Indian Twitter users are disturbed. And it is over something that has disturbed Indians for thousands of years. This time, unfortunately, one of the country’s biggest e-commerce companies is unwittingly caught in the cross hairs.
On Aug. 26, #BoycottMyntra began trending. Twitter users were venting their ire at Bengaluru-based online fashion retailer Myntra over a cartoon carrying its logo. The image plays on the most provocative sequence from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
It shows lord Krishna, whose birth anniversary was celebrated in India on Aug. 25, ordering an extra-long sari from Myntra.com. He does this to protect the honour of Draupadi, wife of the Pandava brothers, while she is being disrobed in front of the entire royal assembly.
By noon, the artwork had gone viral.
Those attacking Flipkart-owned Myntra were angry that it had mocked Hindu gods.
The groundswell did not abate despite Myntra clarifying that the cartoon was neither commissioned nor produced by it. “This creative was done and posted by a third party (ScrollDroll) without our knowledge or approval,” a Myntra spokesperson said. “We will be pursuing legal action against them for using our brand.” The company also tweeted its side of the story.
Later, online content creator ScrollDroll took responsibility for the cartoon.
It clarified that Myntra does not have any direct or indirect connection with the cartoon.
ScrollDroll did not reply to messages sent to the website.
Meanwhile, logic didn’t seem to have worked with the backlashers.
After all, the scene—the public unrobing of a menstruating woman—has roiled Indians for thousands of years.
This is how the original unfolds in the Mahabharata:
Rival groups of cousins, the protagonists Pandavas and villains Kauravas, duel over a game of dice. The Pandavas lose everything—wealth, kingdom, and ultimately themselves—to the Kaurava’s sleight of hand and become the Kauravas’ slaves. The Pandavas are then nudged into staking their wife, only to lose again. Draupadi is dragged by her hair by Dushasana into the royal assembly. Now that she, too, is a slave, he proceeds to disrobe her—right before her five husbands, their teachers, cousins, and elders. With no one stepping forward to help her, Draupadi calls out to Krishna. He protects her modesty by miraculously wrapping her with unending reams of clothes even as Dushasana tires out trying to strip her.
Unlike Myntra ads
Ironically, Myntra is known for producing some of India’s most progressive campaigns that have sought to empower women.
In May 2015, the online retailer created a promotional ad featuring a live-in lesbian couple. It was a rather brave move considering homosexuality is still illegal in India. In December that year, it released a commercial titled “The Calling,” which highlighted the prejudices that women face in the corporate world following pregnancy.