But just days after the ad aired, Tanishq, the jewelry company, pulled it from all platforms following a flood of angry calls from Hindu nationalists on social media to boycott the brand, including by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or the BJP.
Kothapalli Geetha, a former legislator of the BJP called the ad “highly objectionable” for “normalizing love jihad.” Love jihad is a conspiracy theory espoused by right-wing Hindu activists that Muslim men are engaged in a deliberate effort to convert Hindu girls through marriage. A law enforcement probe in 2018 into 11 interfaith marriages found no evidence of coercion.
A prominent right wing lawyer also shared the details of a Muslim employee of the company on Twitter, a move known as doxing, calling on his followers to “expose” Tanishq and make them apologize.
It is the latest instance of the bitter religious divide sweeping India under the hard line Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He and his supporters envision India as a Hindu nation, not the secular republic enshrined in the Constitution.
Nearly 80 percent of the Indian population is Hindu while Muslims make up another 14 percent — which is still nearly 200 million Muslims. After gaining independence from Britain and a bitter partition with Muslim Pakistan, India’s founders envisioned a secular republic where all religions would have equal rights.
Relations between the Hindu majority and minority Muslims have come increasingly under strain since Modi came to power in 2014. In August, Modi laid the foundation of a grand Hindu temple at a bitterly contested site where a 16th century mosque was illegally razed by Hindu extremists. In February, Delhi was engulfed in the worst communal riot in decades leaving dozens dead. Last year, Modi’s government passed a contentious law that makes religion a basis for citizenship — which specifically excluded Muslim migrants — prompting fierce protests.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Tanishq said they were withdrawing the ad in view of the “hurt sentiments” and “well being” of employees and partners. The company said the idea behind its new collection — “Ekatvam” or oneness — was to “celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life” during “these challenging times.” The jewelry brand is a division of the Tata Group, one of the largest and oldest conglomerates in the country with interests in energy, automobiles and consumer goods.
This isn’t the first time a brand in India has come under fire for promoting Hindu-Muslim harmony. Last year, an ad for a detergent brand showing a Hindu child protecting a Muslim child during the festival of colors had elicited a boycott call too.
Hard-liners feel that ads like these promote a secular viewpoint which they see as a threat to the essential Hindu nature of India.
Interfaith, and for that matter intercaste, marriages in India are frowned upon and often met with violence or stiff opposition.
Karthik Srinivasan, a communication strategy consultant, said he believed it was the shift from online trolling to offline threats that tipped Tanishq to withdraw the ad. “I feel very sad that something that promotes unity is being withdrawn for the wrong reasons,” he said. “We’ve always had intolerance,” he said but that it has been “emboldened” as those in power look away.
Shashi Tharoor, a politician of the opposition Congress party shared the ad on Twitter saying, “If Hindu-Muslim ‘ekatvam’ irks them so much, why don’t they boycott the longest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in the world — India?”
Calling it “really sad,” one media executive asked why a brand as strong as Tanishq would “chicken out” in this in manner.
“The Tanishq ad showed how I was born and raised in this country through the 90s. What happened to it depicts where we’re now,” read a tweet by another user.