From Tanishq To Bangladesh, India’s Thin Skin Is Stretched
A treated photograph of a gold bar being inspected inside a Tanishq store in Mumbai, on Oct. 25, 2019. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

From Tanishq To Bangladesh, India’s Thin Skin Is Stretched


Indians are forever searching to hit the top spot in something or anything, somewhere or anywhere—for example, consider the triumphalism that Senator Kamala Harris will be the first ‘Indian’ to rule America—and before you can say ‘pyrrhic’, we’re out clanging utensils in balconies or dancing drunk on streets or tweet-thumping exaggerated boasts or posting cheesy memes on Instagram.

But hey, here’s an ‘achievement’ we racked up this week that’s not pyrrhic but ‘real’ – i.e., we are the world’s thinnest-skinned people, despite being among its most obese. So, fellow men, women, boys, and girls, roll out the nagadas (drums) and celebrate your newly discovered Olympian heights... or frankly, depths.
From Tanishq To Bangladesh, India’s Thin Skin Is Stretched

Trolls So ‘Powerful’, The Mighty Tatas Capitulate

It all began with a harmless—nay, positively uplifting—commercial for that uber-rich jewellery brand, Tanishq (precious). They were launching an ekatvam (oneness) product line, and the warm, fuzzy film showed a Muslim mother-in-law celebrating the godh-bharai (baby shower) of her Hindu daughter-in-law. When she asks why the family was straying outside its religious traditions, the mother-in-law answers “which tradition or religion is against a daughter’s happiness”. All very straight and sweet, right? The creators must have felt good punching the upload button on YouTube. But the reprisal was swift and brutal. Right-wing trolls spewed the most uncouth, vicious, and acidic venom on Tanishq for glorifying “love jihad”, that diabolical phrase which accuses Muslim men of trapping ‘innocent’ Hindu girls in marriage, taking them like ‘prisoners of war’.

Now, anybody who has faced a troll attack—let me take a bow here—knows how torrential and ugly it gets. Wave after wave of cyber mercenaries – many of whom are not even human beings but programmed bots – unleash the most hideous attack on your social media handles. It’s mercilessly choregraphed by troll-masters. The language is unprintable. Nobody is spared. Not your octogenarian parents. Not your teenage children. Such filth and abuse are heaped that it would rattle the conscience and equanimity of even the most detached monk. You feel unnerved, scared, angry, helpless, counter-abusive, vengeful, impotent, defeated. You just want to roll over and die to stop the unremitting onslaught…

But again, as every victim of troll abuse knows, it tends to pass over after a few hours or days. No, not because those brutes feel guilty or are penitent. It’s just that another juicy target appears, and the termites swerve their poison darts elsewhere, leaving you wounded and semi-conscious. Slowly, you emerge from an acutely painful haze and begin to breathe again. Ask any victim of a troll attack, and s/he will confirm this horrible playbook.

So the mighty Tatas should have known better. They have survived a million upheavals over their 154 years of existence. 
Bombay House. (Photo Courtesy: Tata Central Archives)
Bombay House. (Photo Courtesy: Tata Central Archives)

Also read: Hamara Bajaj And A Love Lesson For Indians

They employ almost a million people. They are the salt of India. Their companies shovel nearly $125 billion in revenues every year. Just one crown jewel, TCS, is worth ten trillion rupees. The Tatas have been the epitome of corporate ethics, human values, and empowerment, their founders coming from the tiniest ethnic and religious minority of India. If anybody could have stood up to the trolls, it’s them. If anybody could line up a battery of lawyers to prosecute the devil until the day of reckoning, it’s them. If anybody could prod the state to act against the villains, it’s them. If anybody could deploy security guards and defend their stores, it’s them. But they keeled over, threw in the towel, emboldening the trolls, perhaps immeasurably.

Bangladesh Beats Us By Eleven Dollars; We Erupt In ‘What-Aboutery’

But Tanishq wasn’t the only itch to scratch our thin skin in the week gone by. Remember Bangladesh? That blighted, stricken land of starving millions that India had liberated from Pakistan’s pernicious custody in 1971? That destitute country chucking parasitic immigrants at us, sucking on our prosperity? Well, India got a reality check when the average Bangladeshi upended the average Indian by eleven American dollars!

Yes, the IMF estimates that their per capita income this year will be $1,888 vs our $1,877. The ignominy got worse when you consider that in 2014, the year in which India became invincible—in our own eyes, because nobody else was that convinced—Bangladesh trailed us by a whopping 42%, their per capita income a piffling $1,118 versus our gargantuan $1,610. Ouch! From that unassailable height, we, to whom the 21st century has been given in virasat (inheritance) by our deities, have been humbled by the modest Bangladeshis. Sheer blasphemy. Intolerable. Balderdash.

It was the perfect cue for the apologists to launch their ‘what-aboutery’. No less than the mighty Government of India jumped in with a welter of statistics to counter the ‘myth of Bangladesh’. “In purchasing power parity (PPP), we are 11 times their size, but have only 8 times their population, so lo behold, our per capita income is $6,284 vs their $5,139”, our spokesmen cried out. Of course, nobody mentioned that in 2017, we had hit $7,200 versus their $4200 – so we have destroyed nearly one thousand dollars, while they have gained almost the same in per capita income in PPP terms.

Frankly, instead of acknowledging that Bangladesh has done a stellar job in becoming a hub of textile exports, we, as usual, want to drown the truth in bluster.
Workers embroider t-shirts with logos on the production line of a garment factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, on May 30, 2013. (Photographer: Jeff Holt/Bloomberg)
Workers embroider t-shirts with logos on the production line of a garment factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, on May 30, 2013. (Photographer: Jeff Holt/Bloomberg)

Also read: Chart: India’s Per Capita GDP To Rebound To Pre-Covid Levels Only By FY23

Hell, we even refuse to acknowledge that those who were once at our mercy (aka Bangladeshis) today live longer, are more urbanised, fewer of their children die, they’ve managed to stabilise their population before us, and hell again, more of their women work than ours.

Net net, even if their eight-dollar income lead is ‘pyrrhic’, their commanding sway over us in human/social indicators is something we ought to admire, aspire for, and learn from. But hell no, our thin skin shall not allow us to be that wise. We will deny, defuse by ‘what-aboutery’, and continue to tom-tom our own greatness in a desperate bid to side-step the truth.

Oh what a fall there is, my countrymen

How stoic and tolerant we were, once

But so shrill, so quick to offend, and oh so thin-skinned, now.

Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of three books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’, and ‘Super Century: What India Must Do to Rise by 2050’.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.