A television commercial in India for detergent brand Surf Excel, a Hindustan Unilever product, has garnered outrage from several right-wing supporters.
The advertisement shows a little Hindu girl encouraging other kids in the neighborhood to throw balloons filled with colored water at her during the Holi festival. She happily takes the hit in order to protect her Muslim friend so that he can go the mosque to offer namaz with clean clothes. While dropping him off at the mosque, she playfully tells him to be prepared for the Holi celebration later.
The advertisement, to say the least, is endearing and heartwarming, but right-wing fanatics and trolls have found a reason to be offended, as #BoycottSurfExcel trended on Twitter.
Actress Payal Rohatgi tweeted asking Muslims to stay at home and read namaz on Holi day. “No need to step out,” she wrote, adding, “Lets see their tolerance when a burqa clad girl is playing Holi.”
To @HUL_News, #Masjid is not required to offer Namaz as per Quran so this Holi read Namaz at home. No need to step out. Regarding #lovejihad propoganda start making reverse advertisement now. Lets see their tolerance when a burqa clad girl is playing holi 😂 #BoycottSurfExcel pic.twitter.com/sMjOOFl8jI
— PAYAL ROHATGI & Team (@Payal_Rohatgi) March 9, 2019
Right-wing trolls on Twitter are labeling this as an attempt to promote “love jihad” and calling the ad “anti-Hindu.” Many are objecting to the depiction of a Hindu girl and Muslim boy and asking, “Why not a Muslim girl and Hindu boy instead?”
“Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory that alleges that Muslim men target Hindu girls to marry so they can convert them to Islam by faking love.
Many have boycotted the product and are asking others to do the same. Trolls have radicalized the advertisement depicting harmony and have attempted to color it with communal hate.
I Buy cot surf excel pic.twitter.com/R69FudSzwm
— Shanti purohit (@Shantipurohit3) March 11, 2019
Boycott Unilever and boycott surf excel pic.twitter.com/lUCNmM5FBT
— Raghu pandit (@Raghupa04379097) March 11, 2019
— Dileep Jaiswal (@DileepKJaiswal) March 11, 2019
If anything, this ad feels more like it stands for friendship, secularism, and just plain pure love. There are several Hindus who detest playing Holi and similarly several Muslims who love the festival.
If we take religion out of the equation in this commercial, would people still be so outraged?
Trolls fail at trolling
What is even more absurd is that the trolls went a step ahead and showed their “displeasure” toward Microsoft Excel also.
One can assume that the brainwashed and ignorant trolls decided to draw some relation between the detergent brand and the application. Many rated it with one star on Google Play store and called it an “anti-national” app.
— Bharath (@b00000h) March 12, 2019
— ilayaraja (@s_ilayaraja) March 12, 2019
— IZHAAN (@MimIzhaan) March 13, 2019
The sane one
While the country witnessed hate over the advertisement, many came out in support of the sentiment it aimed to show and called out the backlash.
Me- “Surf Excel ad promotes communal harmony. Which part of it offends you?”
— Punster® (@Pun_Starr) March 10, 2019
The president of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mehnbooba Mufti, came out in support of the commercial and suggested that the bhakts (radical followers) should be washed with the very same Surf Excel detergent. She said only this could clean up the stains.
I have a better suggestion. Bhakts should be washed properly with Surf Excel. Kyunki Surf ki dhulai daag ko karain saaf. https://t.co/YiYrW4AM2j
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 10, 2019
Comedian and actor Vir Das, in fact, pointed out how the bhakt outrage is actually benefiting the Surf Excel and called it “inherently stupid.”
To call what happened backlash is paying it a compliment. How about ‘Completely irrational inherently stupid hatred motivated by too much free time’? https://t.co/peA2XhY7Tp
— Vir Das (@thevirdas) March 11, 2019
— Ranjan (@MohnotRanjan) March 11, 2019
— Manoj Kanojiya (@mkmkanojiya35) March 11, 2019
The commercial, with its hashtag #RangLaayeSang (colors bring us together), in essence promotes peace and harmony between Hindus and Muslims. This is at a time when the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has left the country polarized with its politics.
Another Holi advertisement in 2017 by another detergent brand called Ghadi addressed the problem of consent and harassment, where a group of men check out two women walking on the street.
One of them takes color in his hands and blocks the women’s way. He then rubs the color all over one woman’s face, which he uses as a pretext to touch her, while saying “Bura Na Mano, Holi Hai!” (Don’t mind, it’s Holi!)
He then, ironically, apologizes to her saying “Oh sorry, I dirtied your clothes.” The woman responds by saying, “This dirt is going to get washed, but what about your dirty mind? How is that going to get washed? Feeling bad? Don’t mind, it’s Holi!” She takes the color, puts it on his cheek, slaps him and walks away.
Several people took offense to even this commercial and asked how the colors of Holi could be called “dirty.”
Of course, the intention of the brand is first to capitalize on its audience’s emotions to sell the product, but the advertisers also realize the power and responsibility they have to impact impressionable minds.
It is evident that the far-right followers cannot look beyond their “radical” thinking for the Hindu religion to see how being respectful and thoughtful of others’ emotions, religions, and feelings is the only way a democracy can truly function.
But it is clear that brainwashing people to the extent that hate-mongers are irrational and intolerant of an ad that promotes communal harmony hasn’t been unsuccessful.
One hopes that Hindustan Unilever-owned Surf Excel will not concede and issue an apology, giving into pressure from Twitter trolls, and will stand by its advertisement.