Source: أخٌ‌في‌الله  on Unsplash
‘No one can tell me what Freedom should mean to me lest I am not inflicting pain on anyone physically/ psychologically or hurting someone’s beliefs.’

This happened in 2018, but I came across it just a week ago. Here’s what I think. I saw the advertisement, and I’ll be honest, when I saw it for the first time I thought there was nothing wrong with it. It was only when I read articles about the advertisement being banned that I understood what the problem was… what the big problem was. The advertisement begins with the model wearing a niqab such that only her sky-blue eyes were seeable. She stares at the audience for quite some time before ripping off her niqab exposing the jeans and hoodie she was wearing underneath. She starts running, punching the air, and dancing around wearing different hoodies each time. In the end, the tagline shows – 'FREEDOM IS BASIC.’

People who weren’t aware of this advertisement until now might still think – What is wrong with the advertisement? There is wrong. Something very, very wrong. The niqab or what is also called ‘ruband’ that some Muslim women wear – They. Do. Not. Wear. It. Just. Like. That. It is their way of practicing the Islamic Faith. It is a tradition that has a history attached to it.
Freedom. Freedom. Freedom.

What is this Freedom that everyone wants?

‘Freedom’ basically means that one has the right or power to act, to speak, or to think as one pleases. The irony in this advertisement is that it says ‘FREEDOM IS BASIC,' yet it tells people what Freedom should mean to them. In other words, what is Freedom for person ‘A’ may not be Freedom for person ‘B’. It could be disrespect.

In countries where women do not wear a niqab, we cannot force them to wear one. And in countries where women wear a niqab or a hijab or a burqa, we cannot tell them to just take it off. A part of their personality, their confidence, their faith is in the niqab that they wear. Taking off the niqab might allow more movement but for some it means losing a part of their identity. When a new product is launched, advertising is necessary. And the 30 seconds advertisement that we see on Television or Social Media, has to go through a lot of professional eyes before we finally see them.
The advertiser.
The producer.
The director.
The models.
And so many more!

So many people had seen the advertisement yet it struck no one that what they were doing was wrong. Remonstrations flooded Social Media. News channels like BBC, BuzzFeed News, ITV, Indian Express criticized the company for hurting an entire community’s religious beliefs just to sell hoodies. Youtubers, Influencers… everyone condemned the idea of the advertisement. This incident happened 3 to 4 years back. And the fight for equality and being accepted still continues.

In fact, a new fight has come into being. No Hijabs are allowed in school. No Education for girls who wear Hijab. I wonder what has gotten into people’s minds these days. It is so terrifying to read such news! There is a lot of protests going on by Muslim and Hindu students. Students are missing out on important lectures and exams because they’re denied entry with the hijab. The Covid pandemic itself has affected the Education of students so much and now all this? How can India ever be a developed country this way?

When I searched on Google- ‘Why is India considered a secular country?,' it said, ‘Because it does not have any state religion and people are free to practice any religion of their choice.’ Right?


Wrong! And I’m not saying this. India is proving it.

We have the law and conduct but even the government defies it. We, the Indians have to be more sensitive. We need to look at life through a different lens at times. I personally believe that in a few centuries, maybe in the twenty-third century or the twenty-fourth, the concept of religion would not exist. And even if it does there won’t be any sort of hatred towards any particular religion. The new generation would not focus on religion to be friends with them or work with them or even provide education to them. Instead of focusing on the women wearing a Hijab, if the Government looked closely at problems like poverty, hunger, and the unequal distribution of money, the development rate of India would be faster.

I would like to end by saying that we are on this planet only for a brief period of time. Once we die, no one will talk about the religion we preached or whether we wore a hijab. What they’ll talk about is how we’ve influenced and changed people’s lives when we were alive. Things won’t alter in a day. People cannot be prejudiced against a particular religion today and befriend them tomorrow. Time is what will heal the world.

The advertisers, the Karnataka government, and everyone needs to be more open, receptive, and agreeable otherwise how are we going to be able to live in such a world with so much diversity? Changing ourselves would be the first and foremost step towards world peace. I would also like to briefly discuss the book, ‘The Precipice’ by Toby Ord. It says that science and technology have given humans an unimaginable power for both – to outlive and… to destroy. 

We can either choose to stretch humanity for almost an eternity or just obliterate it in a matter of time. One decision can reform the entire history of humanity. However, all of us do not belong to that mighty coterie. But even if we do not have the arsenal to wipe out the history of humanity, we certainly have the power to make decisions that might lead to a catastrophe or even a dystopian society. Not much time has passed, we can still salvage humanity that is hanging on a fragile thread. Make decisions with foresight and only then act upon them.

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