Indian food delivery company retracts advert that showed Dalit man as recycled garbage

File: Illustration picture of Indian food delivery company Zomato (REUTERS)
File: Illustration picture of Indian food delivery company Zomato (REUTERS)

An Indian food delivery app said it has withdrawn an advertisement on recycling garbage following a backlash over its "dehumanising" portrayal of a Dalit character.

Zomato released an advert for World Environment Day aimed at promoting the company’s efforts at waste recycling to tackle the climate crisis.

The ad featured actor Aditya Lakhia, who played the character of Kachra (a word meaning garbage in Hindi) in the popular 2001 film Lagaan. In the Oscar-nominated film, the character of Khachra is shown to be a Dalit and disabled man, who is shunned by the villagers until he is selected to play cricket against the British in colonial India.

Dalits, formally known as “untouchables”, belong to the lowest rung of India’s archaic Hindu caste system.

The advert equates the Dalit character to the literal meaning of his name in Hindi, showing the character as different inanimate objects such as a lamp, table, paper, paperweight and a watering can made from certain quantities of recycled rubbish.

The advert has drawn a strong backlash online, prompting the food delivery agency to take down the video.

"Kachra from Lagaan was one of the most dehumanised voiceless depictions of Dalits ever in cinema," tweeted filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan.

"Zomato has used the same character and made a repulsive casteist commercial. A human stool? Are you serious? Extremely insensitive!"

Filmmaker Madhureeta Anand called the advert "offensive", questioning the process and people behind the approval and production of the video.

"Usually, I'm a big fan of Zomato's marketing, mostly done in-house. But their new ad film, made for World Environment Day, made for an uncomfortable watch, at least for me - your mileage may vary," wrote social media user Karthik on Twitter.

“Why Zomato is insensitive to Dalit sentiments? Why it takes liberty to hurt Dalit life by humiliating Dalit Identity,” tweeted Dalit historian Karunyakara Lella, calling for a boycott of the delivery platform.

Following the outrage, Zomato on Thursday took down the video for "unintentionally" hurting "the sentiments of certain communities and individuals".

The Dalit community consists of 200 million people in India today. Even though the concept of “untouchability” was outlawed in 1955 and successive governments have introduced measures of affirmative action in jobs and education, the people of the community remain targets of discrimination and abuse throughout the country.

Crimes against Dalits increased by 1.2 per cent in 2021, marking a rise from 50,291 reported cases in 2020 to 50,900 cases in 2021, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau.