Interfaith marriage is still a utopian fantasy in India - yes, it is the goal for secular India but it's idealistic to assume that by the virtue of being secular India accepts interfaith marriages with open arms. The bleak reality is that two lovers from different castes and religions will rarely ever get their families' approval to marry.
In 2018, in a heinous crime, a 23-year-old photographer named Ankit Saxena was killed allegedly by the Muslim family of his girlfriend in Delhi. The girl's family beat him up on the streets and then mercilessly stabbed him in the neck leaving him to bleed out dry.
According to the girl, the couple was looking forward to getting married but before she could meet him, he was killed - a testament to India's intolerance toward inter-religious relationships.
A few weeks ago, Rahul Rajput, an 18-year-old student was brutally beaten to death by a mob of 5 assailants as revenge for dating a Muslim girl. The girl's brother was in vehement disapproval of their courtship and wanted to teach Rajput "a lesson" for defying his orders.
The aspiring journalist was beaten by an angry mob of 5 people who ganged up on him, kicking him to the ground. Even though Rajput had managed to escape back home, he didn't survive the blow of his fatal injuries and died at the hospital.
In 2017, there were reports of Muslim girls getting converted to Hinduism in Uttar Pradesh. According to her family, Zubeida, who calls herself Ameesha Thakur now, was abducted by a Thakur family at the age of 13 and later got married to a Hindu for which she had to convert to Hinduism.
Her uncle Abdullah expressed his woes to the DNA saying, "They made a public announcement in the panchayat that they will make her a Hindu. Now she is living like one, how can we accept this?''
With family interference in the lives of an interfaith couple due to religious intolerance or the need to "preserve" their religion and culture, interfaith marriage is a wildly contentious subject. Additionally, the religious polarisation in the country in the past few years has led to a growing section of Hindu hardliners or Hindu extremists.
Hindu extremists aren't to be confused with Hindus just as Hindutva isn't to be paralleled to Hinduism - they are different ideologies. The difference lies in the fact that Hindutva ideology justifies the lynching of Muslim men for suspicion of carrying beef and Hinduism does not, and never has.
Hindu outrage over Tanishq ad
On Tuesday, the jewelry brand Tanishq, owned by the Tata group, had released an advertisement that featured a story of a Hindu daughter-in-law of a Muslim Family. The ad depicted a baby shower held by the mother-in-law for the new bride.
The girl with the Hindu heritage points out to her mother-in-law that the ritual isn't common in a Muslim household and the loving woman replied saying that the ceremony was only held to keep her happy. She wanted to make the bride feel at home with her new family.
A seemingly heartwarming story of two cultures coming together and a mother-in-law accepting his son's wife as her own daughter. This is why the ad was created for their new line called 'Ekatvam' meaning bringing oneness together.
But trolls led a vicious social media campaign against the high-end jewelry company and the ad for portraying the interfaith marriage. Tanishq, overwhelmed with the flood of criticism and threatening comments, decided to withdraw the ad to prevent matters from escalating.
Tanishq employee was doxed as a backlash to the ad
Many publications felt that Tanishq should have stood their ground and not succumbed to the pressure of a few Hindu extremists. However, it wasn't that simple. They were not just faced with verbal attacks but real threats as one Twitter user, Hardik Bhavsar doxed a Muslim employee of Tanishq with the message: "now you all know what to do" - a pathetic act of endangering the employee, that too by a man followed by the Prime Minister.
A group of Hindus in Gujurat approached a Tanishq showroom and asked the employees to apologize to the "Hindus of Kutch" for its "shameful" advertisement. Fortunately, nobody was attacked or assaulted, however, forcing someone to apologize isn't exactly civil.
In the end, Tanishq had to take the ad down, citing the "wellbeing" of its "employees, partners and store staff" as the reason.
The opposition used “love jihad” as the reason for boycotting the ad. The pro-government magazine Swarajya claimed that the reaction against the ad was expected given that "there is a big debate around 'love jihad'".
Why were outraged Hindus calling this a depiction of "love jihad"?
Infuriated Hindutva supporters have long been pushing this theory of "love jihad" as a way for Muslims to take over the country. The term described a criminal conspiracy by Muslim men to court Hindu women and marry them, as a ploy to convert them to Islam.
Is "love jihad" real? The Bharatiya Janata Party government admitted in Parliament as recently as February said that there was no evidence of such a phenomenon. It's merely a conspiracy arising from the fear of Muslims and biases against them.
It is propaganda used to incite anger among Hindu communities. The word "Jihad" itself has been misconstrued by radical Muslims so often that it has a heavy negative connotation now.
Despite the fact that many Hindu women willingly marry Muslim men after falling in love with them, Hindu extremists are quick to assume that they were forced to do so. This worldview strips away autonomy from women and suggests what the woman wants is unimportant especially in comparison with "honor of the community".
It makes one question - If their dislike for interfaith marriages is so strong when Muslim actor Nusrat Jahan married a Hindu and took part in Hindu rituals, why did Hindus defend that as an example of secularism?
What does this mean for India's religious harmony?
In a democracy, people have the right to criticize and every person has the freedom to boycott a brand or announce that they’re doing so on a public platform. So, the liberal outrage on the Hindu meltdown wasn't due to their criticism but it was due to the impact of such a "hate campaign".
The vicious backlash led to the share price of Titan, which owns Tanishq, to fall by 2.58%, so it could be one of the main reasons why they decided to withdraw the ad. But the fact that they used the words, "inadvertent stirring of emotions" and "hurt sentiments" in their explanation hinted that they were also afraid of stirring communal disharmony.
The fact that a group of men entered their store demanding an apology may have instilled a fear of vandalism in their minds. It wouldn't be the first time, we'd see violence due to communalism.
An article by Opindia, a pro-government publication, argues that the ad depicted a rosy picture of an ugly ground reality of interfaith marriages which is naive and misleading. However, N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, counterargues that the ad is only seeking to change that and offer a "refreshing message". He adds, " The public outrage only acts as a negative reinforcement for the effort and may discourage other creative persons to venture into that zone of amity."
Moreover, our continued run-ins with religious riots and communal disharmony are bad for business. Jim O'Neill, chairman at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank when asked about the same tells the Print that the violence is "off-putting to investors". This was after the violent Delhi riots and we have still not gotten off the path to normalizing anti-Muslim sentiment.
Tanishq was a home-grown brand so it swallowed its pride and deleted the ad but a foreign brand would be quite demotivated by such a backlash by customers. Many people believe that Tanishq had the choice of ignoring the "threats" but a brand can't individually bring change among people, other brands must stand in solidarity with them.
Should brands be socially conscious?
This isn't the first time an ad is facing trolling on social media for portraying the oh-so-blasphemous Hindu-Muslim unity. In 2018, Close Up toothpaste had released an ad called #FreeToLove featuring two Hindu-Muslim couples supporting each other but withdrew it shortly after a hate campaign.
Unilever, a huge conglomerate, received calls for a boycott of Brook Bond Red Label tea after its "Shree Ganesh Apnepan Ka" ad. The ad showed a Hindu man being initially reluctant to buy a Ganesha idol from a Muslim idol maker but eventually does so after forming a camaraderie with the Muslim man.
After consistent "boycott" calls, Harish Bijoor, a brand strategist, tells FirstPost that brands were "cautious beings" in the face of an uproar and "Some markets are ready for woke social conversations, India is not."
In the same interview with FirstPost, Chandni Shah, COO of the digital marketing agency Kinnect says "India is a secular country and brands can also represent that. Sharing love between communities should be allowed and brands that take a stand towards promoting humanity should be appreciated."