Harrods has stopped selling a luxury handbag after the accessory caused offence among the Hindu community.
The bag, from the New York label Judith Leiber favoured by Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, sculptures the Hindu god Ganesha into a leather clutch. Many Hindus saw the image of the god on a handbag as demeaning and commodifying their religion. They believe in non-violence against animals, so the use of leather is considered insensitive, especially in this context.
“Our gods are not accessory fashion items, and it is highly disrespectful for them to be represented as such,” said Nandini Singh, the head of social media at Reach (Race, Ethnicity and Culture Heritage). The handbag “was mocking and demeaning our faith”, she added.
Rajnish Kashyap, the director of the Hindu Council UK (HCUK), said: “It raises a serious question, why doesn’t a world-renowned brand do proper research on religion and faith to find out what [its products] mean to the people who are following that faith. It’s cultural and religious appropriation.”
Singh added: “What will be good is if they and other such sellers have checks and measures in place to ensure that such blunders do not happen again.” In response to the protests, Harrods tweeted: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, we have removed this from sale from our site.”
Judith Leiber’s Instagram page, which featured the bag with the caption “in nature”, has been removed from the social media site and the company have told The Guardian that they will no longer produce the clutch with the leather lining.
“We are deeply sorry to hear that our bag has caused offence to the Hindu community,” said company president Lela Katsune, “(our) goals has has always been to create unique pieces that respectfully celebrate art, individuals, and cultures. However, now that we are aware that the leather lining in the bag contradicts the Hindu belief system, effective immediately we will be ceasing production on this style with leather lining. Going forward, this style will be produced with a synthetic lining. Customers who have purchased a bag will have the option of replacing the leather lining with a synthetic interior free of cost.”
Last month Rihanna angered Hindus by posting a photograph of herself on Instagram wearing a diamond-studded pendant featuring Ganesha. Kashyap believes such incidents keep happening due to a lack of “religious literacy and understanding among management of corporate organisations”.
Singh said: “Our culture and traditions are very vibrant and colourful so we understand how they can be appealing from an aesthetic eye. However it’s hurtful when elements of our culture and religion are taken out of context and then represented in a blatantly offensive manner.”
Harrods have been approached for comment.