India ad on road safety criticized for promoting dowry


NEW DELHI — An Indian government advertisement on road safety is being criticized for allegedly promoting dowry.

The ad, which features Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, was tweeted by federal transport minister Nitin Gadkari.

It shows Kumar scolding a father for sending away his newly-wed daughter in a car that has just two airbags.

While some social media users praised the ad for highlighting safety, others felt it promoted dowry by hinting that the car was given by the father.

Paying and accepting dowry is a centuries-old tradition in South Asia where the bride’s parents gift cash, cars, clothes and jewelry to the groom’s family.

The practice is a punishable offense in India, but it continues to thrive — leaving women vulnerable to domestic violence and even death. Last year, a study found that dowry was paid in 95% of the marriages in the country even though it’s been illegal since 1961.

The ad featuring Kumar was first shared on Twitter last week and it has since been watched more than a million times.

It shows a teary-eyed bride leaving with the groom as her family sees her off. The actor, who plays a policeman and a friend of the father, intervenes to say that the newly-wed couple would be a lot safer in a car with six airbags instead of just two.

Several people pointed out that the ad was ill-conceived as it promoted making dowry payments instead of encouraging road safety practices.

“This ad promotes dowry; [it] should be removed and banned immediately,” one social media user wrote on Twitter.

Another user wrote, “This ad is the pits. Lost the plot completely. Is this about the wedding, the bride or that dowry should be 6 airbag car-what is it? They couldn’t talk about safety any other way?”.

The campaign comes in the backdrop of a national conversation on road safety after the death of Indian billionaire Cyrus Mistry, who was killed in a car cash on 5 September. Some reports have suggested that he wasn’t wearing the seat belt in the rear seat of his car.

Indian law mandates seat belts for all car occupants, but this was rarely enforced for people in the rear seats.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people die in accidents on India’s roads – in 2021, the toll was more than 150,000, an average of 18 per hour, according to government data.

After Mistry’s death, transport minister Gadkari announced that people sitting in rear seats without seat belts would be fined. He also said that the government would make it compulsory for carmakers to install alarms for rear seat belts.

Mr Gadkari’s efforts have been praised by many on Twitter. However, some on Twitter have also asked the minister to pay attention to the poor condition of roads and faulty designs.

Many have shared photos of poorly maintained roads and potholes found on national highways in recent days.

Saket Gokhale, a spokesperson of the Trinamool Congress party, tweeted that the latest ad was an “amazing way to deflect responsibility by pushing for 6 air bags (& expensive cars) instead of fixing roads”.

Some have also pointed out that a car with six airbags was unaffordable for most people in India.

The government should “instead try to improve the road safety, design, lights, and [road] signs,” a user wrote on Twitter. Mr Gadkari, however, has criticised carmakers for resisting the move, saying the cost of adding more airbags would not be significant when produced in high volumes. — BBC

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