What shall we do with 'Azadi' then?

What shall we do with 'Azadi' then?

When partisans attack our diversity and multicultural reality, they attack India and Indian unity

Surya’s threat that Fabindia should face “economic costs” for its “misadventures” was criticised as economic terrorism and objectionable by many.

Last year around this time, jewellery brand Tanishq was forced to withdraw an advertisement showing a baby-shower organised by a Muslim family for their Hindu daughter-in-law. The advertisement was criticised and trolled on social media by Hindutva supporters for allegedly promoting “love jihad”. A few days later, following social media outrage and threats, Tanishq pulled another advertisement that talked about a cracker-free Diwali.

This month, popular clothing brand Fabindia was forced to take down its tweet and advertisement following an uproar on social media that accused the brand of “defacing the Hindu festival of Diwali and terming it Jashn-e-Riwaaz.” Many tweets slammed the brand for needlessly uplifting secularism over a Hindu festival.

The Fabindia tweet and ad showed models wearing their new Diwali 2021 collection with the caption: “As we welcome the festival of love and light, Jashn-e-Riwaaz by Fabindia is a collection that beautifully pays homage to Indian culture.”

It didn’t take long for the hashtag #boycottFabindia to trend on Twitter, with vicious attacks, many seeking an immediate boycott of the brand. The BJP’s Yuva Morcha president and Member of Parliament, Tejasvi Surya, jumped on the bandwagon tweeting: “Deepavali is not Jashn-e-Riwaaz. 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.”

One Twitter user said Fabindia is “de-Hinduising Deepawali,” while another, apparently a loyal buyer of the brand, claimed he ripped off clothes he had bought from Fabindia and turned them into dusters and shoe-cleaners.

Such backlash on social media to anything that doesn’t find favour with the right-wing Hindutva groups seems to occur with appalling regularity. What’s worse is, their intimidatory tactics and threats of violence force companies to cave in, fearing risk of physical assault and damage to assets.

Coming to the Fabindia advertisement, the use of the Urdu term ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’, which means ‘celebration of tradition’ has “hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus”. Isn’t Urdu a language born in India and isn’t it one of India’s officially recognised languages? Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many Gujaratis use “Saal Mubarak” and “Diwali Ni Mubarak” to greet people. US President Joe Biden tweeted last year: “To all those taking part in the Festival of Lights, Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak.” Aren’t these Urdu/Persian words? Why weren’t they called out?

Surya, in his tweet, alleged “abrahamisation of Hindu festivals”. Many have pointed out how Surya has tweeted using an Abrahamic language. Moreover, Surya, like many of us, wears trousers and shirts, which are not of Indian origin but were introduced by Europeans into India.

Now, let me allude to what Sudheendra Kulkarni, writer and aide to former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee rightly pointed out in a recent article. The official name for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence is “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” — the celebration of the elixir of freedom. “Azadi” is a Persian/Urdu word.

He also reminded Surya that the one patriotic song that’s invariably sung alongside the national anthem Jana Gana Mana on Independence Day and Republic Day is Allama Iqbal’s Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara.

“Why don’t you post a tweet calling for a boycott of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” and demanding an end to this “abrahamisation” of India’s patriotic celebrations?” Kulkarni asked.

Surya’s threat that Fabindia should face “economic costs” for its “misadventures” was criticised as economic terrorism and objectionable by many.

Fabindia and Tanishq aren’t the only brands to buckle under right-wing pressure in recent times. Last month, BJP MP Ananthkumar Hegde targeted tyre company CEAT over an advertisement featuring Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, where he advises people not to burst crackers on the roads. An advertisement by clothing brand Manyavar, featuring actor Alia Bhatt in wedding attire, was seen as an attack on Hindu wedding rituals.

In 2019, an advertisement by Surf Excel received similar flak as it showed children of two different religions celebrating the festival of Holi. Zomato, Hindustan Unilever and others, too, have faced similar backlash.

It is tragic that such incidents have become common, attacking our freedom of expression, destroying the very fabric of a democratic, secular, multicultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual India, known all along for its unity in diversity.

Books, films, plays, ads, speeches, social media posts — they all come under the selective scanner of the ‘gate-keepers of our culture’ who decide what is right and what is wrong, threatening action if anyone doesn’t fall in line.

Is there an end to all this, or is this the new normal? Are we not entitled to celebrate diversity? Should we give in to bullying, bigotry, hate-mongering, intolerance by playing it safe in the interests of peace and well-being?