Hindustan Unilever’s Surf Excel ad denigrates Holi, the festival of colours

A still from the controversial Surf Excel advertisement.

The Surf Excel advert is facing massive backlash for portraying Holi colours as ‘daag’ (stain). Hindustan Unilever tried to play to the gallery and had expected to impress Islamists across the Indian sub-continent with this Surf Excel advertisement. It has now ended up alienating billions of Hindus who have taken serious offence to the ad’s denigration of Holi — the blissful festival of colours.

Surf Excel, the detergent brand of Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has been caught in a controversy. Following the recent trend of capitalizing on festivals by corporate giants, HUL also tried to do the same but got off on the wrong foot. The advertisement has faced massive backlash for portraying Holi colours as ‘daag’ (stain) and for subconsciously promoting ‘love jihad’.

A large number of people across India took to Twitter to vent their ire against HUL’s bigotry against Holi—the Hindu festival of colours. #BoycottSurfExcel was one of the top Twitter trends in India as scores of people objected to this advertisement.

In fact, HUL had tried to play to the gallery and expected to impress the Islamists across the Indian sub-continent with this Surf Excel advertisement. Apart from India, the main markets of Surf Excel are in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and it definitely had the large number of Muslim customers in mind by denigrating a “kafir” Hindu festival like Holi. Ironically, it’s only the ultra-conservatives such as the Wahhabis and Deobandis within Islam, who have objections with Holi colours and the Surf Excel advert chose to endorse their views. Other liberal Islamic schools have never objected to Hindu festivals, including Holi. 

But then this is not the first instance when Hindustan Liver had tried to vilify Hindu beliefs and festivals. A few weeks earlier there was this advertisement about HUL’s brand of Red-label tea that showed Kumbh Mela in bad light. This advert was released at a time when world over the Kumbh Mela was being talked about as the most peaceful congregation of spiritual Hindus at Prayagraj (earlier Allahabad). When accolades were pouring in from the international media and research institutions, HUL chose to highlight a rather insulting example of the young abandoning their elderly at the Kumbh Mela. The Red Label advertisement was aimed at branding Kumbh Mela as the religious congregation where elderly parents were routinely being abandoned. If at all (and there’s a big “If”) these incidents happened, they would have been very few. Of course there is no basis to claim that abandoning elderly has been a routine practice amongst Hindus. HUL’s advertisement of its Red Label tea was not only absurd but also derogatory to Hindus across the world.

What enrages me and the billions of Hindus is that this same HUL takes extra care while portraying dubious Islamic prescriptions such as the Hijab. Even through its latest Surf Excel advertisement, it has tried to reinforce an erroneous belief held by radical Islamists that playing with Holi colours is non-Islamic and Muslim children should abstain playing with colours, while on their way to offer namaz.

Surprisingly, the coterie of self-proclaimed champions of secularism in India have begun defending HUL’s derogatory ad. This same coterie maintains a deafening silence whenever a progressive Muslim raises his/her voice against the repressive practices in Islam.

It is this selective targeting of Hindus by companies such as HUL that has incensed us. None of these big brands will ever dare to make any advertisement that even remotely criticises the practice of mass slaughter on Eid-al-Adha (Bakrid) or the practice of forcing young Muslim girls to wear Hijab or a Burqa. This systematic bias and skewed secularism being practiced by left-liberals, a section of media and corporate houses is very dangerous as it creates undue rift in our society.

A couple of decades ago, people would have bought this nonsense of belittling Hindu faith and festivals in the name of harmony because media, text books and everything else was under the control of these self-proclaimed contractors of free speech. But thanks to Internet, their devious agenda now lies exposed. In this digital era such dubious and devious agenda cannot remain hidden for long.


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