HUL’s Kumbh & Holi ads are just latest examples of Ad Industry’s “Civilizing Hindus” mission

Hindustan UniLever is facing the ire of several citizens for an ad which positions the Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela as a place for abandoning aged parents.

Based on anecdotal hearsay, one can argue endlessly whether Kumbh’s ‘reputation’ in this matter is correct or not. However, this twitter thread by the indefatigable @by2kaafi shows that there is no hard data to prove any ‘abandonment epidemic’ at the Kumbh, notwithstanding usual attempts by Western peddlers of atrocity literature to ‘study’ the issue .

Imagine you are the kind of cretin who thinks abandoning his aged parents at some crowded place is a good idea. Would you wait for a mass religious pilgrimage that occurs once every 3 years (in 4 different places), or would you just drop your parents at the nearest railway station, or old age home as many in the West do as part of socially acceptable behaviour?

There is no denying that abandonment of parents is a growing social issue in Bharat. But it is the undeclared abandonment, of parents living alone even in upscale housing societies, that is no less an issue than kicking parents out on the streets. And if anyone thinks the West has solved this problem through resort-like old age homes where the elderly can be dropped off guilt-free, think again.

But the easy solution for this social problem is something that the Anglicized Indian liberal would rather not talk about. Because this solution lies in the restoration of the family unit, in honoring those who choose to be caregivers rather than pushing them to judge their self-worth solely by professional careers….the solution lies in giving some credit to the traditional Hindu way of life (gasp!) where joint families ensured the elderly never became a ‘burden’. A Delhi liberal would rather gulp a glass of gaumutra than be found giving credit to ANY traditional Hindu practise.

So why did the British multinational WPP-Mindshare ad agency which handles HUL’s digital marketing decide to make such an ad, in partnership with ‘The Logical Indian’ (TLI), which gives out a message that Kumbh mela is primarily a place where Hindu pilgrims abandon their aged parents?

The openly anti-Hindu original tweet was pulled down by HUL after negative feedback from twitterati, but the offensive video can still be seen on their official handle, albeit now couched in more neutral language.

Let’s be clear on one thing – all the people involved in the making of this ad were Hindus, at least nominally so, if one goes by the Facebook post put out by the TIL founder.

What is that makes so many young, English-educated, urban ‘Hindus’ think so disparagingly of everything about their ancestral religion & civilization? Why are they so self-alienated that the moment someone tars a tradition with a negative brush, they fall for it hook, line and sinker without exercising an iota of critical thinking?

Twitter was quick to call for a boycott of HUL products, with many people listing out all the company’s brands and suitable alternatives –

There were also those who made well-argued calls for a legal case against HUL for defaming Kumbh’s reputation –

“I am calling for legal action against Hindustan Lever. This falls under defamation, i.e. section 499 of IPC. The Kumbh Mela Committee and UP Govt have taken great pains to organize the event with many police booths and lost & found kiosks – so they need to push back and preserve the Reputation.

For its part Hindustan Lever can show data of abandoned persons and successfully defend the suit. If not they need to pay hefty damages. Show numbers – if 50 Crores attended (across all Kumbh melas), show how many were abandoned, and that is greater than normal rate of abandonment. Without this check, it is open season, you are only counting on decency of parties not to slander.

The exact parallel is if we claim Children usually get molested at XYZ <very specific> Event and publish that in this manner. No chance we can escape punishment. We’re just decent, the #IOI (left-liberal followers of the Nehruvian ‘Idea of India’) team in India observe no such restraint.”

The HUL Kumbh ad, released just a day after possibly the largest & best-organized Kumbh mela ever, is not the first instance of crass or subtle anti-Hindu sentiments in ads. There is an increasing trend of consumer brands piggybacking on Hindu festivals with some or the other ‘social message’ that admonishes Hindus for clebrating their ‘pagan festivals’ with gay abandon. This trend is especially visible in the digital media space, which is mostly consumed by millenials. Here are a few other examples –

Panasonic started a ‘Right2Breathe’ campaign to sell its Air Purifiers – the digital ad showed a woman wearing a face mask with the words ‘Happy Diwali’ emblazoned across.

Honeywell had an ad for its air purifiers where agarbattis (incense sticks) used in Hindu pujas are shown as a ‘pollutant’ inside homes along with other items like dusty pillows, a pet dog, and cooking food

Tata Power made a completely unscientific claim that ‘one Diwali night causes as much damage to the ecology as regular pollution does over the span of a year.’

HUL started a #FreeToLove campaign to peddle their Close-up toothpaste – they featured a Hindu woman – Muslim man relationship that was forced to end due to ‘religious intolerance’ (of Hindus, of course). That campaign seems to have been made by the same WPP-Mindshare ad agency.

Reliance Trends had a digital ad plugging for an ‘eco-friendly’ Diwali.

Tata-AIA Insurance had an ad showing grown men dousing Diwali firecrackers lit by children with holi water-guns & balloons.

There is another recent HUL ad for Surf Excel detergent that is facing criticism. This one applies their ‘Daag Acche Hai’ (dirt-spots are good) theme to the upcoming festival of Holi. Once again, the messaging around a Hindu festival is not a positive celebration, but a rebuke to Hindus for inconveniencing or ‘othering’ minorities with their Holi celebrations.

Many in the ad world are trying to dismiss the criticism HUL is facing as ‘polarised opinion’ or ‘election related’. Some are claiming that Unilever has made similar ads on the ‘Daag Acche Hai’ theme during Eid in Pakistan as well, so whats the fuss about? This is a complete false equivalence – let Unilever make an ad during Eid in Pakistan that preaches tolerance for non-Muslim minorities (much-needed, by the way), and then we can talk.

While the urban, liberal Hindu is moved by inconvenience to Namaz-goers during Holi, he/she is completely missing in action when rural Holi celebrations are disrupted out of pure spite in ‘minority’-dominated areas. Or when a few drops of water accidentally falling on a Namaz-goer can bereave a Hindu family in the blink of an eye.

Maybe the fact that such issues are only covered in regional media and never make it to the trendy, English-language left- liberal outlets like Scroll, The Wire, Quint etc. which the urban, English-medium educated youth consumes, is to blame for this astonishing ignorance.

If any ad-agency types do happen to read this article, let them honestly introspect over the following scenario –

As all the preachy sermons, disconnected to reality, of our liberals are currently directed towards practising Hindus, we must continue making ourselves heard through movements like #BoycottHUL and other PR/legal action against such corporate behemoths who continue to take Hindus for granted.

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