Beer Label a Hate Crime

Overlawyered reports -

The Lost Coast Brewery in Humboldt, Calif. says it will take off the shelves its Indica India Pale Ale, whose label currently depicts the Indian elephant-god Ganesh “holding a beer in one of his four hands, and another in his trunk”. Although brewery co-owner Barbara Groom said her Hindu friends don’t mind the label, a California man named Brij Dhir sued the brewery, along with other defendants such as the Safeway supermarket chain, claiming that it is offensive and intimidates Hindus from practicing their religion. “Dhir seeks at least $25,000 and his lawsuit mentions that $1 billion would be appropriate to compensate Hindus around the world.” “It’s a hate crime”, Dhir told the Contra Costa Times.

Thanks to Ennis for the pict pointer!

87 thoughts on “Beer Label a Hate Crime

  1. This is just sad. If people want to sell and corporatize religion then they should do it with their own. It doesnt make it any less wrong, but it certainly will reduce the number of lawsuits they will have to face.

  2. This would have been a boycott issue, not a legal one:

    If the brewers wanted to keep a beer-quaffing Ganesh on the label, they would have a strong chance of doing it… Commercial speech does have less protection than artistic speech… Still, courts usually protect product labeling unless it tells a lie…

    The hate crime claim is silly, but this label was an insensitive commercial move using the hippie-era Indica which has become a slice of Americana. A Ganesh music video or T-shirt is one thing, Ganesh beer is quite another. Sounds more like something you’d find on The Simpsons.

    Note the minarets in the background, the usual lazy conflation of Hinduism with the Middle East; and the devil tails on the lettering. I dig the cubist style though.

    There’s a long, predictable flame war on this beer label here– let’s not repeat it. The script goes something like this:

    Desi 1: ‘This is insensitive to my religion.’

    Non-desi: ‘You have no sense of humor, you religious fanatic.’

    Desi 2: ‘I’m a desi and it doesn’t offend me.’

    Desi 1: ‘I’ll lighten up the day you put Jesus on a beer label.’

    All three, in unison: ‘Shut up!’

    And round and round it goes.

  3. “If people want to sell and corporatize religion then they should do it with their own”

    From my time in Trivandrum, I recall lots of Hindu gods used for very crass commercial avertisements and company names. I believe there was a “Lord Krishna Air Conditioners” company, for example. Is the “Indica Pale Ale” problem that it’s an alcoholic beverage? Or that it’s a non-Indian doing the marketing?

    There’s another microbrew from California, He-Brew (“the Chosen Beer”), which makes use of a hebrew-looking font and many stereotypes. It’s popular with hip heebs. I assume it’s marketed by Jews, but what if it weren’t?

    “Note the minarets in the background, the usual lazy conflation of Hinduism with the Middle East; and the devil tails on the lettering”

    I don’t know what those things on the letters are, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be devil tails. The minarets may have been intentional; the artist may have been referring to India as a whole, not just Hindu India. One icon of “India” in American pop culture is the Taj Mahal.

  4. … I recall lots of Hindu gods used for very crass commercial avertisements and company names.

    Yep, there’s even a Lord Krishna Bank, as I recall.

    Is the “Indica Pale Ale” problem that it’s an alcoholic beverage?

    Yes, that alcohol is a religiously proscribed item. At least among the devout.

    There’s another microbrew from California, He-Brew (“the Chosen Beer”), which makes use of a hebrew-looking font and many stereotypes.

    Bet it wasn’t named Jehovah for a reason.

    One icon of “India” in American pop culture is the Taj Mahal.

    Possible. It’s also possible that they were just mixing Arabs and Hindus the way pop culture does all the time.

  5. “…claiming that it…intimidates Hindus from practicing their religion…”

    To me this is the crux of the issue. Young Hindu Desis in America, especially so-called “ABCD’s”, constantly face many challenges about their “strange” religion. They can be discouraged from learning more about it by seeing its popular icons used in such undignified ways.

    Use of icons on Indian products in India doesn’t apply here because that is happening in a society where the context of the religion is established.

    Not saying that young American Desis of Hindu background must all choose to embrace their religion, but as it is part of their heritage, they shouldn’t by default be discouraged from learning about it by popular disrespect and ignorance of it in American society.

