Tata-owned Tanishq Jewellery withdrew an ad that showed the beauty of an inter-faith marriage and religious harmony after it ended up triggering disharmony and much outrage. That outrage led to another outrage about how much outrage is justified. How polarised must we be that the idea of unity divides us. But then, this is 2020.
Always look on the bright side of life. Tanishq can go back to selling jewellery and not syrupy virtue-signalling, at least for the near future. This backlash from the fringe of a religious group will definitely force many businesses to rethink the virtues of virtue-signalling in a country where what constitutes virtue is itself being redefined. Jewellery is the crassest form of consumerism. Tanishq sells ornaments, stuff symbolising riches, not value. Bangles just clank, a watch made of gold is worth only the time it tells. This is 2020.
You gotta sell gold in the festive season, so go sell gold in the festive season. Don’t get into social messaging because the country is in no mood for messaging. And it’s none of your business to bring religion into business because nothing unites us like hurt religious sentiments and being reminded of Ganga-Jamuni stories of amalgamation. And the saccharine-dipped shorts on unity simply don’t cut it because they highlight the chasm they seek to paper over. The Tanishq ad showed a pretty lady, purportedly Hindu, telling her Muslim mom-in-law that godbharai is not natural to them. Yes, yes there was a time when our rituals were same-same while faiths were different. But much water has passed under the bridge over Ganga-Jamuna since then. The bridge has been washed away. Hindus have become proper Hindus and Muslims more Muslims. Hence, the ad filmmaker had to make the point of difference. That they are two different people. This is the point that’s too prickly pointy for comfort. The ad on oneness would have been well-received if it did not accent the twoness of the family. This is 2020.
Inter-faith marriages are rare in this country where inter-caste marriages are not common. Ours is an honour culture and there’s a premium on purity. Purity cultures don’t mix what they like to say with what they prefer to do. If the woman was Muslim and the in-laws Hindu, we could have seen a similar backlash, more intense or less is anybody’s guess. If you look back at the history of violence triggered by films dealing with this or the reaction to real-life love stories of this kind, you will know we have never been tolerant of this mixing. Inter-faith marriages are a fact India lives with, not something India wishes to live with. We popularised a phrase that has both love and jihad in it. Love itself is a struggle in most parts and marriage a matter of life and death. You can’t hope to ride this tiger to the market. Tanishq learned it the hard way. It got off the tiger but not without a bleeding behind. This is 2020.
Religion is a complicated and sensitive issue in our deeply religious society. Secularism is so much a taunt that even people holding constitutional seats use the word secular as a pejorative. Those who claim to uphold secularism cannot pass the secularism test either. It’s a hard idea that draws blood and demands intellectual honesty, an increasingly rare commodity thanks to the Politically Correct culture. Secularism does not suck up to religion. Our polity sucks up to all religions equally and a lack of balance in this sucking-up is seen as a threat to secularism. We can go on and flaunt the Constitution and swear by it but the Preamble is no guarantee to the direction this country takes. I have never seen anyone ruing the utter lack of socialism in this country, though our preamble proclaims WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC. That we remain democratic is solace enough. This is 2020.