If it was BJP MP Tejasvi Surya going up in arms against Fabindia, it’s another BJP MP Ananthkumar Hedge targeting the tyre company CEAT over a September advertisement featuring actor Aamir Khan.

A screenshot from Fabindia's website showing its new festive collectionFabindia website
news Controversy Friday, October 22, 2021 - 17:28

Every year, for the festive season, brands try and go out of their way to put their best foot forward to offer deals and new collections for customers trying to jazz up their wardrobes or their homes for Dussehra, Durga Puja, Navratri and Deepavali. But for the past couple of years, brands are constantly on edge, because it seems it’s impossible to get it right and not offend people over the most innocuous things. The latest victim of the social media’s ire for ‘not being Hindu enough’ was apparel and home decor brand Fabindia — because it called its upcoming festive collection ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ (celebration of tradition). Fabindia was trolled on social media for “unnecessarily uplifting secularism” and hurting religious sentiments by ‘defacing’ a Hindu festival using an Urdu phrase for a festive collection. 

Joining in the noisy chorus for a boycott was BJP MP Tejasvi Surya, who tweeted that Fabindia should face ‘economic costs.’ “Deepavali is not Jashn-e-Riwaaz,” he said. “This deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals, depicting models without traditional Hindu attires, must be called out. And brands like @FabindiaNews must face economic costs for such deliberate misadventures,” Tejasvi Surya tweeted. The MP quote-tweeted a Fabindia post that showed women models wearing salwar suits, sarees and kurta pyjamas. Minutes after his tweet, Fabindia took down its tweet announcing the launch and even the YouTube video that had glimpses of the new collection. The company was forced to withdraw its advertisement, the collection, and Fabindia issued a statement saying that the collection was not a Deepavali collection, and that its actual Deepavali collection will be called 'Jhilmil si Diwali' (twinkle-like Diwali). Fabindia gave into pressure, despite the fact that Urdu is an Indian language. Another day, another brand succumbing to pressure, because the notion ‘bad publicity is also publicity’ is not that popular when Members of Parliament also join the calls for a boycott.

But the targeting hasn't ended even now.

The outrage is never-ending, it's even turned to the colour of clothes worn by models in the advertisements of festive collections, or the lack of bindis worn by models. TATA Cliq, which is the online portal where products by the popular apparel brand Westside are sold, was criticised because the models wearing the new festive launch were ‘too sad’ and were ‘wearing green.’ People wanted the models to look happy to bring in the festival of love and lights — hold on, calling Deepavali a ‘festival of lights and love’ is somehow controversial too! And green is the colour on the Pakistani flag, therefore the outrage.

And it’s not just random people who are targeting these brands. If it was BJP MP Tejasvi Surya going up in arms against Fabindia, it’s another BJP MP Ananthkumar Hegde targeting the tyre company CEAT over a September advertisement featuring Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, where he advises people not to burst crackers on the roads. Ananthkumar Hegde shot off a letter to CEAT CEO, Anant Vardhan Goenka, claiming that the advertisement is creating an "unrest among the Hindus," and asked that the company will in future “respect the Hindu sentiment and will not hurt it directly or indirectly by any means.” 

TATACliq was threatened with a boycott for showing women models with a neutral expression, wearing green kurtas, and (gasp) without bindis! PNG jewellers were accused of having models wearing a Deepavali collection without bindis. The brands were accused of “de-Hinduising Diwali.” 

We don’t know yet if these noisy social media campaigns actually translate to losses on the ground and in stores, but brands have been taking down any controversial advertisements or launches — perhaps not to take a chance at all.

It’s not the first time the festival has seen a brand take down an innovative advertisement trying to make the Hindu festival more inclusive. And every Deepavali, it’s a new controversy over a new advertisement. Last year, Tata Group's jewellery brand Tanishq was forced to withdraw an advertisement that showed an interfaith couple at a baby shower organised for the Hindu bride by her Muslim in-laws. It withdrew the advertisement after the sustained trolling soon turned into physical threats to company employees and stores.

Clothing brand Manyavar was at the receiving end when its advertisement featuring Bollywood actor Alia Bhatt in wedding attire, appeared to question the old tradition of ‘kanyadaan.’ In 2019, a Holi ad by Surf Excel had received similar flak by certain groups, as it showed children of two different religions celebrating the festival of colours. It's truly the season to be offended.

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