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«Love Jihad»! Why the commercial for an Indian jewelry chain is causing outrage among religious extremists

Hindu woman in happy association with Muslim man: This is shown by a commercial in India. It should demonstrate interfaith harmony. Instead, he played into the hands of conspiracy theorists.

The clip shows 43 seconds of harmony: A Muslim family prepares a “baby shower” for their pregnant daughter-in-law - a custom practiced by Hindus, among others, in which a mother-to-be is given presents. In the end, the family hung their daughter-in-law with jewelry, everyone beamed with happiness.

The Tanishq jewelry chain is promoting a new line of jewelry called "Oneness" with the commercial. The accompanying text reads: "A wonderful meeting of two religions, traditions, cultures." It pays homage to the founding ideal of India: a country as a common home of various religions and cultures. But the jeweler’s marketing strategists had evidently not taken into account that their message was at odds with the Indian zeitgeist.

On Tuesday, Tanishq withdrew the commercial a few days after it first aired on television and social media. The company announced that the clip had triggered "contradicting and violent" reactions. You withdraw it to protect your employees.

Hindu extremists had previously launched a smear campaign, the hashtag #Boycott_Tanishq made the rounds on Twitter. A member of the religious-nationalist ruling party BJP wrote: "Why do you show a Hindu daughter-in-law with a Muslim family and glorify it?" The company prefers a certain religion, it promotes "Love Jihad".

Muslims supposedly want to take over the majority of the population

"Love Jihad" is one of the favorite conspiracy theories of extremist Hindus. They suspect Muslim men of marrying Hindu women to convert to Islam and give birth to Muslim children. The alleged long-term goal: India's Muslims should take over the majority of the population.

It has little to do with reality. Of the 1.3 billion Indians, around 14 percent are Muslims and around 80 percent are Hindus. Interfaith marriages are rare, most Indian families prefer weddings that are arranged within their own religion and caste. Only around 5 percent of marriages are concluded between members of different castes, interreligious marriages are even rarer.

The "Love Jihad" conspiracy theory persists nonetheless. It is an expression of the religious tensions in the country, which have increased in recent years. This has to do with the policies of the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has been in power since 2014 and has launched several anti-Muslim initiatives. For example, the government lifted the partial autonomy of Kashmir, the only state with a Muslim majority. Or she drafted a naturalization law at the end of 2019, from which Muslims are exempt. In February, dozens of people were killed in the worst religious riot in two decades in Delhi.

Supreme Court ruled on "Love Jihad"

"Love Jihad" appears again and again as a motif in the religious culture war. In 2018, for example, a Facebook page called for violence against 102 Muslim men who allegedly had relationships with Hindu women. The creators of the site demanded that the Muslims listed be "found and hunted down". Facebook deleted the page after sparking protests.

Also in 2018, the Indian Supreme Court restored the marriage between a Muslim man and a formerly Hindu woman. A court in the state of Kerala had previously annulled the marriage. The woman's family had sued, claiming she was brainwashed as part of an anti-Hindu conspiracy.

The withdrawal of the Tanishq advertising campaign that has now taken place is also not an isolated incident. In 2019 fanatics described the advertisement of a detergent manufacturer as “hinduphob” and called for a boycott. The commercial showed a Hindu girl preventing a Muslim boy from being smeared with paint during the Hindu festival of Holi.

After Tanishq withdrew the commercial, critical voices regretted that the company buckled to the extremists. The Indian section of the International Advertising Organization asked the government to take action against “intimidating behavior”. Prominent opposition politician Shashi Taroor wrote to the fanatics on Twitter: "If Hindu-Muslim unity annoys you so much, why aren't you boycotting the oldest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in the world - India?"