  6. I give you: He’brew, the Chosen Beer.

    I am not kidding.

    As far as Jesus memorabilia, lots of totes, keychains, flashlights,t-shirts, etc. Still looking for the beer….

  7. And He’brew is hilarious. Maybe the Lost Coast Brewery just did it wrong. Think there will ever be such a thing as Desi beer? What would its marketing look like?

  8. As far as Jesus memorabilia…

    Not Jesus memorabilia but a HILARIOUS catholic one that I saw in a store a few years ago was a water sprinkler in the shape of small statue of Pope John Paul II with his arms spread in a traditional “welcome ye faithful” gesture. When hooked up to a garden hose it would spin spraying water.

    The product name? “Let us Spray”

  9. Think there will ever be such a thing as Desi beer?
    • He’brew is not putting a deity on the label, it’s putting a language and a culture

    • There’s a long history of Hindu deities being ripped off for toilet seats, thongs and all kinds of irreligious products. Context matters here– unlike the Pope sprinklers, they’re not selling to a 25% Hindu country which is familiar with the religion, they’re selling to a country which by and large views the religious symbols as areligious exotic kitsch.

  10. Some of you will definitely not like New Orleans’ Hookah Cafe, with a big picture of a hookah-smoking Ganesha outside the front door.

    This is something that always comes to my mind in terms of religious iconography:

    A boycott is sanctimonious drumbeating unless Hindus value the gods of their pantheon for their meaning and their meaning alone, and not the icons and rituals of identity that they provide.

    While we are horrified at this crassness, we must stop to remember that this is a country where people wear stars-and-stripes thong bikinis and announce their patriotism from lapel pins and car-antenna flags. That India, too, is a country where a mad appropriation of the symbol has superceded understanding and reverence for the abstraction which is symbolized, i.e. the meaning behind the representation. Is that not demeaning our deities? Where is the outrage for that great loss?

  11. Maitri: there’s a reason why the Hookah Cafe chose Ganesh and not Jesus or Mohammed.

    Partly because nobody in any serious numbers would object, partly because Indians, like, are so spiritually out there, man! I mean, all the Indian gods are, like, just acid-induced synæsthesia, right?

  12. If our “acid-induced synæsthesia” paints us as generally peaceful and relaxed yoga-practitioners, what’s the harm, right?

    At any rate, who wants validation from them that judge us wrongly anyway?

    My concern lies with westerners going for the half-assed urban-chic of eastern iconography and Indians/Hindus latching onto the symbolism like there’s no tomorrow, when neither group wants to realize and protect the beautiful reality behind the icon.

  13. Jews are also a minority in the US, and the symbols in He’brew labels and ads are presented as “areligious exotic kitsch.” If there were any Jewish tradition of Jehovah images (there isn’t), they’d be on those bottles too. If there’s any group ready to get all up in arms about being persecuted and defamed, it’s Jews, but “the Chosen Beer” appears to be a success. Why? If non-Jews were making the stuff, there’d be hell to pay.

    I bet hipster Desis could successfully sell beer to hipster Desis – and others – using an ironic marketing campaign. The problem, I think, is that Lost Coast Brewery wasn’t sufficiently hip or educated to handle the imagery correctly; and they weren’t targeting a Desi market. Their campaign was by non-Indians for non-Indians, but used Indian imagery. I suppose that’s the definition of (mis)appropriation. He’brew’s campaign is by Jews, for Jews (mostly), but anyone can appreciate the humor.

    I’m especially concerned about Indians and Indian-expats taking offense at non-Indians’ use of Hindu imagery because of “Sita Sings the Blues.” I’m relieved that the response has been mostly positive, but occasionally I receive an email accusing me of “hurting Indian culture” or “ridiculing my religion.” I know that anything worth doing will offend some people, but my intention isn’t to hurt or ridicule. Every time I read a righteously angry post about how some dumb-ass American misapproprtiated some Hindu cultural icon, I shudder. There but for the grace of (insert deity here) go I.

  14. If our “acid-induced synæsthesia” paints us as generally peaceful and relaxed yoga-practitioners, what’s the harm, right?

