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slave fantasy

Open letter to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: This ad you figure in is insidiously racist

The visual, which reflects 17th century European paintings of noblewomen with their child servants, is extremely objectiontable, say a group of activists.

Dear Mrs Aishwarya Rai Bachchan,

We write to draw your attention to a full-page advertisement for Kalyan Jewellers in which you feature that appeared in The Hindu (Delhi edition) on April 17, 2015. In the advertisement you appear to be representing aristocracy from a bygone era – bejewelled, poised and relaxing while an obviously underage slave-child, very dark and emaciated, struggles to hold an oversize umbrella over your head.

We wish to convey our dismay at the concept of this advertisement, and that you have, perhaps unthinkingly, associated with such a regressive portrayal of a child to sell a product. While advertisers routinely use fantasy images to sell products, they must surely desist from using images that condone, legitimise, normalise, or build desirable fantasy around slavery or servitude of any kind, including child slavery or child servitude. Further, the extremely fair colour of your skin (as projected in the advertisement) contrasted with the black skin of the slave-boy is obviously a deliberate "creative" juxtaposition by the advertising agency, and insidiously racist. The genealogy of this image can be traced back to 17th and 18th century colonial European portraits of white aristocracy, depicting women being waited upon by their black "servants". We have copied some examples of these racist portraits below.

We are fully aware that yours is an advertisement selling jewellery through creating a fantasy/desire, and not a portrayal of reality. Yet, advertisements and visuals are a critical part of our socio-cultural-psychological ecosystem and these ecosystems can either help create conditions in our mind that will foster positive social change or work against it. So, in this context, what is the social change we want? One, racism is a global reality, and we need to fight it. Two, though child labour in many industries is illegal in India, it is still rampant and we all need to work together to change this. Three, the Right to Education Act mandates that all children up to age 14 must be in school, and we need to make sure they are there and learning.

Given that we proclaim commitment to each of these goals, we urge you to look beyond the product itself and examine the fantasy/desire that this particular advertisement seeks to subliminally create. The fantasy here, it seems, is – buying and wearing Kalyan Jewellery will create for a woman the feeling of living in an era where it is OK for dark-skinned little children from poor homes (hence, the malnourished child model) to be enslaved or pressed into servitude to pander to bejewelled women from the nobility; an era where slavery is not only socially acceptable but a slave is something to be flaunted – hence the portraiture style of the advertisement echoing the 17th and 18th century genre, which pointedly has noble ladies along with their child-slaves.

We draw your attention to a similar image (with a more contemporary feel) that was created by Pakistani designer Aamna Aqeel in May 2013 in her "Be My Slave" fashion shoot, depicting white models in high-end clothes being served by a dark child slave. The pictures, which appeared in DIVA, a Pakistani fashion and lifestyle magazine, were called tasteless and racist. One photo from that shoot is a structural mirror of the Kalyan Jewellers advertisement, and serves to illustrate how frighteningly enduring this slave fantasy is.

Today, many national and international movements are struggling to change at least the public culture that normalises child labour, a struggle that the Nobel committee has also recognised. We, therefore, hope you agree that this sort of advertisement – a romaticisation of child servitude to feed into elite fantasies – is extremely objectionable and avoidable.

As an influential member of the Indian film industry and a popular star with a large fan following, we trust that you wish to use your image in a manner that promotes progressive thought and action, and would not knowingly promote regressive images that are racist and go against child rights.

We, therefore, urge you to do the right thing – cease to associate yourself with this offensive image by ensuring that further use of this advertisement is stopped.

We also request that you, as a National Brand Ambassador for Kalyan Jewellers, circulate a considered public retraction, and thereby provide a positive example to others to learn from your reflection and reasoning for withdrawing from such an advertisement.

We would like to use this opportunity to try and create better, more progressive, advertising in the future, and sincerely hope we can continue to engage with you towards this end. We have sent a similar letter to Kalyan Jewellers.

We do look forward to your response and action on this.

Yours sincerely,

Farah Naqvi, Writer and Feminist Activist

Nisha Agrawal, CEO, Oxfam India

Enakshi Ganguly & Bharti Ali, Co-Directors, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights

Madhu Mehra, Executive Director, Partners for Law in Development

Shantha Sinha, former Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights

Harsh Mander, Centre for Equity Studies

Mridula Bajaj, Executive Director, Mobile Creches

See response from the jewellery firm and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's publicist here.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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45% consumers purchase financial products online according to our survey. Here’s why

How one of the last bastions of offline transactions is rapidly moving online.

With flight bookings, shopping and buying movie tickets all moving online, it was only a matter of time before purchasing financial products followed suit. In fact, with greater safety, better user interfaces, simpler processes and of course, busier lives, many Indians are opting to buy financial products like insurance and bank deposits online and on-the-go rather than at a bank branch.

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The market for financial products still has huge potential for growth with 29% respondents reporting that they owned no financial instruments. Insurance is without a doubt the most widely owned financial instrument for Indians. Nearly half the sample—45% of the respondents—reported investing in insurance. Apart from that, around 27% invested in bank deposits like Fixed and Recurring Deposits and only 13% opted for mutual funds, 13% bought stocks, and just 10% took home loans. While many people still consume financial products only at their bank branches, a large number have started seeking financial information and buying financial instruments online.

The shifting tide

We found that 45% of the survey respondents bought financial products online, indicating that a large chunk of Indians is trusting the internet to manage something as sensitive as their financial investments. It is clear that Indians value the distinct advantages of transacting online. Convenience is an integral part of the experience—60% of those who bought financial products online felt that convenience played an important role in choosing to purchase online. Multiple aspects of convenience resonate with buyers—over 40% felt that the availability of 24/7 services and the ease of comparing different products from drove them to buy online.

However, findings also reveal some concerns that even tech-savvy Indians have with the online medium.

Security is king

Understandably, security is a key factor for buyers of financial products. Even among the 45% who purchased financial products online, almost half felt that the lack of security prevented them from buying more financial products online. Tellingly, the most commonly bought financial product online is general insurance. It has to be bought (in the case of travel) or renewed (in the case of car insurance) regularly and quickly, which is easier done online. It also doesn’t require the submission of too many personal documents—another­ factor reported by many as a barrier to online purchase of financial products.

To overcome these security concerns, many companies are taking concrete steps to improve the online security of their portals. They are setting up SSL security systems that encrypt and protect the user’s data and payments and are educating customers on how to recognize online payment scams. Thus, people are slowly moving towards buying high involvement financial items like life insurance as well online.

The human factor

Research is a crucial part of the buying process, and most buyers seek information from multiple sources. While research for several consumer products like electronics and furniture has moved online even if purchase is offline, financial products have been slower to move, especially due to the need for expertise. From the sample, 55% rated talking to financial consultants and advisors as very important. Similarly, 55% rated advice from friends and family as very important.

As is evident, while the world is going online, there is something to be said for the familiarity and comfort of human interaction. Even online buyers value non-digital channels of communication. Of those who bought financial products online, 25% felt that visiting bank branches was important, 30% felt that recommendations from friends and family was important, and 33% felt that discussing it with financial advisors was important.

However, we find that online forums and aggregators are also gaining in terms of people using them to research products. According to a BCG report, search queries on life and health insurance have grown 4.5 times from 2008 to 2013, showing that digital is certainly influencing the research part of the buying cycle. Many life insurance companies and banks have caught on to this trend and are finding ways of making customer service executives available online through chat facilities on their portals. Additionally, companies are also investing in a better online user experience by designing their websites to be simple, attractive and easy-to-understand, so that the process of purchase becomes easier for customers.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HDFC Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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