‘MLA ad hurt the feelings of Hindu Australians’

Tim Singh

Tim Singh on why he dislikes the MLA’s latest stunt to promote lamb consumption

A recent ad campaign by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) features Hindu God Ganesha along with other religious figures ‘toasting lamb’, which the Indian community has termed offensive. And rightly so.

First, a character declares that dietary requirements are a problem, which I feel is an attack on all faiths with dietary requirements.

Ganesha is the only character in the ad with an accent, a targeting which makes Ganesha, and by inference, Indians problematic outsiders. The comment ‘Elephant in the room’ shows Ganesha being defined in front of the whole table as ‘the problem’. By using an Indian accent for Ganesha, the ad creators play on negative perceptions of monolingual English speakers. So the accent is a sign of ‘otherness’ that is being mocked.

Then there is the obvious and calculated insult of Ganesha eating meat and drinking wine and talking about a better marketing plan. The false and misleading implication here is that Ganesha has no dietary restrictions and needs marketing.  This last point on marketing further marginalises and belittles Hinduism when in fact it is has over 1 billion followers.

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Screen grab from Meat and Livestock Australia’s TV ad

All these elements in the ad aim to belittle Hinduism and hold to up to ridicule in front of the whole Australian community. Mocking is never unifying when it targets one group and when it is executed without empathy or regard to truth.

There are many layers of this ad that follow a familiar pattern of racist paternalism and the very core concept of the ad is based on the insulting depiction of a vegetarian deity eating meat.

I do not believe MLA was ignorant of Ganesha’s vegetarianism when they selected him as the central character in this ad. As a meat promotion organisation they have nothing to lose commercially in mocking and humiliating Hindus and vegetarianism in general.

The joke here is not aimed at including Hindus in any conversation but instead makes them the butt of a joke and invites non-Hindus to view a Hindu God as ridiculous and lacking in spiritual values.

The joke here is not aimed at including Hindus in any conversation but instead makes them the butt of a joke and invites non-Hindus to view a Hindu God as ridiculous and lacking in spiritual values

The advert follows a family pattern of racism where it builds on ignorance and ‘the other’ is defined and held up to general ridicule. All the audio and visual messages in this ad fly in the face of Australian multiculturalism.

As a nation we invite new migrants in to share our laws and values of fairness and promise them that they will be able to freely practice their religion in Australia.

I have attended dozens of citizenship ceremonies where officials promise cultural and religious freedom for new citizens.

This bigoted ad is designed to hurt the religious feelings of 500,000 Hindu Australians and breaks a key social promise of ‘religious tolerance for all Australians’.

Many viewers in Australia would not know the difference between Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. But most Australians would associate Ganesha and elephants with India. Elephant jokes and accent jokes are targeted at Indian origin people of all religions.

I remember my daughter was helping serve Anglo-Irish pensioners, and was asked where her family came from. When she said India/Punjab the pensioner asked if she kept elephants in her backyard. I have a lifetime of similar bad joke stereotypes I could share. Once you mention ‘India’ to certain ‘Anglo’ Australians you get these stereotypes and they are not confined to a single Indian religion.

So the ad creates a generally negative image of what it means to be Indian.

This is why all Indians regardless of faith should support the withdrawal of the advert as its offensive execution creates a negative impression of all things Indian in the minds of the general population. The ad clearly targets and mocks Hindu beliefs and is just a repeat of an out-dated and anti-Indian dialogue. It shows attitudes that belong back in White Australia and not in modern multicultural Australia.

The writer is a Sikh Australian who has fought for minority rights in Australia all through his political career.


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