    The harm is in westerners going for the half-assed urban-chic of eastern iconography.

  15. I still think people should have the common sense on not to use potentially sensitive symbols for their products. The keyword here is “potentially”, if there is any doubt then just leave it out and use something else.

  16. If our “acid-induced synæsthesia” paints us as generally peaceful and relaxed yoga-practitioners, what’s the harm, right? The harm is in westerners going for the half-assed urban-chic of eastern iconography.

    Our angry snatching back and “protection” of the symbol is neither going to help westerners see us as generally peaceful and relaxed nor stop them from continuing to engage in thoughtless shopping exercises. If they don’t care about their flags, do they think for a minute about something as far from their minds as desecration?

    Again, I have a white-American friend who actively reads and believes in the Gita and wears a gigantic Om tattoo on his back. Is he wrong to do that? When does this stop becoming ours vs. theirs? The only thing we can do, being on the side most enlightened about these symbols, is to educate and not to pitch fits and angry boycotts (no, no, not SMers, but “purveyors” of Hinduism a la VHP, RSS, incensed mob on Sulekha, etc.).

  17. I think the difference b/w reading the Gita and having a tatoo is that they are natural practices as a extensions of faith and belief.

    Having a Ganesh smoking up or drinking is neither natural nor respectful. If they want to have a Ganesh at the entrance of the restaurant then that is fine, having a symbol is fine, but having it smoking or doing anything else ridiculous does cross a few lines that should not.

  18. I bet hipster Desis could successfully sell beer to hipster Desis – and others – using an ironic marketing campaign.

    I agree, but it doesn’t have to be done by desis, it just has to be done well. (I think ‘Mulit‘ was directed by a Swede.) Otherwise its very shoddiness comes across as disrespect, like a sales proposal done in crayon and scotch tape.

    Suppose you were visiting Saudia Arabia and watched a TV show. The show was about America and claimed to be accurate. All it showed was an Arabian fellow in white makeup, an XXXXXXXL T-shirt and ugly running shoes porking out on burgers and yelling loudly into a cel phone at the base of the Statue of Liberty while gunfire whizzed around him. That’s about the level of much American work about South Asia at this point.

    Every time I read a righteously angry post about how some dumb-ass American misapproprtiated some Hindu cultural icon, I shudder. There but for the grace of (insert deity here) go I.

    But your work is done well, the care is evident. The people complaining are probably turned off by the frank assessment of two religious icons.

  19. Relief … now I know why Nina Paley’s name sounded so familiar – we went to the same high school.

    having it smoking or doing anything else ridiculous does cross a few lines that should not

    One of my least favorite phrases: “should not.” Says who?

    one of the major goals of boycotts is precisely to educate, to raise awareness

    Similar boycotts have been raised against Durga imprinted on designer underwear, Ganesha embossed on American Eagle sandals, Jimi Hendrix as part of the Vishwarupa Darshana on an album cover, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ video of Kiss Them For Me, the list goes on …

    a) Due to such boycotts, has a considerable portion of western society come away with any of the awareness Hindus wish to instill in them?

    b) Parody is still within their rights as long as it’s not infringement, and woe be to any Hindu/group who copyrights these universal symbols.

    Advocating for the devil aside, I have nothing against these “variations” as long as the people who come up with and sell them are willing to have something similar done to their own special icons. The people who purchase these products probably don’t have the sensibility to respect their own icons, much less those of a culture of which they know squat.

    Of course, the most important question is if the beer is any good. If it is, the label is a tribute, not blasphemy. (I’m a Hindu Wisconsinite … some priorities tend to battle each other)

  20. Maybe the outrage is because the images are on a bottle of beer, since liquor has negative connotations in Indian society. The use of mythological imagery is actually quite widespread in Indian society. Just take a look at all the calendar art, the images of Hanuman behind trucks, the names of businesses (though I doubt if any liquor shop has the name of a deity) etc. In fact, if someone wants to be offended at the bastardization of our culture, they should vent their ire at the million+ mythologicals on Indian television, each worse than the last, and made solely to reap the monetary benefits of increased ratings. When Ramanand Sagar first made the Ramayana, it was a shoddy work, but there was no standard bearer back then, and most people swallowed it. BR Chopra’s Mahabharata was a great improvement in quality, but every mythological after that has been abominable.

