Wagh Bakri: India’s Iconic Tea Brand & Its Fight For Social Justice

Wagh Bakri: India’s Iconic Tea Brand & Its Fight For Social Justice
India Times

There is nothing that a cup of chai can’t fix. A cup that punctuates the everyday life of Indians, whether it is that morning cup that is just the perfect match as you scroll through your phone before a work day, that evening cup that gets you through the day or the other random cups that make welcome appearances throughout your day, no questions asked.

There is something about a cup of chai and India’s inseparable connection with it. It’s a connector and equalizer of sorts; everyone from different strata and stages of life finds themselves near a chai tapri, with that pot of simmering tea holding everyone together. A nostalgic cup amidst conversations with friends, a mid-day break with colleagues, an evening chatting with your parents, or even a late-night date.

Cups of chai just fit our Indian hearts and there’s no moving away from that.

In fact, it has been so for centuries now. Among India’s beloved tea brands is the famous indigenous tea brand ‘Wagh Bakri Chai’, one that united all Indians even before independence.

It all started in 1892 when Narandas Desai, an Indian entrepreneur and Gandhian set up his tea business with five hundred acres of a tea estate in Durban, South Africa. At that point in time, South Africa was reeling under colonialism much like India and was plagued with apartheid.

Narandas Desai, too ended up facing racial discrimination in several instances and his rising success only worsened the situation. This combined with the political unrest of the country forced him to move back to India in 1915. Close to Mahatma Gandhi, back in South Africa, and a firm believer of Gandhian ethics he moved to India with more than just his tea business, with Gandhi vouching for his credibility. In his letter, dated 12th February 1915 Gandhi wrote, “I knew Mr Narandas Desai in South Africa, where he was for a number of years a successful tea planter.” This was an instrumental in his migration to India.

Returning from South Africa, Desai took a large loan to establish Gujarat Tea Depot in 1919 and the first store was set up in Ahmedabad which sold loose tea. By 1934, Desai started selling the tea under the brand name ‘Wagh Bakri’ for the first time. But Gandhi’s influence on Desai extended beyond just running a swadeshi company, with the tea brand he wanted to start a positive movement that would establish a correlation between tea and social harmony.

When you look at the almost oxymoronic name of the brand, you almost question why a tea brand would name itself Tiger Goat, two animals that are unlikely to be seen together in harmony. But that is exactly what lies at the core of the brand, their iconic logo of a tiger and goat sharing a cup of tea wants to communicate the message of social equality. Featuring a picture of Wagh or tiger and Bakri or goat drinking tea from the same cup, the company through their new logo aimed to fight against caste-based discrimination in India and promote equality among all.

Till about 1980, the company continued to sell loose tea in both wholesale and retail outlets. But for a tea brand to survive and stand apart from similar businesses at the time, the board had to decide to revamp the venture and explore the distribution of packaged tea, under a new name ‘Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Ltd’. Expanding on their business they started selling tea in other states as well between 2003 to 2009.

In a TOI report, Parag Desai, executive director and a fourth-generation entrepreneur, said, “Few years ago, the brand name Wagh Bakri was facing difficulty in being understood by consumers from other regions of India. However, the concept and the logo generated enormous curiosity while aroma and taste proved a backbone for the success of our brand. For us, Mahatma Gandhi is the greatest professor of the brands-a brand himself, who taught us branding.”

Over the years, Wagh Bakri has stayed true to its message of equality and been firm believers in it themselves. In 2002, the then CEO Piyush Desai mentioned that the company would not have been possible without the help of a Muslim well-wisher who helped his grandfather with a large loan. “However can we repay such a debt?” he said at the time, as mentioned in the book, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future by Martha Nussbaum.

In a country that is a boiling pot of identities and ideologies, with diversities and differences that often seem to fade over a humble cup of tea — an idea that gave birth to Wagh Bakri Tea, one of India’s most iconic tea brands. A company that has become a household name across India and has created a legacy that now stands strong for over a century. It’s been\ 100 years of creating inclusive spaces for all, all through a hot cup of chai.

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