Tata’s Negate Own Legacy
Gandhi and JRD against discrimination
Tata company's ad on the theme "Ekatvma", depicting communal harmony and unity and portraying care and affection for a Hindu daughter-in-law married to someone in a Muslim family has been sadly withdrawn in face of intimidation it faced from right wing forces opposed to Hindu - Muslim unity.
Tanishq Tatas had the noble ambition of promoting business through the lofty ideal of unity and indestructible kinship among people in the family, in spite of diverse religious identities.
But after the threat of violence from those who negated communal unity the Tatas have withdrawn the wonderful advertisement and issued an apology for hurting sentiments of those who so menacingly disapproved it. In doing so they have not only succumbed to the propagated hate culture, but have negated the vision and legacy of their great founding leader Jamshedji Tata and his successor JRD Tata. In fact JRD led the Tata business for several decades and was conferred with the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna.
It is quite revealing to know that JRD Tata in a speech delivered in Oxford in 1956 on the theme "Industrialising a Rural Society" admitted that there used to be a phase in the history of the Tata company when high caste Hindu employees never accepted food and even a bottle of water from their fellow Muslim, Christians and Dalit employees.
Therefore, in deferring to the wishes of those employees the company had to operate exclusive canteens based on caste or religion. Later the management of the Company took a bold decision, of course with much trepidation, to do away with such separate and exclusive canteens meant for specific castes and religious groupings. Before implementing that decision the management shared it with the employees and the trade union and they were surprised to find that there was hardly any resistance to the decision to put an end to those caste and religion based exclusive canteens.
The top authorities of Tata Company were pleasantly surprised. That Oxford lecture is part of the book titled "JRD Tata: Key Note" published by Rupa & Co in 1986.
JRD in his Oxford lecture asserted that industrialization ushered in attitudinal changes of this kind. He, therefore, pleaded for more industrialisation in India for progressive social change which would enable people to eschew their biases flowing from their caste and religious identities and affiliations.
It is ironical that theTatas who closed down segregated canteens are negating that legacy in twenty-first-century India by withdrawing an ad affirming harmony and unity and celebrating diversity. The withdrawal of that advertisement because of threats and pressure has shaken the collective conscience of those who defend unity and amity embodied in the idea of India.
When the Tatas opened separate canteens in their industrial units for caste Hindus, Dalits and other religious groupings in deferring to their exclusive identities there used to be the practice of selling Hindu Tea and Muslim Tea and Hindu water and Muslim water in railway stations of India.
The vendors used to attract the attention of train passengers by shouting Hindu Tea, Muslim tea, Hindu water, and Muslim water. It would be hard to believe that there was a phase in India's history when food was being sold in railway stations by attaching religious tags.
Mahatma Gandhi who stressed on communal harmony and passionately pursued the cause of Hindu Muslim unity disapproved of such practices and specifically wrote in 1941 under the caption "Communal Unity" in his text "Constructive Programme" that Hindu- Muslim unity had to be not just political unity but unbreakable unity of the hearts cutting across religious affiliations.
He hoped that "In such a happy state of things there would be no disgraceful cry at the stations such as “Hindu water” and “Muslim water” or “ Hindu tea” and “ Muslim tea”. There would be no separate rooms or pots for Hindus and non-Hindus in schools and colleges, no communal schools, colleges and hospitals."
In fact Gandhi was surprised to find that even in British jails Hindu Tea and Muslim Tea was being served to inmates depending on the religion to which they belonged. When he went to a jail to meet soldiers of the Indian National Army, held captive by the British authorities, they told him with anguish that they were being served Hindu Tea and Muslim Tea in complete negation of their ethos of fighting for India's independence not as Hindus or Muslims but as Indians under their Supreme Commander Netaji Subhash Bose.
Gandhi asked them how they handled the problem and they happily replied that they mixed Hindu Tea with Muslim Tea and, thereafter, shared the mixed tea with all the soldiers. Gandhi had a hearty laugh and wrote that the example of INA solders upholding unity among Hindus and Muslims should be replicated.
With deep pain one notes that the colonial era marked by the culture of selling food and water by giving religious tags is being replicated in twenty-first-century India. In 2019 a man in Madhya Pradesh booked food by using the Zomato app and when he found that the man assigned to deliver the food was a Muslim he canceled the order. The Zomato famously took a bold stand and proclaimed that food has no religion. I wrote an article on the issue in thecitizen.in.
The Zomato stand won hearts of Indians who in spite of ruthless efforts of some bigoted few to polarise polity, society and relationships are yearning for what Gandhi said "unbreakable heart unity". If Zomato could take such a bold stand to keep food above religion how is it that the mighty Tatas withdrew such a lovely ad on "unbreakable heart unity" which in their own words aimed at promoting their business in such trying times by affirming Ekatvam, the unity and oneness of people of our diverse and plural country.
Rajiv Bajaj who has a chain of showrooms across the nation for selling Bajaj automobiles boldly took an exemplary stand against hate politics and culture and asserted by saying that he does not want his children to inherit an India built on hate and stopped advertising in toxic TV channels.
The Tatas should revisit their own legacy of closing down exclusive caste and religion based canteens in their own industrial units and the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi whom the corporate’s founder hugely admired. Let the idea of Ekatvam in their own ad embolden the business house to defend the idea of India for which Gandhi struggled and laid down his life.