| A smashed mannequin in the Nike showroom in Calcutta that was vandalised by anti-war protesters. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, April 2: Uncle Sam is persona non grata. Coke is off diet, so is Pepsi. Jeans — once a symbol of protest — is now under fire. And the guns are trained on the more innocuous tea (Georgia and Lipton), banks (HSBC, Standard Chartered and Grindlays) and soaps (Hindustan Lever, among other brands).
America is under fire, but not in Iraq. A pocket of Calcutta — in Metiabruz, the part where much of the goods from foreign shores are dumped first — has taken the lead in giving Uncle Sam the thumbs-down.
Twenty-eight organisations — from those publishing little magazines to some welfare organisations and clubs — and many more individuals have banded together to lead a boycott of all things American and British.
Money talks, they believe. That is why they have targeted the one area where even the mighty US — and the once-mighty UK — are vulnerable, explains convener of Matir Kella (the platform formed during the Gujarat riots) Hrishikesh Pal.
“The aggression we are seeing in Iraq is actually about money and that is where all their strength comes from,” Asghar Ali, another leading light of the forum, said.
The makers, however, are not worried. Many (representatives of Brooke Bond and Lipton, ITC and HLL) have not even heard of the boycott. And the ones who have heard, like Britannia, are not bothered. “We will decide at a meeting (on Thursday) what our next course of action will be,” Britannia sales officer Amlan Bhattacharya said.
If the protest, say its leaders, has — somewhat predictably — originated from a minority-dominated area, it has not remained confined to one community. “Hindus and Muslims are represented equally in this struggle, which is essentially a humane (and not a communal) one,” claimed Jiten Nandi, another forum leader.
The forum has targeted children and teenagers as they, according to the brains behind the boycott movement, are the largest buyers of American and British products. Businessmen, especially traders who sell the products, have also been spoken to. “We are not using force or vandalising any shop but are requesting everyone to stop buying American or British products till the two countries end their unjustified aggression,” Nandi added.
It’s not only the American or British firms — or their subsidiaries — which have been targeted. Anything tenuously retaining a whiff of the two countries (for example, Britannia biscuits) are now facing the music.
A rally, in which many handicapped youth participated, was organised on Wednesday; it snaked through the congested streets of Metiabruz, from the Bartala Moslem Library to the police station, appealing to everyone to respond to “the call of the hour”.
The forum has started distributing leaflets and has covered over 40 schools and madarsas in Metiabruz, over 50 clubs and social welfare organisations and the lone college in the area.
The leaflets are a quadri-lingual affair, employing Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and English to get their point across. Using pictures of the war — particularly women and children in pain and anguish — they ask people to “boycott the following products of US-UK and their subsidiaries in India”.
On the hit list
- Pepsi and Coca-Cola products
- HLL range of products
- ITC products
- Colgate-Palmolive range
- Nike and Reebok
- Banks like HSBC, Citibank, Amex, StanChart and Grindlays