Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
Earlier this month, Meat and Livestock Australia, an Australian corporation provides research for the Australian red meat and livestock industry, released an advertisement that ignited much controversy.
The ad showed religious personalities from various religions sitting around a table, enjoying a meal together. Among those represented were Zeus, Aphrodite, Buddha, Jesus and Ganesha.
The controversy centred around the reaction by the Hindu community, members of whom took offence at the depiction of Lord Ganesha eating non-vegetarian food.
Strangely, the controversy led to a diplomatic incident, with the Indian government lodging a diplomatic protest with Australia over the ad.
In a press release, the High Commission of India said it had made a “démarche” to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Communication and Arts and the Department of Agriculture over the “insensitive” ad. “… the Indian community considers [the ad] to be offensive and hurting their religious sentiments,” the press release stated.
The Hindu Council of Australia demanded that the ad be banned. The Council said the ad was a “crude and deplorable attempt by Meat and Livestock Australia to use images of Ganesha to promote lamb consumption”.
— Balesh Singh Dhankar (@balesh) September 5, 2017
Balesh Dhankhar, a spokesman for the Hindu Council of Australia, said the ad had angered a large number of Hindus in Australia. He also argued that the ad “destroys” the multicultural fabric of Australia.
The Council is now calling for a nation-wide protest against the ad.
Liberal MP Luke Foley also joined the voices protesting the depiction of Ganesha in the ad.
The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), which manages the complaint resolution process of the advertising self-regulation system in the country, has now dismissed complaints about the controversial meat ad.
According to Australian media outlet SBS, this effectively removes any obstacles to have it removed from circulation.
The ASB concluded that Lord Ganesha was depicted in a positive light during the commercial and it did not breach the country’s standards code.
The Bureau’s review read: “Following considerable discussion the majority of the board considered that the overall tone of the advertisement is light-hearted and humorous and in their view the intent is to be inclusive in a manner which promotes a harmonious and multi-faith environment.”
“The majority of the board considered that the depiction of Lord Ganesha was overall a positive and depiction and that his inclusion in a scene that might suggest he can eat meat is not less favourable than the manner in which the other religions are also depicted.”
The ASB said while many Hindus are vegetarian, vegetarianism is not a requirement of this faith. The depiction of Lord Ganesh, the ASB said, was “simply symbolic of the Hindu faith and his inclusion is part of the message of an inclusive multi-faith meal”.
Many of us were offended by the Australian ad for depicting Lord Ganesha eating meat. It is our right to be offended, and it is our right to voice our being offended on any public platform.
It is also our right to be offended over the ASB clearing this ad, and it is our right to voice our being offended on any public platform.
The issue at hand, however, is much bigger than that. It is not of individuals expressing their offence; it is of an elected government lodging an official, diplomatic protest with another democracy over an advertisement because some members of a religious community said it offended their religious sentiments.
The advent of an elected government expressing frustration over an advertisement and attempting to enforce that frustration on a foreign government is embarrassing for any sensible individual.
Why should India try to interfere in Australia’s affairs and why would Australia seek India’s intervention in its domestic affairs? And that too over an advertisement.
It is easy to identify the lunacy of ads becoming a hot topic in international diplomacy – but it is also important to not condone such petulant behaviour.
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