In the last week of September, Parle-G, the Parle Products’ flagship biscuit brand, ran a campaign on its Instagram page celebrating World Tourism Day, held annually on 27 September. The campaign comprised a series of posts, each of which aimed to depict one Indian state and featured an illustration of the young girl who has been the brand’s face for decades. The Parle-G girl was dressed in the traditional attire of a state along with the supposed background from that state in each post. But in the illustration labelled “Assam,” the brand clubbed identities of multiple northeast Indian states—the Parle-G girl wore a Kajenglei and a Kawrchei, a Manipuri headdress and a Mizo top, respectively, with a background that appeared to resemble the topography of Meghalaya.
The post was uploaded on 27 September. As several people from these states started criticising Parle-G in the comments section, it was deleted within 24 hours. In its place, on 28 September, Parle-G uploaded three illustrations depicting Assam, Manipur and Mizoram accurately. But it did not issue an apology.
“People outside of northeast have this tendency to ‘assume’ things about us, based on their limited understanding, and wrongly club all communities under one banner: ‘northeast,’” Chichanbeni Kithan, a research fellow at Delhi Assembly Research Centre, told me. Kithan is from a Naga community. Several people from northeastern states spoke to me about how people from the rest of India often misrepresent their traditional attires and even culturally appropriate them without facing any consequences. They told me about a few such cases from this year, and explained why these incidents are not just offensive, but can also threaten the livelihoods of traditional weavers.