Protests Over Sandals With Deities

NEWS INDIA-TIMES  PAGE ONE STORY

28 JULY 2000 ISSUE

Protests Over Sandals With Deities

By RAVI ADHIKARI

Hindus, who passed by the display window of a shoestore in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City, July 17, exclaimed He Bhagwan! (Oh My God), in shock mixed with anguish and anger. The store was selling footwear imprinted with the images of Shiva, Ganesha and Gayatri.

For almost three hours on that day, sitting outside the display window of “$10 Express” on 82d Street, Jackson Heights, this reporter observed that some passers-by and shoppers were appalled by what they saw.

“Even to see this kind of work is a sin. I wish I had not come this way today. God! Please forgive me,” Radha Devi, a housewife from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, who was about to enter the shop but stopped after seeing the such footwear, said. “I don’t know why they indulge in offending the religious feelings of others.”

The store, however, was doing brisk business. Many young girls were scrambling for the shoes.

“It’s dirt cheap and the print is very good,” Sylvia, a 10th-grader from Junction Boulevard, Queens, said. Asked whether she knew anything about the images printed on the sandals, she replied no.

“They are holy gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. Do you still want to insult them by wearing them under your feet?” this writer asked.

“No. Sangeeta will feel very bad. She’s a very nice girl. I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” Sylvia said of her classmate from India. Without buying the pair of sandals, she walked out in disgust.

But the store manager, who introduced himself only as Danny, said: “The shoes arrived just last week, teen-agers like them very much.” Upon telling him what this reporter told Sylvia, Danny argued: “For them (teen-age shoppers) it’s simply a piece of art. They like the color and design, and it’s only $5.”

“What is your religion?” he was asked. Danny said he is a Jew.

“If someone prints the sacred images of Judaism on footwear, how would you feel?” Danny, bewildered by the question but keeping calm, replied, “I’ll feel insulted and I’ll be very angry, of course.”

“Most Hindus now feel the same way. Do you still want to sell those sandals?” this reporter asked.

“I didn’t know it was that serious. I feel sorry but I’m not the producer or importer. Had I known beforehand, I would not have carried them in my store,” Danny answered with a tinge of regret.

“Of course! This is something offensive,” Paula Gonzalez, a Catholic salesgirl, earlier busy selling the same shoes, overhearing the conversation with the manager commented. “We should respect every religion.”

The high-heeled platform sandals for women, produced under the brand name Classified, are available in sizes 6 to 9. On the box the description runs — Color: `Multi.’ `Made in China using synthetic material.’ The label on the bottom of the sandals reads, `Fabric Upper, Balance Man Made.’

Howsoever the manufacturer or distributor may rationalize, it seems that the shoes were produced with the knowledge that the images are sacred to Hindus. It is to be noted here that the style of the product is named, `Shiva.’

“Whoever be the producer, he has insulted Hinduism,” Pandit Jagdish Tripathi of Satya Narayan Temple in Queens, said after examining the pair.

“Will they spare us, Hindus, if we do the same to other religions’ sacred symbols?” Tripathi asked. “But we’ll never stoop to do anything offensive to others. We respect all religions … This issue should go to the court. The manufacturer should be severely punished so that he (or anyone else) will no more dare to offend in this manner.”

PRODUCT WITHDRAWN?

In a bid to identify the manufacturer, this reporter found out that the company, Fortune Dynamic, was based in the City of Industry in California, near Los Angeles. Some reports say, the company was based in La Puente, Calif.

On July 18, a person who introduced himself as a salesman — over the telephone — confirmed that the company was making the sandals with images of gods came from China. He asked if this writer was a regular customer. And got the reply in the negative.

“Oh. Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?” the man reacted casually.

When pointed out that Hindus are hurt and are protesting, he hung up, saying: “I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. … I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.”

According to some news reports, the company, however, had already withdrawn the questionable product from the market. This was after this reporter sent the newstips and photos to some people and organizations seeking their reaction. Subash Razdan, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Federation of Indian American Associations; Consulate General of India and New York; and the Overseas Friends of BJP were among the first to be sent the e-mail. A report from Washington quoted the NFIA as saying, “Following the angry reaction of Indian-Americans of all religious denominations, the sandals were withdrawn from the market, within a few hours, a New York ethnic paper, News India, spread the news about religious slur by e-mail.”

