A Sikh activist is organizing a Dec. 5 rally in front of the GAP Store in Davis, Calif., to protest a new ad featuring jeweler Waris Ahluwalia and Quentin Jones that he believes is disrespectful to the Sikh community.
GAP’s holiday season print ad campaign, “Make Love,” which is focused on giving and sharing love, according to a statement by the retail clothing giant, features several icons, including singers Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett and glam-queen Cyndi Lauper. Ahluwalia – of The House of Waris – and Jones are featured in one of the print ads, with the turbaned and bearded Indian American focused at the camera, as a waspy, bed-headed Jones has a hand on his dastaar and another on his open-necked shirt, which sprouts a bit of chest hair.
“This is a highly sexualized ad. Anytime a woman has her hand on a man’s shirt, with her tousled hair, it screams of sex,” Gursant Singh, organizer of the Davis protest, told India-West.
“It is completely unacceptable for an unmarried woman to be touching a Sikh man in this way. We’re family people and this is not the image of Sikhs we want portrayed,” said Singh, who converted to Sikhism 35 years ago. Singh said it would be better – but not entirely acceptable – if Ahluwalia and Jones were portrayed as a married couple.
“GAP is being disrespectful of the Sikh religion,” he stated. Singh also said GAP is using Ahluwalia to appeal to young men who hope that buying GAP clothing will make them attractive to the opposite sex.
Singh added that the ad campaign is also being used to mitigate GAP’s role in connection with the horrific Rana Plaza factory disaster earlier this year in Bangladesh, which killed more than 3,000 people April 24 as an eight-story building collapsed. GAP, the second-largest buyer of clothing from Bangladesh, has not signed on to an international accord, which aims to protect the rights of employees in Bangladesh’s garment factories.
Nearly 300 people are expected to attend the Davis event, which is being organized this week over Facebook. Singh said Davis police have told him he can stand on the sidewalk outside the store and in the bike lane, as long as he is not obstructing bicycle traffic.
“Stop GAP from brown-washing,” and “Stop GAP from disrespecting Sikhs” are the slogans Singh plans to use on his picket signs. Singh said he is expecting a counter-protest from young Sikhs who view the ads as a sign that Sikhs have entered mainstream culture. He said he has not received any stated support from Sikh organizations.
The Facebook page for the Davis protest had many comments denouncing the upcoming rally. “This ad is beautiful! It is a good-looking Punjabi Sikh man who has the affection of a good-looking woman. Why would you demoralize that?” queried Trish Singh.
Los Angeles-based Parminder Singh also questioned the necessity of the protest. “This recognition can make a great statement to the world on who the Sikhs are, and help eliminate the confusion that hurts Sikhs in hate crimes in the West,” said Parminder, who wears a turban and a graying beard.
Hardeep Walia, of Hillsborough, Calif., said the planned protest was “embarrassing.”
“This was a terrific ad and nice way for Sikhs to be seen by mainstream America,” said Walia, who also wears a turban and a beard.
GAP issued a press statement on November 18 about its “Make Love” ad campaign. “For a few short weeks during the holidays, we become conscious of what matters most to us. It’s a time when moments turn into memories, experiences become traditions, and gifts become sentimental reminders that we’ll cherish for years to come,” said Seth Farbman, GAP’s Global Chief Marketing Officer.
“‘Make Love’ is about giving love through action, whether it’s a service to others or a gift that’s a representation of love,” said Farbman.