A feeling of there being a conspiracy against their faith within people about "hurting religious sentiments" was among the major triggers for complaints against advertisements in the last three years, according to a study by ASCI, the self-regulating body for the industry.
Campaigns deemed to be "crossing cultural boundaries" by mocking what is considered sacred and those showing the youth and women in an individualistic way were also among the major triggers that led people to complain, the study titled 'What India Takes Offence To" has found.
The study by the Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) comes at a time when concerns are being raised over majoritarianism, and how it is making advertisers, including multi-billion corporations, buckle under pressure if there is a controversy over some campaign. Hurting religious sentiments continues to be a criminal offence in the liberal democracy and calls have been made to repeal it.
A complainant is driven by a feeling that religious identity is constantly under attack, and is under the threat of becoming diffused or diluted, the report said, pointing out that they believe such ads are part of a conspiracy against their religion. "Narratives and motives are ascribed behind the usage of ritualistic elements like the coconut or the kundali and a shared feeling of being victimised is created," the report said.
Triggers in ads include a new interpretation of traditions, portrayal of mixed religion narratives and use of religious or cultural motifs in humorous campaigns, it said. Typically a complainant was found to be "indignant and nitpicking" in her tonality, the ASCI report said, clarifying that the analysis is based merely on the over 1,700 complaints received by the body.
Specifying instances of ads found offensive for hurting religious sentiments, it said the 'Mohey Manyavar' attempt at portraying the wedding ritual of 'kanyadaan' as an oppressive practise was deemed to be mocking religion, while the use of the phrase 'upar wala' in an ad by ICICI Bank was seen as promotion of Islam by a complainant who felt there is no 'upar wala' in Sanatan dharma.
The underlying issue, which triggers complaints of the cultural kind, was specified as fear of new, emerging social structures and the complainant is generally self-righteous and antagonistic in her tonality, as per the report.
"Complainants here consider themselves the gatekeepers of tradition. As long as the change depicted celebrates or makes tradition grander, they are fine by it, but the moment there is a discontinuity in how things are supposed to be, they are angered," the report said. Sharing of ice cream by a woman with a stranger, and not with the companion she is with, was found to be offensive because they feel this is not how a woman should behave in a traditional relationship, the report said, citing an instance under this category.
Among other major triggers for complaints were socially undesirable depictions for commercial gains, ads considered inappropriate for children, campaigns that mocked men and also the ones which depicted unpleasant realities, the report said.