    And oh, remember the ire MF Hussein had to face when he drew Saraswati in the nude, because the self-proclaimed protectors of Indian culture could not fathom how sensuality and gods could mix. (Of course, a good reading of mythology along with a trip to the Jagannath temple in Puri, or Khajuraho would dispel that myth.. but who wants facts when you can have hysteria) I’d rather not have anyone ‘protect’ my culture since no one has a copyright over culture, and every influence helps add to the culture.

    Btw, all this talk about about religion and liquor reminds me.. in Kerala, there’s a really strong liquor called ‘Yeshu-Christu’ by the locals. They say that if you drink it, you will wake up only after the third day :-)

  21. Due to such boycotts, has a considerable portion of western society come away with any of the awareness Hindus wish to instill in them?

    Yeah– everyone who’s seen the news coverage of those events.

    Parody is still within their rights…

    Nobody’s talking about government as an agent of action here.

  22. Maitri, Hindu Wisconsonian! This Hindu (former) Iowan dislikes ‘should not,’ as well. Should not, would not, could not….

    If you want to boycott ( I speak to the general you, not anyone on this thread in particular), go ahead and boycott. It’s your right. For my part, I actually like the kitsch, whether it be John Paul lawn-sprinklers or hippie West coast ‘hindu chic.’ A 15 million dollar Hindu temple was built in Belmont, Illinois a few years ago….the success of the temple, the striking architecture, and the number of temple goers was all a big deal, written up in the Chicago Tribune and other papers. This sort of thing will do a lot to introduce the general American culture to Hinduism, beyond sixties kitsch.

    It’s just that I think the kitsch represents something, is authentic, and is a historical part of the American culture, even if it offends. It represents a time, a place, an attempt at understanding, no matter how superficial. Kitsch, by definition, is the ideal brought low down and into real, daily, hectic, busy, commercial life. Kitsch says, it doesn’t all have to be so distant.

    I agree that Hindu symbols are easier to use than Christian ones in this society, because, frankly, it would cause less fuss. But to me, that’s not a good enough reason to be offended. The thing, in and of itself, must be good or bad. So, irrespective of what might happen if there was Jesus beer, is this good or is it bad? I suspect we fall onto different sides, but, again: if you want to boycott, go ahead. All things in a free society…..

  23. I think the kitsch… represents a time, a place, an attempt at understanding, no matter how superficial.

    Kitsch is a kind of pop art, so you have to look at each work specifically. Some kitsch is an attempt at understanding, fusing and innovating, other kitsch is just poking fun without understanding.

  24. Indians are already learning to flex their minority muscle like the tribe. As the soon-to-be number 2 market dominant minority in this country, they have learned to “handle” those who offend them with strategic suits, however meritless. It is just the start. Get used to it, America. And DON’T expect the same treatment toward Christians in India. Won’t happen. And class of rich folks who can sit on the backs of 500 million poor folks for two thousand years isn’t about to worry about that.

  25. Disgusting!!

    This is nothing but a Cheap marketing tactic to gain polularity.

    This purely shows the racist nature of the owner of the brewery.

    In my opinion not only company like this should be closed for ever and their assets confiscated but all their management should be locked up behind bars and beaten every day so others can get a lesson.

  26. In my opinion not only company like this should be closed for ever and their assets confiscated but all their management should be locked up behind bars and beaten every day so others can get a lesson.

    A Hindi, Thank GOD your opinion counts for nothing. In my opinion you should be locked up an beaten every day. Lucky for you, my opinion doesn’t matter much either.

  27. Maitri – when did you go to Uni? Did I know you? It’s all a blur…

    Manish – “Suppose you were visiting Saudia Arabia and watched a TV show…about America and claimed to be accurate. All it showed was an Arabian fellow in white makeup, an XXXXXXXL T-shirt and ugly running shoes porking out on burgers and yelling loudly into a cel phone at the base of the Statue of Liberty while gunfire whizzed around him.”

