Dear Havells, You Dropped Your Ad But Not Your Caste Bias

Sanjay Yadav

Sanjay Yadav is a JNU alumni currently working in UP government.

The message that Havells has posted in response to the outrage in social media against its apparently anti-reservation advertisement says:

“A sequence in our recent Fan campaign of “Hawa Badlegi” seems to have hurt the sentiments of some viewers. Havells is a responsible brand and it never intends to hurt anybody’s sentiment. The intention of the company has always been in the interest of people, hence we are withdrawing this ad sequence immediately”.

HavellsWhile the advert was appalling the seeming apology further aggravates the matter, Havells thinks it has hurt the sentiments of “some viewers”. So, in Havells’ world view, nearly 80 percent of Indians who constitute the OBC,SC and ST groups are merely “some viewers”, and they have no other identity than just being viewers, like a few ants taking a different trace on wall or a few locusts breaking free from the swarm. As if Havells itself is an amorphous entity having no other identity which can be traced behind its fancy for the message it tried to float. The truth is Havell’s insulted and humiliated not just 80% of Indians for being what they are – i.e. “lowered” caste people — it also passed disparaging comments upon a legal, constitutional, naturally just provisions which have been time and again upheld by the Supreme Court including its full constitutional Bench. It did not mount this insult riding on a studied, reasoned criticism of the provisions, nor did it display any acquaintance with the logic behind the constitutional scheme but simply because, inhabited as it must be by the caste hindus ( dwijas, the twice born) the company bosses took upon themselves to preach to the bahujans that they should reject the quota provisions for the sake of their self esteem, for khuddari and suggested that the young dalit bahujans must join this brigade. How does it happen? This isn’t an exceptional episode, whence this arrogance of (no) knowledge and thence preaching? As suggested, within the dwija world view there is no other view, nothing else to know, nothing to hear – there has never been a significant tradition among them to glean, to munch, to think, to engage with variety and then produce knowledge. With that in mind we cannot rush to condemn Havells as an upstart deviant – this deviance is the dwija norm, this is a caste-class attribute, not an individual failing. It is largely unchallenged because it is a result of a long standing continuous hold over socio-political power, over spaces that they have monopolised, constructing a hegemony for about a millennia, unfettered and unchallenged mostly. Because anybody who has the power to hold their march, to challenge them is again, one of them which is why the normative Dwija can utter anything like Asis Nandy or Double Sri and easily get away with it. Or even be rewarded for it. The behaviour of the company both, while producing the advert and while withdrawing it — is a natural and expected outcome of the same dominance and sway they hold in all meaningful and influential spaces. Hence, the arrogance.

We now know the caste hindu’s mental make up, his cognitive framework, his understanding of the nation he wants to build and what ails the nation of his dreams. This delineation of the dwija mind, this understanding that he sports is what comes in the way of nation building. Though he is a minority he holds all power and resources while those who are in majority lack it. Shockingly, it is the powerless, resource-less latter who are identified as the burden of this nation, in every which way and much preached upon patronisingly as the Havells ad does. It is this that kills dialogue it is this that denies the possibility of social negotiations, because it is only he who can lay out the negotiating table but refuses to, telling instead the bahujans to forego their constitutional privileges for the sake of khuddari. While we dealing with this, we must mention that the elite of this country have never in history given up any of their privileges voluntarily, it has always had to be snatched from them much to their chagrin. And it shows.

At some other place and some other time the popular mainstream media might have written something about this advertisement ( which is merely a symptom of a larger malaise), and if they would have, it would have been with a forked tongue. But, this is the age of facebook and twitter and it turns all hegemonising institutions such as popular media on its head and flogs it relentlessly with reasoned arguments, revealing the caste character of the media itself. There is simply no respite and no lack of platform to hundreds and even thousands of dalit- bahujans-tribals and well meaning dwija allies (across religions) writing profusely, logically on this democratic media. The hegemony has been breached.

So Havells, you didn’t take back that advertisement to reflect on hurt sentiments. You did it because you were going to lose business very badly. Someone with a keen mind must have told you this. And there has been no change of heart, you haven’t conceded that your ad was wrong, that it is mischievous, that it was ill conceived, that it was disrespectful of the constitution, that it didn’t display any awareness of reservations as a policy and that you are not aware of the debates that now engage us over those provisions. All you are saying Havells is : We are withdrawing it because it hurt some people sentiments., taking credit for your own abject lack of knowledge and arrogance by displaying a monarch’s large heartedness. No Havells. You should have withdrawn it by realising that it was a stupid ad to begin with, based on false analyses based on false arguments and it was naive and that you have been arrogant. That you have again behaved like a dwija potentate. Your apology must say this.

Which brings us to another point. This episode also tells us how you and other companies in the private sector would be treating its “quota” educated employees. With what disdain you would be looking at them, humiliating them and yet deny with a straight face that a case like Rohith Vemula’s has nothing to do with caste, that caste is over, that caste is dead. Havells has a caste, that ad agency has a caste, and we know it – make no mistake about that and you have displayed that caste yet again. This time very brazenly. If only there was diversity in corporates and organised private sector somebody from the right background, with the right knowledge would have got up in that marketing meeting and turned down that Ad, or the Ad agency might have had people who would have refused to make such an ad. But, since there is no diversity in your dwija space, since you faced no opposition ever,you are forever happily ensconced in your little powerful spaces smug and warm, doling out gyan by the plenty. This is a strong case to tell us why an Indian Corporate needs reservations. Or that a multinational situate in India needs it. We want your diversity report.

Forget about our sentiments, Havells. It is the dalit-bahujan- tribal who has taken care of your sentiments. They took to a democratic platform and wrote against you and your advertisement. They didn’t bring down a mosque or a temple –THEY WROTE. THEY cared, NOT YOU.





Leave a Reply