India’s premier news agency, the Press Trust of India also confirmed that the News India’s efforts made the company withdraw the inflammatory product.

Talking over the telephone July 20 afternoon, Lisa Tshering, a reporter with India West, a California-based weekly also admitted that she used newstips and the photos for her publication without knowing that they belonged to this reporter.

“I didn’t know, it was your news idea and photos. I got them through Subash Razdan,” Tshering said.

On July 22, this reporter once again visited the Jackson Heights shop to check whether the controversial merchandise was still on the shelf, as some news report and community activists claimed.

Surprisingly enough, a Spanish-speaking salesman who was occupying Danny’s place, said the stock went out because of the heavy demand. “One person was grabbing two-three pairs, it went out instantly,” the man apparently in his early 40s said without disclosing his name or position, but he said Danny was off on Saturdays.

To another question whether he received any letter or call form Fortune Dynamic, the producer of the bad product, regarding withdrawal, the man simply said: “No. We didn’t receive anything from the company. It was just sold out. Maybe we’ll receive another shipment sometime next week.”

CONDEMNED WORLDWIDE

This reporter also e-mailed the newstips and photos to some other people, seeking their views. This had a ripple effect.

The people who reacted ranged from a 7-year-old Ankita Sharma of Pleasenton, Calif., to community activists, religious scholars, computer professionals, university professors, and housewives. They have all expressed their resentment and shock. Believe it or not, even a 4-year-old boy has resented the affront.

Usha Gandhi, however, was the first to call the offices of News India Group, to condemn the product. Talking to this writer in Satya Narayan Temple, July 18, Gandhi, a New York City school teacher, said: “First, my daughter saw the shoes in the store. I felt really bad. We Hindus worship our gods but never abuse the spiritual symbols of other faiths.”

Sabrina, Usha’s `first witness’ daughter, added: “I’ve seen many people wearing T-shirts with Om and gods stamped, but it’s outrageous to wear godly symbols under one’s feet. I can’t even think of doing the same with the holy cross or any other similar symbols.”

“Merchandizing sacred symbols is not new in this country. Here, everything boils down to money. And the problem with we Hindus is that we’re tolerant beyond tolerance. Until you make a big noise no one is going to listen to you, especially in this country,” Premnath Sharma, a Rego Park, Queens, resident said.

Sharma’s reference was to the cover of Virgin Records with God’s image, Lord Krishna’s photo in Genre (Gay) magazine, mystifying the story of Krishna in TV series Xena, T-shirts with Om in Macy, dancing gods/goddesses in Karma Nightclub, and a variety of religo-cultural tatoos, not all in good taste.

American Hindus Against Defamation, an organization which has always been in the forefront on such issues has put up a separate Web site to lodge the protest (http.www.hindunet.org/ahad/shoes). AHAD, in the past, had protested against Xena, Hindu-bashing by the Southern Baptists, and Sony-Areosmith’s Ninelive’s album cover. Till the press time for News India-Times, July 23 evening, more than 500 people have already signed the Web site protest letter to the company.

“Never before we’ve received the fastest and widespread response, like this time. Hindus all over the world will not let this issue die just like that,” Ajay Shah, an AHAD convener, who is also the administrator of the Global Hindu Electronic Network, said.

“Forget about America and India, people are protesting from all over the world, from Qatar to Australia and from South Africa to United Kingdom. We would like to thank News India and the reporter for bringing up the issue, otherwise it would have gone unnoticed.” Aside from Web-protest and hundreds of telephone calls, about 150 e-mail messages were received in newsindia1@aol.com and a similar number of e-mail letters were sent to this journalist’s personal address.

Excerpts … The Conversation With Fortune Dynamic

Is that Classified shoe manufacturing company?

Yes. Yes.

I would like to ask you about one of your products. Its style is named `Shiva.’

Oh! Would you like to speak to salesman?

Yes please, or the manager there.

Oh! Actually they are busy right now. Do you have a sales … ?

No. I’m not your regular buyer. Someone is interested in style Shiva.

Oh! OK. Actually I’m going to transfer you to one of our salesmen and he will answer your question.

