In another victory for social media, Kalyan Jewellers has withdrawn its advertisement featuring Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan with a dark-skinned boy holding a parasol over her. The advert was slammed by activists and on social media for being racist and promoting child slavery.
Kalyan Jewellers, a major jewellery chain that employs about 4,000 people, said the advert featured in a national newspaper on April 17 was intended to present "royalty, timeless beauty and elegance".
It shows Aishwarya, a former Miss World and brand ambassador for Kalyan Jewellers, in regal Indian attire and adorned with jewellery, reclining under a parasol held by a boy with dark skin.
"If we have inadvertently hurt the sentiments of any individual or organisation, we deeply regret the same. We have started the process of withdrawing this creative from our campaign," said a statement by Kalyan Jewellers on its Facebook page on Wednesday.
The controversial advert was highlighted by an open letter to Aishwarya published on Scroll.in. A group of eight social activists said the image reflected 17th and 18th century European paintings of noblewomen with their child servants and was "insidiously racist".
"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," said the letter.
"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."
The activists included Shantha Sinha, former chair of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Harsh Mander, director of Centre for Equity Studies, and Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India. They called for Aishwarya to disassociate herself from the advert and ensure its withdrawal.
In response, her publicist Archana Sadanand issued a statement indicating the actress was not involved in the final image. She released a photo of Aishwarya taken at the shoot without the child in the background.
"The final layout of the ad is entirely the prerogative of the creative team for a brand," said the statement. "However shall forward your article as a viewpoint that can be taken into consideration by the creative team of professional working on the brand visual communication."
"Kalyan Jewellers" was one of India's top trends on Twitter on Thursday with users slamming the advert as "sick" and "insensitive".
"Black kid holdin umbrella to d great Aishwarya Rai. Kalyan Jewellers has lost this one completely by promoting slavery!" tweeted one user.
It is illegal in India to employ children. Despite this, thousands of children, mostly from poor rural areas, are taken to cities every year by trafficking gangs who sell them into bonded labour or hire them out to unscrupulous employers, promising to send their parents their wages.
According to Reuters, there are no official figures on the number of child workers in India. The 2014 Global Slavery Index says the country is home to more than 14 million victims of human trafficking.