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‘Dictating what is India n’: backlash over Urdu phrase in fashion advert


‘Dictating what is Indian’: backlash over Urdu phrase in fashion advert

Released just as festival season is kicking off across India, it looked like your average advert for festive attire. Models posed, resplendent in red and gold, showing off the newest collection by Fabindia that was said to “pay homage to Indian culture”.

Yet, in just a matter of hours, the poster had sent convulsions through India. A boycott was called against Fabindia, a staple brand in the country, and by the end of the day the advert had been taken down after it was deemed offensive to Hinduism by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and right-wing Hindu groups.

The vehement objections to the Fabindia advert were a direct response to the name of the collection, “Jashn-e-Riwaaz”, a phrase that means “celebration of tradition” in Urdu.

According to BJP figures, rightwing commentators and Hindu groups who waded in, the use of Urdu in an advert for a clothes collection associated with Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was “culturally inappropriate” and offensive to Hinduism.

Urdu is a language which has its origins in India. It is recognised in the constitution as one of the country’s official languages and is what some of India’s most celebrated poems and love songs are written in. Yet in recent years its use has become increasingly politicised in the public sphere, often decried as the “Muslim” language of India’s rival, the neighbouring Islamic country of Pakistan.

Tejasvi Surya, a BJP MP, tweeted: “Deepavali is not Jash-e-Riwaaz. This deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals, depicting models without traditional Hindu attires, must be called out”. His call for an economic boycott of Fabindia quickly gained traction online.

The objections and trolling escalated further over outrage that the women in the Fabindia advert were not wearing a bindi, the coloured decorative dot often worn by Hindu women on their foreheads, and a subsequent hashtag #NoBindiNoBusiness began to trend on Twitter.

Rohit Chopra, a professor of communication at Santa Clara university who studies Indian media, described the objections to the used of “Jashn-e-Riwaaz” in the Fabindia advert as “completely bizarre”.

“It’s part of this BJP imperative to somehow purify Hinduism, to have this model of Hinduism which is completely divested, and bleached clean of any Islamic or Muslim influences,” said Chopra. “But it’s bogus. Language does not map on to religion; just as Hindi is not the exclusive property of Hinduism, Urdu is not the property of Islam.”

Fabindia later clarified that the collection was not its Diwali collection, which would be released later, but still chose to take the advert down. “We at Fabindia have always stood for the celebration of India with its myriad traditions in all hues. Our Diwali collection called ‘Jhilmil is Diwali’ is yet to be launched,” said the company spokesperson.

‘Teaching Muslims a lesson’
It was not the only advert this week to face such accusations of religious offence against India’s Hindu majority. On Friday, an advert by a tyre company featuring one of Bollywood’s biggest actors, Aamir Khan, was accused by BJP MP Ananthkumar Hegde of creating “an unrest among the Hindus”. The advert featured Khan, who is a Muslim, advising people not to burn polluting firecrackers during Diwali.

According to Hedge’s complaint letter, aside from insensitivity to Hinduism, the real problem the advert should have tackled was the “nuisance” caused by blocking of the roads during Muslim Friday prayers and “other important festive days by Muslims” and the “great inconvenience” caused by mosques broadcasting the call the prayer.

For Chopra, there were parallels between the “sectarian targeting” of an advert starring Khan, a prominent Muslim actor who in the past has condemned the rising religious intolerance in India, to the ongoing saga involving the son of another major Muslim Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, who was recently arrested on drugs charges and denied bail, in a case where the credibility of the case has been questioned and that many have condemned as politically motivated.

“This is all about teaching Muslims, especially prominent Muslims, a lesson: that even the biggest names in Bollywood are not protected from the Modi government,” said Chopra.

Also this week, an advert depicting a lesbian couple celebrating the Hindu festival of Karwa Chauth was pulled on Monday after a BJP Minister Narottam Mishra called it “objectionable content” and threatened legal action. The hashtag #BoycottFem then began trending on Twitter, with the company accused of offending religious sentiments. The company Darbur India Limited issued a public apology and removed the advert on Monday evening.

