From the Viewsroom

Shutting up free speech

Nandana James | Updated on October 16, 2020 Published on October 16, 2020

The Tanishq ad controversy is a blot on our democracy

‘What can’t we achieve, if we become united?’, the 45-second Tanishq advertisement, which was taken down after being subjected to vicious trolling on social media, said in its parting statement. What followed in its aftermath, though, is a grim reminder of what a divisive society can ‘achieve’ — hate and bigotry. It is telling of the strange times we live in, wherein an ad on love, unity and communal harmony, is met with vitriol and hate. In a sign of respite amid all the madness, there were many sane voices calling out Tanishq for its ‘lack of spine’ and ‘cowardice’. By taking it down, Tanishq has legitimised its detractors’ hate speech as well as further normalised attacks on freedom of speech and expression. But, is it prudent to only blame the company?

The political hues of this episode are impossible to overlook, and this is not just because certain BJP leaders, too, endorsed the hate unleashed on the ad. The Tanishq ad controversy is only the latest blight on India’s secular image, which has been put under strain amid the ruling BJP’s tenure. The international media has been vocal in calling out the Modi government for its Hindu nationalism as well as for normalising hate speech and divisiveness. While the democracies in the West have stood by proponents of free speech, the same can’t be said of the successive Indian governments. As former Parliamentarian, poet and journalist Pritish Nandy said in a comment on Twitter while discussing this topic, “...Corporates will stand up only after we do. We, the citizens, must protest against this kind of provocation.”

Maybe we, as a nation, need to collectively work towards dismantling the environment of fear surrounding free speech and any issue with even the most remote links to religion and politics. Most importantly, we should work to uphold secularism, an integral tenet of our democracy that the country’s forefathers have sworn by. This should be remembered as a blot on our democracy, wherein a corporate giant was forced to buckle under the pressure of divisive and bigoted social media trolling.

Nandana James Reporter

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Published on October 16, 2020
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