(The line was transferred but went to the voice mail of a man. I tried again to speak to the same woman. When I explained the matter, she transferred me to another line. I heard a man’s voice Hi sir! I’m calling from New York.

New York? How can I help you?

I would like to know something about the sandals you make — styled ‘Shiva’.

What do you like to know?

Where did you get the designs from? You’ve printed Hindu gods and goddesses on the sandals. Who designed them for you?

I don’t know.

You are the producer?

No. I’m a salesman.

OK. Where did you get those shoes? Who supplied you?

China.

China?

Yeh.

Is there someone else who can give me more details?

What do you want to know?

Many people here in New York are objecting to the shoes, saying the sandals have gods and goddesses’ images on them and you can’t simply print them on shoes.

You are our customer?

No. I’m a reporter.

Oh! Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?

Ok. Tell me one thing … The person who gave me this telephone number told me that you were the producer or main importer of shoes from China and you have supplied them to hundreds of stores all over America.

I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. Ok?

But you know that the shoes carry Hindu gods and goddesses on them.

I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.

Whom should I address to? Hello … Hello …

Only the heavy sound of hanging up came in reply.

PHOTO CAPTIONS ======

1. RAVI ADHIKARI: The reporter who brought the issue to the fore (Ravi_PP.jpg)

2. The New York shoestore which sold the sandals (All photos: Ravi Adhikari) (Store.jpg)

Ravi Adhikari is a senior editor with Manhattan, New York City-based News India-Times (www.newsindia-times.com). He joined the popular weekly after receiving an MS degree from the City University of New York in 1997.

Entered into the profession of journalism nearly 2 decades ago, the veteran journalist from Nepal, the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, is credited for several breaking stories, back home and in the US.

Apart from the recent work of bringing the abusive sandal’s story to the fore, Mr. Adhikari is also credited for bringing several other major stories to the attention of the South Asian community in the United States.

Some of them are:

1. Hindu-bashing by Southern Baptists during 1999 Deepawali

2. Muslim religious leader’s involvement in sexual abuse to children in a NYC mosque

3. Plight of holy cows in Indian slaughterhouses, and illegal cattle trade
28 JULY 2000 ISSUE

Protests Over Sandals With Deities

By RAVI ADHIKARI

Hindus, who passed by the display window of a shoestore in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City, July 17, exclaimed He Bhagwan! (Oh My God), in shock mixed with anguish and anger. The store was selling footwear imprinted with the images of Shiva, Ganesha and Gayatri.

For almost three hours on that day, sitting outside the display window of “$10 Express” on 82d Street, Jackson Heights, this reporter observed that some passers-by and shoppers were appalled by what they saw.

“Even to see this kind of work is a sin. I wish I had not come this way today. God! Please forgive me,” Radha Devi, a housewife from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, who was about to enter the shop but stopped after seeing the such footwear, said. “I don’t know why they indulge in offending the religious feelings of others.”

The store, however, was doing brisk business. Many young girls were scrambling for the shoes.

“It’s dirt cheap and the print is very good,” Sylvia, a 10th-grader from Junction Boulevard, Queens, said. Asked whether she knew anything about the images printed on the sandals, she replied no.

“They are holy gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. Do you still want to insult them by wearing them under your feet?” this writer asked.

“No. Sangeeta will feel very bad. She’s a very nice girl. I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” Sylvia said of her classmate from India. Without buying the pair of sandals, she walked out in disgust.

But the store manager, who introduced himself only as Danny, said: “The shoes arrived just last week, teen-agers like them very much.” Upon telling him what this reporter told Sylvia, Danny argued: “For them (teen-age shoppers) it’s simply a piece of art. They like the color and design, and it’s only $5.”

“What is your religion?” he was asked. Danny said he is a Jew.

“If someone prints the sacred images of Judaism on footwear, how would you feel?” Danny, bewildered by the question but keeping calm, replied, “I’ll feel insulted and I’ll be very angry, of course.”

“Most Hindus now feel the same way. Do you still want to sell those sandals?” this reporter asked.

“I didn’t know it was that serious. I feel sorry but I’m not the producer or importer. Had I known beforehand, I would not have carried them in my store,” Danny answered with a tinge of regret.

