Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Boycott Voltas

India’s largest manufacturer of air conditioners, Voltas – a TATA company – is airing another anti-national television commercial that should cause all Indians who value national unity and integration to boycott its products.

As with its first anti-national commercial, the new one targets Tamils. The pidgin English/Hindi has been dropped but the broad accent remains, and in case you have trouble identifying it, the main character is addressed as Murthy.

Why do I think this is anti-national?

It has to do with the use of accents by the British to divide and control Indians during the colonial era, and more widely, as an instrument of elite governance in Britain and abroad.

To explain that, I have to refer briefly to British history.

The people of Britain represent successive waves of tribal invasions from Europe over thousands of years, each violently dispossessing its immediate predecessor. The defeated tribes became the lower classes and the minority groups of the Welsh, Scots and Irish.

Presiding over that layered social order is a small elite group that arrived in the 11th Century.

Once raw violence was no longer necessary for control, the elite maintained its dominance through an impenetrably nuanced system of social mores. Standards of dress, education, and speech patterns, the use of cutlery and club memberships, old school ties and a range of other insufferable snobberies distinguished the “in crowd.” Outsiders who tried to navigate the system and failed were the subject of open ridicule.

The correct “accent” was an important hoop that outsiders had to jump through to be accepted. (George Bernard Shaw made that the theme of one of his most popular satires.)

The Scots, Irish and Welsh, as well as the “lower classes” generally, were the first victims of this system of governance, and it expanded throughout the British Empire.

Wherever the British ruled, they ridiculed the local accent, and everywhere, local proxies joined in the mind fuck.

In India, every region had its caricatured accent, and the toadies who slurped up to the Brits dined out on imitations. It was a very effective way of creating disunity among Indians

In the decades since independence, the malignant divisive British impact on Indian society has virtually disappeared, but in the last few years, Shah Rukh Khan's films and a number of television commercials (for Voltas and the energy drink Red Bull), have tried to revive it.

Tamils have been particular targets.

I doubt if this has happened spontaneously.

SRK's public persona is that of someone who will do anything for money, and Voltas has its bread very thickly buttered by the British: it had the air-conditioning contracts for the ocean liner Queen Mary 2, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

With that kind of business coming its way, the company is unlikely to suffer at all from a boycott call by a lowly blogger, but perhaps it will raise the political awareness of the corporate biggies at Voltas and TATA.

I urge readers to circulate this post and seriously consider a boycott. The time of colonial toadies is over.

Also, please email this blog to the Ethics Counsellor at Voltas: ethics@voltas.com.

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