proximity (less than 40km) to Agra, where Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath was touring, to, quite ironically, promote tourism in the state.
Did the campaign go overboard?
The irony of tourists being assaulted in a country that believes in the adage "Atithi devo bhava (guests are gods)" is visible to one and all. Also, this is not the first time foreign tourists have been harassed and/or attacked by Indians.
According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2015, of the 365 cases of crimes against foreigners, 271 (or 74.2 per cent) were registered under crimes against foreign tourists. Most crimes were reported from Delhi, followed by Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Goa, the NCRB data suggests.
In his DailyO column, journalist Praveen Shekhar has listed out several incidents of foreign tourists getting assaulted in India, highlighting how such incidents affect the tourism industry.
If the safety of foreign tourists is important to the nation — for India prides itself with "Atithi devo bhava" — should such incidents not be used to shame the citizens and the authorities into introspection?
Radio Mirchi’s jingle is one that is not for foreign tourists to hear. By virtue of being written in Hindi, the campaign's target audience are Indians belonging to the Hindi heartland, where a large number of such incidents occur. To suggest that the campaign is anti-India is absurd. Its goal was not to discourage tourists from visiting India, but to make Indians realise how badly we treat our guests.
At the same time, the tone of the campaign was undoubtedly harsh. A milder form of criticism could have been deployed to drive home the message. A 2008 ad campaign by the Union ministry for tourism featuring actor Aamir Khan highlighted how foreign tourists, especially women, are harassed by Indians and it is up to us, as citizens, to check such behaviour.
It was an ad that hit the nail on the head without coming across as unnecessarily aggressive.
Discussing the merits or demerits of Radio Mirchi’s campaign is now a moot exercise. Thanks to the backlash it received, the radio channel ended up apologising for the video and deleting it.