The incidents are not isolated. Since the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, came to power in 2014 led by prime minister Narendra Modi, such accusations of insensitivity to Hinduism have been levelled more and more at films, television series and now advertising, as popular culture and media are viewed increasingly through a prism of religion in India.

Last year, an advert for a jewellery company, Tanishq, that depicted a Hindu woman married into a Muslim family had to be removed after it led to its shops being attacked, thecompany being viciously trolled online and calls for it to be boycotted.

Similarly in 2018, Close Up toothpaste pulled their #FreeToLove ad featuring Hindu Muslim couples after it was subjected to a vicious online hate campaign.

Chopra pointed out that this was a relatively new development, and while Indian advertising predominantly featured upper caste Hindu families, it also has a history of being “very secular and inclusive” and had often depicted Hindu-Muslim unity.

Notable examples include the popular 1989 television advert for the Bajaj scooter, which showed people from all Indian religions happily riding down roads on their two-wheelers, multiple ads for Red Label tea showing Hindus and Muslims drinking chai together, a 2016 advert by Surf washing power released for Ramadan, and a 2017 United Colours of Benetton ad that played on stereotypes of communal violence to show a picture of Muslim-Hindu harmony on the cricket pitch.

While Chopra said objections to such adverts were nothing new, “they used to come from fringe extreme individuals and organisations who were dismissed almost instantly”.

“Now, it’s prominent BJP voices who are legitimising these extreme views,” said Chopra. “Dictating what is ‘Indian’, what is ‘Hindu’ and what is ‘Muslim’, and making them mainstream.”

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Burna Boy did not pay all patients’ bills’- UPTH clarifies

The University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) has faulted reports that musician, Burna Boy, covered all medical bills for patients during a recent visit to the hospital.

The hospital clarified that the music icon only settled the bills of selected patients at the facility, contrary to claims of covering all outstanding bills.

Mrs Elabha Meni, the institution’s spokesperson, made the clarification in a statement in Port Harcourt on Friday.

“We commend Burna Boy’s kindness in financially assisting select patients in our hospital to offset their bills during his visit on June 11.

“However, contrary to reports stating that all patients bills in UPTH were paid during the visit, only selected patients received cash gifts or donations.

“The hospital did not receive direct payments from the musician and his team on behalf of patients to support this worthy course of reducing healthcare cost,” Meni clarified.

Meni lauded the musician’s charitable act in helping those in need in the society.

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Kanayo O Kanayo calls out teen actress, Angel Unigwe, mother over alleged breach of contract

Veteran Nollywood actor and producer, Kanayo O. Kanayo, has called out teen actress, Angel Unigwe, and her mother over an alleged breach of contract.

The filmmaker claimed that Unigwe breached a filming contract with his production firm after her mother came and took her home before the expiration of the duration of the contract.

He called on Nollywood producers to boycott the teen actress, threatening that he would come to disrupt any shoot involving her.

Speaking in a video message shared via his Instagram page on Friday, Kanayo said, “A particular woman has been holding producers to ransom. And this is unfortunate; it has happened to me. Unfortunately, she is Angel Unigwe’s mother. A contract is reached by every producer, whether written or orally. But we found out that immediately after this woman takes money from you, everything changes. I’ve gotten reports from people before it happened to me.

“It happened last night that she took her daughter at 9 pm, when a particular day we agreed had not expired. 12 midnight is expiring into another day. She came and took her daughter at 9 pm.

“This is a clarion call for every producer. Please, I beg you, in the name of professionalism and all that unites us, from this moment, the 21st day of June 2024, any set that employs the services of Angel Unigwe, I will come to that set and make sure filming does not hold. You guys know what it is for an artiste to walk out on a set. There was no issue. I want to assure all of you, we had very good working relationship with Angel. [But] Her mother has been threatening many producers. So please, from this moment on, I will monitor every filming schedule. Any set where I found Angel Unigwe would be disrupted.”

Angel Unigwe has not yet responded to the allegations and neither has her mother.


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Mohbad’s family rejects autopsy report, seeks proper investigation

The legal team representing the family of Ilerioluwa Aloba, popularly known as Mohbad has expressed dissatisfaction with the toxicology test results concerning the late singer.

