Kali-Ma and the Beer (Label)

Posted by Jason Gladfelter, M.A. on May 15, 2012  /   Posted in Business Options

Burnside Brewery out of Portland, OR was scheduled to release a beer today called Kali-Ma. Instead, it went back to the labeling line. The reason for this is the name and label art, which have upset some in the Hindu community. See, Kali-Ma is a religious symbol in Hinduism and represents power, destruction of evil and empowerment (although these vary).  The label depicts something different. The brewery swiftly issued an apology and declared to change the name and label.  In India, the nation’s second largest political party and largest conservative party, Bharatiya Janata, demands an official American apology from the U.S. ambassador.  Now, it’s an international dispute that sucks attention away from other issues.

While some may chalk this up to misunderstanding, ignorance, overreaction and/or ‘looking for a fight’, it is still important to take a closer look to discover the triggers of such a dispute. What is really going on? Well, we may never fully know, but shedding more light below the surface will discover important aspects.

  • Burnside did indeed show ignorance as to what Kali-Ma means with many people. While their take on it stemmed from an Indiana Jones movie, they didn’t follow up and dig just a hair deeper
  • Not digging deeper is an accident, though, and not an intension.  The labeling of the beer based on their research (or lack thereof) shows negligence at worst, not an act of offense or purposeful degradation
  • Nevertheless, minimizing and misrepresenting a religious symbol can upset many people. Religion maintains a deep meaning in many peoples’ lives; it’s how they live their lives, how they identify themselves, and how they attach worth to their being
  • An apology was offered and seemed accepted by the Hindu community—at least in the U.S.  This apology contained a reason for the naming of the beer and regret that it offended others. What it did not contain was admission to negligence. A tough pill to swallow, but apologizing for offense only addresses the symptom, not the cause. It showed sympathy without empathy
  • Enter politics. The aforementioned political party in India demands the summoning of the U.S. ambassador to India “and make him apologise for this” [1].  Unfortunately, a forced apology is not an apology. It has no meaning.  It’s all show.  In this instance, the demand seems to be the focal point.  Political capital is available to those who persuade, or at least stand up to, the world’s only superpower.

Summary: An honest error in research begets offense to a religious community. After a swift and sympathetic apology, politics enters resulting in an escalation of the dispute to an international row.  The brewery should have done their research. The politics should have never entered.



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