I really, really like Upworthy. Their tagline best describes what they’re here for and what they’re about: ‘Things that matter. Pass ’em on.’ So when I saw them endorse and post a link to this ridiculous ad campaign doing the rounds on the Internet recently, I was part-appalled, part-sorry, and part-pissed off.
Appalled because it’s a campaign by idiots for people they think are idiots. Sorry, because clearly a site with the kind of credibility Upworthy has, would not have uploaded/ linked, or endorsed this nonsense (perhaps) if they had been slightly better informed of Indian mythology, backgrounds and socio-religious milieu. Pissed off because… come on, Upworthy! You’re smarter than this.
But let’s leave Upworthy out of this discussion for now. The fact is, I’d seen and read about it even before I saw it on the Upworthy Facebook page. I thought it was trash then, but today I decided to be vocal about it. This campaign is a joint effort by a relatively obscure ad agency called Taproot and Save the Children India to create awareness (I guess) about domestic violence. So far so good.
Then the proverbial creative bulb lights up in some maverick mind: “Wait, In India women are supposed to be seen as goddesses. In fact, when a woman marries and comes home as a bride, it is said that Lakshmi herself enters the home. But Indian women are not seen as goddesses anymore. They’re treated like commodities by their husbands…”
So then, 2+2 become 173 and –> “what if we showed goddesses as beaten up?”
Look, this campaign is clearly designed more to create hype and attention for the ad agency rather than sincerely call attention to a social issue. Be honest and ask yourself, did you feel a stirring closely resembling pity or sympathy when you saw these pretty ladies with terrible makeup holding their lotuses staring forlornly into the camera? The body copy? The statistics? “Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.”
Oh shut up.
These pictures, these words; none of it feels true or real to me. It’s not authentic. It’s not genuine. And it’s not even based on facts. I will tell you why: our Hindu myths and classics do not portray goddesses as wilting willows and husband-pleasing waifs. They are women of immense strength, wisdom, power, substance, and dignity. The portrayal of these goddesses as battered housewives goes against the grain of what it is to be a goddess in the first place. Brilliant eight-armed Durga on her man-eating lion, dazzling Saraswati with her command of arts and wisdom of the ages, and magnificent Lakshmi with wealth pouring out in a cascade of gold. Why these could and have crushed any man who dared raise his hand on her. We know of tales where the supreme lord Shiva has ceded to Kali lest her wrath destroy the worlds. Interestingly, Kali doesn’t feature in the campaign. She really kicks butt, I guess that’s why.
Our goddesses do not get abused. So this mascara-streaked, teary Durga is bullshit. It’s sensationalist advertising crap. Go back and reread your Puranas. Know your goddesses and you will know something about your women.
I would love to know if a SINGLE man paused his hand, raised mid-air, before bringing it crashing down on the delicate cheek of his wife or daughter, when recalling the image of a black-eyed Saraswati. Yeah, I don’t think so. While I understand the creative idea is based on the age-old but completely skewed and defunct adage of every woman is a goddess, this campaign does NOTHING to assuage women that they can expect change. Forget it. In India, women are collateral. They are, in some places, valued at less than cattle and sold into prostitution, child-marriages, and slavery. They are not seen, let alone treated as goddesses. And they don’t need to be. They need to be treated as human beings; as women. As the equal partners of men and the mothers of the next generation. They need to be afforded respect, and a right to maintain their dignity.
So please. Let the goddesses emulate perfection. We are not perfect. But we are enough.
Let’s start there.
Do you really believe this campaign wants to help the cause of battered women or does it want to see an entry to Cannes? Decide for yourself. You should also read Lakshmi Chaudhry’s insightful article in First Post “Durga Ma as battered wife: A giant step backward for womankind” as well as Brinda Bose’s column in OPEN magazine.