Ban Ishq? Cancel Culture Gone Mad

By Bhushan Salunke
Still from Tanishq's controversial ad
The Devil’s Advocate, serving you a cocktail of humour, wit and sarcasm

The “cancel culture” has raised its ugly head again. The latest victim is the TV advertisement by India’s TATA group, for its Tanishq brand jewellery in which a Hindu woman, married to a Muslim man, is showered with jewellery on her baby shower day

Remember our childhood days when we would engage in “Katti-Batti” amongst our friends? When we were upset or angry with one of our friends, we would gesture “katti” using the little finger of the right hand. This means, “I don’t like you. I hate you. I don’t want to talk to you”. After the dust settled in a couple of days, we would do “Batti” to mean that “All is forgotten. Let us be friends once again”.

This childish “katti-batti” game has now become a global phenomenon with adults as the major players and goes under the name, “Cancel Culture” and it is the latest thing trending on the internet.

So, what is cancel culture? According to the definition “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for or cancelling public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. It is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.” In simple English, it is an act of cyber bullying by a set of minority group who take offense to anything they don’t like. It is digital lynching of a lynch mob, sitting anonymously behind a computer, furiously typing away their outrage on a keyboard.

Just as you could cancel an order you placed for a purchase, you are now able to “cancel” people if you did not like something they said or did, even though those people are perfect strangers to you.

You may have personally experienced such a cancellation. If in a WhatsApp group, you posted or said something that one of the group members objected to, you could end up getting kicked out of the group by this vocal minority while the silent majority looks on.

Social media has given even the village idiots the opportunity to voice their opinions, which was not possible in the past. A tweet, a video, a post etc can go viral and has the potential to reach everyone on this planet. A 16-year-old boy made a sexual assault threat to cricketer MS Dhoni’s daughter on Instagram, frustrated over CSK’s loss to KKR. In an instant, every cricket fan in India, in other words, the whole country knew about it and social media was on fire. Such is the power of the internet and social media.

Many lives, careers and reputations have been destroyed by cancel culture.

There was a call to “cancel” J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter books, for her views on transgender. JK Rowling has joined around 150 authors and academics in denouncing the trend of cancel culture. They published an open letter in Harper’s magazine, warning of an intolerant climate for free speech.

Let’s get back to the Tanishq TV ad. Tanishq advertisement shows a Muslim mother-in-law throwing a surprise baby shower party for her pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law. The online boycott brigade labelled it as promoting Love Jihad in the community and hurting the sentiments of Hindus.

Kangana Ranaut, who has an opinion on everything, also jumped into the fray and tweeted, “This advert is wrong on many levels, Hindu bahu is living with the family for significant amount of time but acceptance happens only when she is carrying their heir?. So, what is she just a set of ovaries? This advert does not only promote love-jihad but also sexism.”

Suddenly, a TV ad which appeared to promote inter-faith harmony took on a toxic religious and sexist overtone. Bowing down to the vicious online comments, TATA pulled down the advertisement with an apology. This is a classic example of how a minority of raucous online tweeters can bring down a giant company to its knees. More power to the trolls. Yay!

In today’s social media-dominated world and under the shadows of the cancel culture, it may be wise for companies marketing their brands to stick to their commercial interests and not appear to be agents for social change and altruism. People are easily outraged these days and social media is always available to enabling it.

I was dying to know what my 4th wave feminist acquaintance, Xena, had to say about the Tanishq advertisement. Xena, is a full-time feminist, constantly scouring the landscape for any signs of patriarchy, misogyny, sexism and gender inequality. She has an unusual knack for discovering patriarchy at every turn and corner. She even thinks her father is patriarchal despite all the best things he has done for her, his only child and daughter. When I told her that Donald Trump has promised to send a woman to the moon, if he wins the election, she retorted, “Now, a man decides if a woman can go to the moon or not?” .

She flew off the handle when I asked her to comment on the Tanishq ad. She said, “Such a sexist and patriarchal ad. Do men think that women are slaves to tradition and jewellery? Are men using jewellery as an inducement to get women pregnant? Is pregnancy the only way for a woman to get a piece of jewellery? Pregnancy and childbirth subjugate women. Why are women shown as baby-making machines? I’m cancelling TATA forever, including their cars, their salt, their tea and millions of other things they make. How dare they propagate gender inequality and show women as dumb people?”

Cancel culture needs to be cancelled.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s

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  1. Was this article really intended to be funny? Old Indian men getting misty eyed about the good ole days when people tolerated their ignorant and divisive crap views is not funny. It never was. I also suggest that the writer take a few lessons on grammar and punctuation before attempting to write again.