Not too long ago, Patanjali introduced us to two sisters Aishwarya and Saundarya in a questionable advertisement where one of them was shamed and tagged as ‘wannabe’ for using “chemical and non-herbal” products.
Looks like despite all the flak it received, Patanjali isn’t done with problematic profiling of women yet.
In a new advertisement for its brand, Patanjali is telling us that the only way Indian women contributed to the freedom struggle is by giving away their jewelry. And the only way women of today can contribute to the progress of the country is by judicious grocery shopping. That translates to buying only Patanjali products of course.
Here is a fairly detailed narrative of the advertisement:
Amid a gathering of women of all age groups in a hall, a little girl asks her mother how long India’s fight for independence lasted.
The answer, however, is quite surprising as the concerned mother replies that India isn’t totally free yet. Enters the (perhaps) grandmother who says India’s battle with economic freedom continues till today.
Fair enough, but here comes the problematic part:
The grandmother tells us how during the freedom struggle, women would contribute by giving away their jewellery. She then goes on to ask the women around, so how are you all helping the cause (of economic freedom) now? To which the helpeless women reply in unison – “Hum kar bhi kya sakte hain (what can we even do?).
A woman cuts in and tells the group – “Hum abhi bhi bahut kuch kar sakte hain (we can still do a lot). Of course, by buying Patanjali products, but we’ll come to that later.
Yes, women in large numbers did sell off their jewellery to extend their support to the freedom struggle but is that all they did?
Be it Rani Lakshmi Bai, Annie Besant or Savitribai Phule, history is full of tales of heroic Indian women who did much more than part with their precious possessions to get India free of British control.
But the ad makes it sound otherwise. That a little girl is deprived of lessons on women’s active contribution is both unfair and uninspiring.
But wait, this is just the tip of the sexism iceberg.
Next, the ad tells us that in order to achieve ‘economic freedom’ – whatever Baba Ramdev means by that – all that women can do is buy the right grocery.
One can argue that the ad only caters to a target audience of home makers but limiting their roles to mere grocery buyers is problematic.
Here’s a fun fact: Hundreds of women in our country are contributing to our economy by running businesses from home. Besides, several small and large scale firms are run by women who are responsible for generating employment.
Dear Mr Ramdev, here is a fair question for you: As a spiritual leader, we are sure you come across scores of ‘helpless’ women asking you this very question – ‘hum kar bhi kya sakte hai?’.
Do you have the same answer for them? Buy Patanjali atta?
Patanjali’s long-running campaign, the philosophy of which is echoed in almost all its ads, finds a mention here too. According to Patanjali, swadeshi = economic freedom, and the MNCs are looting India and taking away the profits. And like most Patanjali ads, this ad too exploits the wave of nationalism, making the viewers almost guilty for consuming ‘videshi’ (read anti-national) products.
Many have argued that this campaign “goes against the spirit of the free market economy that India strives to become” with market experts even terming it “negative”, especially because PM Modi is inviting the world to do business in India.
While we can find hundreds of other loopholes in this logic, we respect it as a sales pitch.
But what we can’t digest is the naked sexism of this ad. In an era where representation matters, undervaluing the past and present roles of women is disheartening and misleading.
You can watch the advertisement here:
(Feature image design credit: Chhabi Parmar/ScoopWhoop)