Some South Asians are upset with the word ‘desi’

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Few South Asians would ever bat an eyelid when they are referred to as ‘desi’. At the most some may roll their eyes and shrug at being referred to as ‘desi’, but apparently a section of Indo-Canadians finds the term downright offensive.

Recently, TD Bank was forced to stop running online advertisements that use the word “desi” to target the South Asian community after at least one person complained about them.

A media report said that one Jatin Patel demanded the bank take the ads down after he saw one of them while scrolling through an Indian news app.

In an interview he said that back in India, it is used as an offensive term and that the word ‘desi’ is used to refer to people lacking class and sophistication.

“Desi” originates from the Sanskrit word “desh,” which means “nation.” It’s commonly used, mostly by young people, to describe people and culture as truly or typically South Asian. It’s even made its way into the titles of many South Asian films.

TD’s ad, which could be seen on both social media platforms and the web, featured videos and pictures with the tagline: “62 per cent of desi Canadians don’t know how much to save for retirement.”

Mr. Patel called the bank to register his displeasure with the ad and the bank without really consulting with the broader community promptly took down the ad that night itself.

Patel would love the bank to apologize to him personally but adds that the damage has been done.

“If you slap someone, and then you say, ‘Sorry,’ what does it mean? The action has already been completed,” he said in the interview.

TD Canada says it pulled the ads to show it respects the community.

“Inclusion and diversity are core values at TD, and we continuously make every effort to ensure we respect our customers and colleagues in everything we do,” the bank said in an email statement to the media outlet.

Can-India talked to a couple of ‘desis’ about this controversy and their reaction was surprise that it was derogatory. Sure, the word can be used to describe a typical South Asian person, cuisine or clothing, but no one would go so far as to consider the word ‘desi’ offensive.

TD bank cannot be faulted on their commitment to inclusive and diversity. They put in plenty of resources into trying to reach out to new Canadians . It is something that happens to be a core principle. TD bank cannot be faulted for not ‘respecting’ the community in this needless controversy.

The fault perhaps lies in businesses making clumsy efforts at reaching out and inadvertently reinforcing the identities of hyphenated-Canadians. -CINEWS

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