The legal practitioners Wahab Shittu SAN and Taiwo Odumosu, Esq., in a press statement jointly signed, faulted the handling of the procedures, adding that it raised serious concerns about the integrity and thoroughness of the investigation by the police and the medical team into Mohbad’s death.

The family also challenged the Lagos State Government to confirm the autopsy’s authenticity because of the public’s doubts and conflicting reports.

Recalled that a US-based lab had refuted the claim by the Lagos State Government that the toxicology test was conducted at its facility.

The revelation was in response to inquiries made by our correspondent, who embarked on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the musician’s cause of death.

The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, while responding to inquiries via a live telephone call with Ahmad Isah, the anchor of an Abuja-based online programme, Brekete Family, sometime in February 2024, had said the toxicology test was being conducted at the NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, USA.

However, a pathologist, while testifying before the Coroner’s Court on May 15, revealed that an autopsy couldn’t determine Mohbad’s cause of death due to the decomposition of his body.

While citing the report, Shittu stated that the silence that followed from the government made a review of the toxicology test a necessity.

Shittu, who claimed there were discrepancies regarding the involvement of NMS Labs alleged that the letterhead and address of the facility appeared on the toxicology report despite conflicting statements from the laboratory regarding their actual role in the testing process.

He said, “We, the legal representatives of the Aloba Family, express our projfound dissatisfaction and disappointment with the recent announcement regarding the toxicology test results of the late Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba, which have been declared ‘inconclusive’ by the pathologist.

“This outcome is entirely unacceptable to us and the Aloba Family and raises serious concerns about the integrity and thoroughness of the investigation by the police and the medical team into the untimely death of their beloved son, brother, and friend. The Aloba family and, indeed, the whole world demand to know where the toxicology test was carried out as this has impugned the integrity.

“Following the news report in the Punch Newspaper of 31 May 2024 titled ‘US Lab Denies Conducting Poison Test on Mohbad’ and the silence that followed from the government, a review of the toxicology test must be necessary. The legal team wonders how the letterhead and the address of the National Medical Services Laboratories in Pennsylvania, USA appeared on the toxicology test report if the test was not truly carried out in the USA.

“The legal team is puzzled more given the discrepancies in the further response given by the NMS laboratories ascribing the test to another sister laboratory.

“The conflict of interest that bothers on professional integrity. The public is interested in knowing the relationship between the Lagos State DNA and Forensic Laboratory, NMS in the USA and ITSI Biosciences who allegedly completed the toxicology test on behalf of the Lagos State government.”

While describing Mohbad as a vibrant and promising young individual whose sudden demise left an indelible void, Shittu said the declaration of the autopsy as ‘inconclusive’ failed to provide the clarity needed and undermined the public as well as his family’s faith in the investigative process.

The legal team however demanded a fresh examination of the toxicology samples by an independent and reputable forensic laboratory, ensuring transparency throughout.

The team also called for a thorough review of testing protocols to prevent procedural errors or contamination, just as it urged the involvement of international forensic experts to oversee and validate the re-examination process.

It insisted on complete transparency in sharing all findings and reports related to the toxicology tests, urging expedited efforts to re-examine the samples and deliver definitive answers promptly.

Furthermore, the legal team criticised the Nigeria Police for what they deemed insufficient effort in the investigation while calling for the intervention of the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun.

“The Aloba Family remains steadfast in their pursuit of truth and justice for Ilerioluwa. They deserve clear, definitive answers regarding the cause of his death, and it is the responsibility of the investigative bodies to provide them with such clarity. The current ‘inconclusive’ results only serve to prolong their agony and uncertainty, which is both unfair and unjust.

“Considering the Coroner Inquest, we appeal to the presiding Magistrate to ensure that an independent toxicology report is submitted to the Coroner’s Court before submitting the final report to the authorities.

“Presently, we have an application before the Coroner Court seeking approval to conduct an independent autopsy and toxicology test. We call on the presiding magistrate in the matter to expedite a hearing on the independent autopsy and toxicology application. That is the only way justice can be served in this case,” the statement added.

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