“Of course! This is something offensive,” Paula Gonzalez, a Catholic salesgirl, earlier busy selling the same shoes, overhearing the conversation with the manager commented. “We should respect every religion.”

The high-heeled platform sandals for women, produced under the brand name Classified, are available in sizes 6 to 9. On the box the description runs — Color: `Multi.’ `Made in China using synthetic material.’ The label on the bottom of the sandals reads, `Fabric Upper, Balance Man Made.’

Howsoever the manufacturer or distributor may rationalize, it seems that the shoes were produced with the knowledge that the images are sacred to Hindus. It is to be noted here that the style of the product is named, `Shiva.’

“Whoever be the producer, he has insulted Hinduism,” Pandit Jagdish Tripathi of Satya Narayan Temple in Queens, said after examining the pair.

“Will they spare us, Hindus, if we do the same to other religions’ sacred symbols?” Tripathi asked. “But we’ll never stoop to do anything offensive to others. We respect all religions … This issue should go to the court. The manufacturer should be severely punished so that he (or anyone else) will no more dare to offend in this manner.”

PRODUCT WITHDRAWN?

In a bid to identify the manufacturer, this reporter found out that the company, Fortune Dynamic, was based in the City of Industry in California, near Los Angeles. Some reports say, the company was based in La Puente, Calif.

On July 18, a person who introduced himself as a salesman — over the telephone — confirmed that the company was making the sandals with images of gods came from China. He asked if this writer was a regular customer. And got the reply in the negative.

“Oh. Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?” the man reacted casually.

When pointed out that Hindus are hurt and are protesting, he hung up, saying: “I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. … I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.”

According to some news reports, the company, however, had already withdrawn the questionable product from the market. This was after this reporter sent the newstips and photos to some people and organizations seeking their reaction. Subash Razdan, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Federation of Indian American Associations; Consulate General of India and New York; and the Overseas Friends of BJP were among the first to be sent the e-mail. A report from Washington quoted the NFIA as saying, “Following the angry reaction of Indian-Americans of all religious denominations, the sandals were withdrawn from the market, within a few hours, a New York ethnic paper, News India, spread the news about religious slur by e-mail.”

India’s premier news agency, the Press Trust of India also confirmed that the News India’s efforts made the company withdraw the inflammatory product.

Talking over the telephone July 20 afternoon, Lisa Tshering, a reporter with India West, a California-based weekly also admitted that she used newstips and the photos for her publication without knowing that they belonged to this reporter.

“I didn’t know, it was your news idea and photos. I got them through Subash Razdan,” Tshering said.

On July 22, this reporter once again visited the Jackson Heights shop to check whether the controversial merchandise was still on the shelf, as some news report and community activists claimed.

Surprisingly enough, a Spanish-speaking salesman who was occupying Danny’s place, said the stock went out because of the heavy demand. “One person was grabbing two-three pairs, it went out instantly,” the man apparently in his early 40s said without disclosing his name or position, but he said Danny was off on Saturdays.

To another question whether he received any letter or call form Fortune Dynamic, the producer of the bad product, regarding withdrawal, the man simply said: “No. We didn’t receive anything from the company. It was just sold out. Maybe we’ll receive another shipment sometime next week.”

CONDEMNED WORLDWIDE

This reporter also e-mailed the newstips and photos to some other people, seeking their views. This had a ripple effect.

The people who reacted ranged from a 7-year-old Ankita Sharma of Pleasenton, Calif., to community activists, religious scholars, computer professionals, university professors, and housewives. They have all expressed their resentment and shock. Believe it or not, even a 4-year-old boy has resented the affront.

Usha Gandhi, however, was the first to call the offices of News India Group, to condemn the product. Talking to this writer in Satya Narayan Temple, July 18, Gandhi, a New York City school teacher, said: “First, my daughter saw the shoes in the store. I felt really bad. We Hindus worship our gods but never abuse the spiritual symbols of other faiths.”

Sabrina, Usha’s `first witness’ daughter, added: “I’ve seen many people wearing T-shirts with Om and gods stamped, but it’s outrageous to wear godly symbols under one’s feet. I can’t even think of doing the same with the holy cross or any other similar symbols.”

