Why An Indian Snack Label Has Caused An Uproar

Truth and accuracy in food product labelling is highly important. For those with specific food allergies, dietary preferences, and religious beliefs, this labelling takes on even more meaning. This fact has recently come to light regarding a packaging controversy surrounding the Haldiram's brand's Falahari namkeen, which is a traditionally vegetarian Indian snack that many Hindus consume during fasting periods. The fast of Navratri, for example, asks followers to abstain from grains like wheat and rice, while vegetables (such as the potatoes found in the crispy Falahari namkeen snack blend) are allowed, explains Times of India. Many animal products are forbidden, but the peanuts and spices that add flavor to the snack food are encouraged.

Now for the confusing controversy. The Haldiram's Falahari namkeen is packaged with labels written in both English and Arabic in order to inform the brand's global customer base about important nutritional information, according to Mashable. However, in a now-viral video, a reporter for Sudarshan TV created confusion when she claimed that the Arabic label is actually written in Urdu, signifying that the ingredients list includes animal fats. The fast of Navratri calls for an abstinence of most animal products, and vegetarian diets are not uncommon in southeast Asia. Adding animal fat to a vegetarian dish popular on holy days would be scandalous — if that were, in fact, what had actually happened.

A language misunderstanding of epic proportions

In what the Times of India described as a potential "attempt to instigate communalism," the Sudarshan TV reporter made incorrect assertions about the Haldiram's packaging. The reporter claimed that by using Urdu on the Falahari namkeen packaging, the brand was trying to "hide" the real ingredients from customers who don't speak the language. In reality, the publication explains, the food label is written in Arabic, not Urdu, and details the vegetarian ingredients included in the snack blend with no mention of animal fats. A Haldiram's representative clarified that the brand uses multiple languages on its packaging, such as English and Arabic, because "it is a mandate from every country to use their local language."

Why has the mixup created such a fierce debate online?  In the viral news clip, the reporter repeatedly questions a Haldiram's employee over the brand's Falahari namkeen and accuses the brand of being dishonest on its packaging, refusing the employee's request for her to leave. Moreover, the faulty reporting may even have triggered a Twitter movement to #BoycottHaldiram. There appears to be support on both sides of the argument, with another movement to #BoycottSudarshan over the news station's reporting inaccuracy. So, while a snack label is causing an uproar — perhaps that's not the real story here. Good reporting, like food labels, requires accuracy.