    Of course I’d find that hilarious, because Americans aren’t marginalized where I live (here in America, go figure) – it’d be novel. Also, I’m critical of much of American culture, so the unrestrained ridicule could be satisfying. But I get your point: if I were fed a steady diet of that sort of media, I wouldn’t be laughing.

    Somewhat related: the Bollywood movies I’ve rented recently make a point of depicting white people as violent thieves. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam there’s the inexplicably murderous Italian jeep-driving couple who shoot Nandini, and Dil Chahta Hai features a Swiss girl who seduces a hapless Indian protagonist in Goa only to mug him. I crack up at these scenes, but if I subsisted only on a diet of Bollywood movies, I’d have one tweaked self-image.

  28. … the Bollywood movies I’ve rented recently make a point of depicting white people as violent thieves.

    Yeah, they’re terrible that way. They’re stuck in the ’50s as far as stereotyping goes: Mortal Kombat-style white and black villains, silly Japanese tourists, bumbling Sikhs. White characters are usually as thinly written as the unseen, ‘wonka-wonka’ adults in Charlie Brown specials.

    But then Indian characters are often just as kitschy. Ever seen Mogambo from Mr. India?

  29. Can anyone get us Brij Dhir’s email ID and tel/cell no’s? We from India are willing to help in his fight against this and ensure it is settled. Thanks

  30. But then Indian characters are often just as kitschy. Ever seen Mogambo from Mr. India?

    After seeing “enough” bollywood movies, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shashi Tharoor’s novel, “Show Business”. Enough kitschy stereotypes and tongue-in-cheek making fun of the industry, complete with Amitabh-like hero.

    Though one portion of the book rang familiar of the plot for Bombay Dreams. Makes me wonder…

  31. Nina: I believe you graduated before I did in 1993. Besides, I went to Uni only for 2.25 years, not long enough for the name to linger in its corridors like yours. ;-)

    Your Sitayana is brilliant, BTW. Wait until I elicit some gasps and giggles (all in the same breath) by showing it to my mom.

    All: My “parody is within their rights” comment was meant for those who want this kind of expression to be illegal.

    Is it just me or is A Hindi a joke? What Hindu would make the mortal mistake of referring to him/herself as a Hindi?

    (Yes, I just LOVE IT when people walk up to me and ask if I speak Hindu. If I were to have enough Indica beer and the spirit of Cubist Ganesh in me, I would say, “Yeah, just like you speak Methodist or whatever. Punk, bring it on.” Alas, this ale is lost to us forever and I will just have to stare at them while carefully choosing my words.)

  32. I being an indian and a hindu deeply outraged at what happened.Young Indian so called ABCDs i believe its not their fault if they are confused .I believe its due to their never being taught about their religion or if taught,taught the truth straight from upanishads and vedas.I won’t criticise anybody but would like to say this has hurted my sentiments and i support the boycott .I think brothers and sisters by making mockery of gods be it of any religion does hurt the people of that religion howsoever tolerant the people of the concerned religion are.Hindu being a universal religion we believeing that every good man is a part of god”Parmatama” as we call it in hindi.Regarding bollywood people love it over herein india regarding your whites thieves madam every year about 700-800 movies release here in india and you picked 2-3 which released over the span of 4 years . I support Mr.Dhir Jai Hind

  33. Shallabh, it’s not that we ABCDs are without values or reverence for the from-whence-our-fathers-came… we just have a sense of humor and choose not to get our chuddis in a bunch over everything.

    I don’t think the issue is about the apathy of ABCDs or whether Hollywood blows, in comparison to Bollywood.

    as the kids say in K3G, “Take a chill pill”

  34. there must be hang till punishment for use of religous idols for these kind of things. becouse this is an insult of mans top brass, its a purposefull hurt to that religion With intention to show than we r not answerable to anywone.

