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Vicks: "Generations of Care" (YouTube)

'True story’

Indian ad with transgender mother goes viral, ignites a debate on social media

By WITW Staff on April 17, 2017

Prefaced with the tagline “a true story,” the newest ad from Vicks, part of the Proctor & Gamble family, has gone viral. Released online on March 31, the ad, titled “Generations of Care,” has received more than 9 million views on YouTube, but the message has polarized its audience.

Told through the eyes of a young girl named Gayatri, the narrative is a simple one. Gayatri is on her way to boarding school because her mother desires that she should study to become a doctor. “Mummy,” she explains, has built her own life for herself after being kicked out of her home at the age of 18. But Gayatri’s tale takes a turn when she explains that her birth mother died when she was a child and “mummy” adopted her. We see nothing but glimpses of her mother — a sari here, a pair of hands there — until the very end when it is revealed that her mother is actually Gauri Sawant, a transgender woman.

“In our civics text books we read that everyone is entitled to the same basic rights.” Gayatri explains. “Then why is my mom denied them? This is why I’m not going to be a doctor, but a lawyer. For my mom.”

The message is a powerful one and the story is in fact true and the real Gauri and Gayatri appear in the ad as themselves. Gayatri, whose mother was a sex worker who died of AIDS when she was only 6 years old, was adopted by Gauri, a friend of her mother’s. The ad, while heartwarming, has moved beyond the message of “motherhood has no gender” and sparked serious debate about the rights of transgender people in India.

Although the third gender was officially recognized in India in 2014, the legal ability of transgender people to adopt children are still widely debated. Gauri Sawant, who runs an NGO in Mumbai, was one of the original activists that lobbied the government and the Supreme Court of India to pass the law which grants equal rights to transgendered people. However, because adoption regulations are still undecided, many have pointed out that the ambiguity brings into question whether or not Sawant has the right to raise Gayatri at all. Neeraj Ghaywan, the director of the ad, was quick to point this out. “It is actually Gauri Sawant (and not an actor) playing her part. Of course, legally she cannot adopt a child. Just hoping someday the world will be as one.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many have accused Vicks, and its parent company Proctor & Gamble, of co-opting the transgender movement in India to sell a product. After all, Vicks is traditionally a purveyor of health and wellness products and their chief goal is profits. Nitin Darbari, the marketing director for Asia at Proctor & Gamble, spoke out about the controversy surrounding the ad, stating that the main purpose was to “celebrate” the ever-changing way we define family. Proctor & Gamble, who have released a bevy of progressive ads over the past few years, was pleased with the online response. “We are overwhelmed by the reactions and the willingness to engage in the conversations and the number of people who have evinced interest/stepped forward.”

Despite the criticism, Harrish Iyer, a fellow equal rights activist in Mumbai pointed out that whether you agree with the ad or not, it has accomplished something much better than what it might have intended. “It does something even our mainstream media hasn’t managed: This ad normalizes [people who are transgender]. So many times if there’s a gay or trans person portrayed, they’re a caricature or a cause.”

Watch the ad below and hear Gayatri’s story in the video below. Earlier this month at the 8th Annual Women in the World Summit, Laxmi Tripathi, the transgender woman who was instrumental in the case that ultimately won third gender rights in India, appeared onstage to discuss her life and the outlook for trans people in India. Watch her full interview with Barkha Dutt here.

Read the full story at NPR.


Activist speaks out at summit, urges world to think beyond male and female

Laxmi Tripathi describes how being ‘out’ is really just a question of perspective

School for trans pupils doesn’t go as planned in Kerala, India