After Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra criticised the advertisement for showing “objectionable content” and threatened legal action if it was not withdrawn, consumer goods company Dabur India Limited apologised and withdrew an advertisement featuring a lesbian couple celebrating the Hindu festival of Karwa Chauth.
“Today, they are showing two women celebrating Karva Chauth. Tomorrow, they will come up with an advertisement that shows two men getting married. We cannot allow anyone to show such objectionable content,” Mishra told reporters in a press conference in Bhopal on Monday morning.
“Fem’s Karwachauth campaign has been withdrawn from all social media handles and we unconditionally apologise for unintentionally hurting people’s sentiments,” Dabur India said in a statement released on its official Twitter handle in the afternoon.
The Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) company dropped the advertisement for Fem Crème Bleach over various social media platforms on October 23, a day before the festival. The 1.06-minute advertisement showed two women getting ready for the ritual of the festival in which traditionally, a woman is expected to maintain a day-long fast for her husband and break it after viewing the moon at night.
“I had asked to send a warning to withdraw the advertisement before registering an FIR for hurting religious sentiments. It’s good that they withdrew the advertisement and also tender apology for that,” says Minister.
The advertisement drew strong reactions over the social media platform as many users applauded it for infusing a traditional festival with a queer storyline. However, the hashtag “BoycottFem” also began to trend as many complained that the advertisement was meant to hurt religious sentiments.
This prompted Dabur India to release a statement on Sunday evening clarifying their stance:
“Dabur and Fem as a brand strive for diversity, inclusion, and equality and we proudly support these values in our organisation and within our communities. Our campaign too reflects the same. (…) Our intention is not to offend any beliefs, customs and traditions, religious or otherwise. If we have hurt the sentiments of any individual or group, it was unintentional and we apologise. We are also humbled by everyone who have showered their support for the brand and the campaign.”
The controversy comes at a time when there are a clutch of petitions seeking recognition of same-sex marriage before the Delhi and Kerala high courts. On Monday, the Centre told the Delhi high court, which is hearing four petitions seeking legalisation that a valid marriage can only take place between a biological man and a biological woman. The court will begin final hearing on the matter on November 30.
The advertisement also received flak from various quarters within the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community.
“Some of our biggest crusaders for queer rights in the country today are transwomen of Dalit and non-Savarna identities. We do disgrace to their labour if we thought this ad could go viral in our name. The ad’s final tagline clearly says that our queerness will be acceptable as long as we are cis-passing, fair-skinned and following certain traditions of living,” Tejaswi, Digital Editor, Gaysi Family, a digital platform that publishes queer content, said.