  35. DesiDancer, Brother I never said ABCDs are without values ,i only(if i didn’t i’ll correct myself) made a reference to those who say its “cool”,brother u’ll agree that if we keep on ignoring these skirmishs then i can see them playing with our religion 1 day. Being tolerant is 1 thing brother but i feel we are overexploited because of our tolerance. The bottom line is, ending all debates is this was a bad thing,the firm should have talked to hindu religious leaders before doing anything. But they are fault now and they should be punished,thats all Jai Hind

  36. Letter to the Editor

    In the Northcoast Journal issue dated May 12, 2005, there is a news update Lost Coast Brewery Sued. In this update, the brewery co-owner Barbara Groom responds stating she has received positive reviews of the Indica label, which depicts an image of the Hindu god Ganesh, from Hindus in the past. In addition, in other newspapers in the Bay Area she is quoted as saying that her Hindu friends “Think it’s really cool.” My question is who are the Hindu friends that you are talking about who think the Indica label is so “cool”? The community in the North Coast is so very small and I must sincerely question the existence of Hindus in the area who support the Indica label. As a Hindu community member residing on the North Coast, I question the sincerity of these statements of support from other Hindus.

    I believe it important for the Humboldt community to know that Barbara Groom is being dishonest when she says that she has received positive reviews from Hindus. There have been many letters sent to Ms. Groom and her sales manager, Briar Bush, via email for the last 5 years about the Ganesh image. There have been letters and articles published by the Times Standard in Summer 2003 and the Northcoast Journal in 2001 articulating how and why the Indica label is slanderous to Hindus locally and internationally. The AHAD (American Hindus Against Defamation) sent Ms. Groom correspondence educating her as to why the label is offensive and asking the brewery to take it off the shelves. Ms. Groom participated in an interview with the bay area newspaper India West in 2001, where she was again questioned about the use of Ganesh to market beer. In addition, there have been dozens of comments regarding the misrepresentation of Ganesh by Lost Coast Brewery on websites like (www.mylifeisbeer.com/beer/bottles/bottledetail/257/.
    I am also aware of other Hindus who have written op-eds and sent emails to Lost Coast Brewery’s sales manager who has responded to them by saying that it is too labor intensive to change the label. It is clear to me and other Hindus that Ms. Groom and the rest of the Lost Coast Brewery staff have chosen to ignore us for years. Exercising their social power made available by white privilege and hegemony the Lost Coast Brewery continues to commodify Hindu culture. Telling those of us who resist her oppressive acts to just “relax.”

    This lawsuit should not be a surprise for Ms. Groom. She has been given ample opportunity to make changes in the marketing of Indica beer, but in the name of capitalism she has co-opted a sacred deity of HinduÂ’s and altered its status to a symbol of hate targeting Hindus and non Hindus locally, nationally and internationally. The time for the Lost Coast Brewery to be held accountable for the violent misrepresentation of Ganesh is long overdue. It is time for Ms. Groom and the other executives of the Lost Coast Brewery to admit their mistake, apologize to the community and take the image of Ganesh off their beer, delivery trucks, t-shirts and website. Stop exploiting!

  37. Thanks for sharing that letter. I had no idea the label’s been around that long. Is there a URL for the India West interview? Actually, URLs for all the letters and articles you cite would be enlightening.

  38. It is sad that this brewery made a marketing boo-boo like this one. They have some of the best brews around.

  39. and altered its status to a symbol of hate targeting Hindus and non Hindus locally

    B.S.

    This witchhunt is crazy. It makes me want to drink this beer even more.

  40. This witchhunt is crazy. It makes me want to drink this beer even more.

    I totally agree with you. It’s just a friggin beer with a hindu symbol on it. Whoever sees ‘hate’ and denigration of Hinduism in it needs the services of a shrink, fast! Personally, I think we’d all be better off if we took religion off its pedestal so that we can talk about it without steam pouring out of our ears.

  41. and altered its status to a symbol of hate targeting Hindus and non Hindus locally B.S. This witchhunt is crazy.

    Question: So you guys would be cool with drinking Jesus beer, or Yahweh beer or Allah beer too? If so, sounds kosher/halaal to me.

  42. So you guys would be cool with drinking Jesus beer, or Yahweh beer or Allah beer too? If so, sounds kosher/halaal to me

    Yup, as long as the hops are right and the fermentation process is sound. And while drinking it I will say to myself, “Thank Ganesh for my ability to discern the difference between the symbol and the symbolized.”