Harley Pulled Into Political Fight Over It's Leather Products

There are many challenges for motorcycle manufacturers selling their products in other countries. A strange example of this, Harley-Davidson is riding through cultural and political headwinds in India.

The world famous motorcycle manufacturer isn’t facing questions about performance, issues over import tariffs or even concerns over prices. Harley-Davidson’s public relations issue in India is about leather, something as closely associated with motorcycle enthusiasts as the bikes they ride. To be completely clear, the controversy is about the animals the leather comes from.

Cows are revered and even worshiped by many in the Hindu community, so much so they amble unmolested in India's traffic-choked streets. The animal is worshipped and decorated during festivals; holy men take around cows, with their foreheads smeared in vermillion, to seek alms. According to a story printed in the Hindustan Times, a well-known actor is taking this passion and using it to make political points, with Harley-Davidson riding at the heart of his complaints.

Actor Ajaz Khan is urging India’s Prime Minister to impose a ban on Harley-Davidson products, claiming they’re made from cow hide. Khan is an actor and producer, appearing in popular movies and in television soap operas. Fun fact, Khan kicked off his career modelling for condom brand Durex.

“I just bought a leather belt from Harley Davidson,” Khan is quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying. “This is a cow leather belt. It’s being sold in the entire world. If you really consider yourself men, then I request [the Prime Minister] shuts down Harley Davidson.”

Actor Ajaz Khan who has issues with the leather found in some Harley-Davidson products

The concern is based on a belief-system which has led to bans forbidding the slaughtering of cows. People have been lynched by mobs on rumors of families storing and consuming beef at home. As seen with the complaints from Khan, the cow has become India's most polarizing and politically divisive animal.

What could frustrate Harley executives, the call to ban the company’s products is being used to draw attention to larger political concerns the actor has with India’s current administration, but manages to ride the American motorcycle brand through unwanted headlines. The latest report features a close up of a Harley-Davidson belt, showing it is in fact made of leather.

The message to India’s Prime Minister came in the form of a video posted on Khan’s Facebook page on Saturday April 15. The post has been shared around 40,000 times with more than 70,000 likes.

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