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Hindu gods on sandals? It's marketing, stupid!

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October 18, 2004 12:27 IST

Lord Ganesha and 'Aum' imprinted on the sole of flip-flop sandals, God Rama's image on sniff tissues, lunch boxes with images of goddess Kali and Durga -- the western world seems to be stamping its fascination for Indian deities and religious symbols on every commodity!

Is it crass marketing or the West's enchantment for our religious symbols or simply ignorance, which is finding a bizarre expression in the form of this latest fad? Be it doormats, toiletries or beachwear, the moment these products have sketches of Indian idols, they become a rage in western markets.

"West's attitude is rather intriguing. On the one hand, they hold yoga, love for peace, sexual chastity and vegetarianism in high stead. All of these are closely associated with the Indian tradition," says Professor Anand Kumar, Head of Sociology Department, Jawaharlal Nehru University. "However, on the other hand, they fancy products like footwear and doormats sporting pictures of our gods. These parallel sets of fads are paradoxical. It could well be a marketing ploy," he adds.

"The western world has always been tremendously attracted to our religious beliefs. They feel there is an element of mystery shrouded around the concept of different gods for a single religion. And this exerts a gravitational pull on them," says spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation.

While there does not seem to be any deliberate intention to trivialise or demean our religious sentiments, the West nevertheless hurts sentiments, he adds. The trend has it that images of Indian deities have been printed on beachwear, paper napkins and footwear, followed by protests by the Indian community abroad.

Consequently, this line of products has been pulled off the shelf, but not without making profits.

"An apology is issued at times, but what about the millions of hurt sentiments? This innocuous trend of using Hindu symbols on fashion or marketing accessories reveals the producers' insatiable greed for profits," says Sheila, an activist working with Hindu Human Rights.

There is a drive in the industry for new angles to selling their products to consumers, whose appetite for consuming is jaded. The desperate designers are roaming the world for more ideas and in the process offending sentiments, she adds.

Agni, an organisation working to check the misuse of Indian gods and sacred signs, maintains that the main cause of misuse is the lack of knowledge, value and importance of Indian deities.

Marketing gimmicks hurt sentiments

"Wibra and departmental store Bijenkorf sold undergarments printed with the sacred symbol of Aum. Ikea traded in toiletries with image of Ganesha printed on it and Tuinen BV put images of Lord Ram on sniff tissues," says P Ghirrao, secretary, Committee Common Issues, Agni Corporation.

The Website of Hindu Focus, an organisation formed to curb such defamations, alleges that a dot-com deals in lunch boxes with images of Kali, Krishna, Ganesha and Shiva.

Hindu Focus alleged that this particular online retailer of lunchboxes proclaims to have a 'fascination with Hindu culture' and it claims to "bring beauty and mystery to your mid-day meal with the alluring but deadly Kali lunchboxes."

D J Jayasekara, managing director of this online retailer of lunchboxes, declined producing such tiffin boxes.

Says Prof. Kumar, "I do not detect any deliberately carved out scheme of denigration in these products. There seems to be a definite engagement with the 'exotic' and the 'other'. It could just be a marketing ploy."

Such marketing tricks aim at shocking and then holding the probable consumer's attention. It is a way of jolting the consumer by providing him the forbidden. And thus ensuring a boom in sales, say experts.

However, big and respectable brand names do not adopt such cheap tactics. Brand names like Benetton, for instance, are extremely sensitive towards issues like skin colour diversity and are eco-friendly too.

"The West has no idea about what they are encashing upon, for they do not realise the true value of our divine heritage and cultural ethos," sums up Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

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