There's Caste In The Air You Breathe Under A Havell's Fan

29/03/2016 9:00 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Havell’s Fans has been known to put out TV ads around social issues, taking a progressive stance on things ranging from women’s rights to religious freedom. Sooner or later, the company and its ad agency had to hit the great Indian blind spot: caste.

The latest Havell’s ad personifies the fan as the new progressive age where the lower castes are rich and refuse to use the crutch of reservations. Our progressive ceiling fan is then seen dousing the fire in a protest. Coming straight after an anti-reservation statement, the dousing of the fire in a protest has an eerie resemblance to the events in Hyderabad Central University, caste on campus along with violent protests are still continuing.

It is ironical for a ceiling fan ad to complain about crutches, given that the ceiling fan industry in India would probably not exist without crutches. It was only thanks to socialist India’s ban on ceiling fan imports that the domestic segment took off.

It was only thanks to socialist India’s ban on ceiling fan imports that the domestic segment took off.

Even today, there’s caste in the air you breathe under a Havell’s fan. If you were to do a survey of electricians who come and fit that Havell’s fans in your house, you will find most of them are from the OBC community, even if they are Muslim. Often, they are migrants struggling to make a living in the big city, educating their children so they don’t have to be electricians but could do something else… like start a company that makes fans.

Unlike fitting fans, manufacturing them is, as of now, a preserve of the upper castes. Eight brands occupy 60% market share of the ceiling fan industry in India. The number one brand, Usha, is owned by banias, as is Havells. Baja Electrical and Cromptom Greaves are owned by Punjabi Khatris, Orient and Khaitan by Marwaris, and so on.

Havells Electricals and their ad agency should ask themselves the obvious question: why is it that there are no OBCs, leave alone SCs or STs, amongst the exalted group of people who manufacture India’s branded fans? Or, to rephrase the question as a statement: check your privilege.

Havells was the anglicised name that an old Delhi businessman, haveli Ram Gandhi, gave his company. In 1971, Havells was bought over by Qimat Rai Gupta. It is Qimat Rai Gupta who made Havells what it is, and his son owns it today.

The Havells ad makes it appear as though the company is targeting India’s ultimate niche segment, the upper castes, and does not want lower caste customers.

His son, Anil Rai Gupta, should know a thing or two about privilege. After all, he inherited a multinational company, not the sort of privilege that an average electrician’s son or a Havell’s factory worker’s son will have. His father, Qimat Rai Gupta, had a famous rags-to-riches story, one where the advantages and privileges that being born in the Bania community do not figure.

The Havells ad makes it appear as though the company is targeting India’s ultimate niche segment, the upper castes, and does not want lower caste customers. In reinforcing the stereotype of reservation beneficiaries as rich, privileged people who don’t deserve reservation benefits, the company is asking for trouble. There already are enough negative comments on YouTube. The ad’s regressive politics makes you wonder about issues such as caste equality within Havells India Ltd.

Far from the image the ad portrays, truth is that even in India 2016 the upper castes dominate the league of people who have big houses and chauffeur-driven cars, as seen in the ad. The people who work in such houses, that’s another story. They have separate lifts, servant quarters, separate utensils, are not allowed to sit on the sofa or use the bathroom.

The rich people who say caste doesn’t matter, never ask the caste of the people in the service economy, because they know. It is such people who need the “crutch” of positive discrimination by the state, precisely so that they can overcome the privilege of birth that Banias, Khatris, Marwaris and others have.

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