“Merchandizing sacred symbols is not new in this country. Here, everything boils down to money. And the problem with we Hindus is that we’re tolerant beyond tolerance. Until you make a big noise no one is going to listen to you, especially in this country,” Premnath Sharma, a Rego Park, Queens, resident said.

Sharma’s reference was to the cover of Virgin Records with God’s image, Lord Krishna’s photo in Genre (Gay) magazine, mystifying the story of Krishna in TV series Xena, T-shirts with Om in Macy, dancing gods/goddesses in Karma Nightclub, and a variety of religo-cultural tatoos, not all in good taste.

American Hindus Against Defamation, an organization which has always been in the forefront on such issues has put up a separate Web site to lodge the protest (http.www.hindunet.org/ahad/shoes). AHAD, in the past, had protested against Xena, Hindu-bashing by the Southern Baptists, and Sony-Areosmith’s Ninelive’s album cover. Till the press time for News India-Times, July 23 evening, more than 500 people have already signed the Web site protest letter to the company.

“Never before we’ve received the fastest and widespread response, like this time. Hindus all over the world will not let this issue die just like that,” Ajay Shah, an AHAD convener, who is also the administrator of the Global Hindu Electronic Network, said.

“Forget about America and India, people are protesting from all over the world, from Qatar to Australia and from South Africa to United Kingdom. We would like to thank News India and the reporter for bringing up the issue, otherwise it would have gone unnoticed.” Aside from Web-protest and hundreds of telephone calls, about 150 e-mail messages were received in newsindia1@aol.com and a similar number of e-mail letters were sent to this journalist’s personal address.

Excerpts … The Conversation With Fortune Dynamic

Is that Classified shoe manufacturing company?

Yes. Yes.

I would like to ask you about one of your products. Its style is named `Shiva.’

Oh! Would you like to speak to salesman?

Yes please, or the manager there.

Oh! Actually they are busy right now. Do you have a sales … ?

No. I’m not your regular buyer. Someone is interested in style Shiva.

Oh! OK. Actually I’m going to transfer you to one of our salesmen and he will answer your question.

(The line was transferred but went to the voice mail of a man. I tried again to speak to the same woman. When I explained the matter, she transferred me to another line. I heard a man’s voice Hi sir! I’m calling from New York.

New York? How can I help you?

I would like to know something about the sandals you make — styled ‘Shiva’.

What do you like to know?

Where did you get the designs from? You’ve printed Hindu gods and goddesses on the sandals. Who designed them for you?

I don’t know.

You are the producer?

No. I’m a salesman.

OK. Where did you get those shoes? Who supplied you?

China.

China?

Yeh.

Is there someone else who can give me more details?

What do you want to know?

Many people here in New York are objecting to the shoes, saying the sandals have gods and goddesses’ images on them and you can’t simply print them on shoes.

You are our customer?

No. I’m a reporter.

Oh! Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?

Ok. Tell me one thing … The person who gave me this telephone number told me that you were the producer or main importer of shoes from China and you have supplied them to hundreds of stores all over America.

I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. Ok?

But you know that the shoes carry Hindu gods and goddesses on them.

I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.

Whom should I address to? Hello … Hello …

Only the heavy sound of hanging up came in reply.

PHOTO CAPTIONS ======

1. RAVI ADHIKARI: The reporter who brought the issue to the fore (Ravi_PP.jpg)

2. The New York shoestore which sold the sandals (All photos: Ravi Adhikari) (Store.jpg)

Ravi Adhikari is a senior editor with Manhattan, New York City-based News India-Times (www.newsindia-times.com). He joined the popular weekly after receiving an MS degree from the City University of New York in 1997.

Entered into the profession of journalism nearly 2 decades ago, the veteran journalist from Nepal, the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, is credited for several breaking stories, back home and in the US.

Apart from the recent work of bringing the abusive sandal’s story to the fore, Mr. Adhikari is also credited for bringing several other major stories to the attention of the South Asian community in the United States.

Some of them are:

1. Hindu-bashing by Southern Baptists during 1999 Deepawali

2. Muslim religious leader’s involvement in sexual abuse to children in a NYC mosque

3. Plight of holy cows in Indian slaughterhouses, and illegal cattle trade

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.