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Indian traders direct anger over PETA brawl at Coke, Pepsi

Indian shopkeepers launched a massive boycott against US-based Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies in the 70-million strong state of Tamil Nadu. The move is part of a backlash against PETA, another US-based organization.

Vendors were pulling the iconic soft drinks from their shelves on Thursday, a day after the Tamil Nadu Traders Association called for a boycott. According to the organizers, the move was supported by over 1.5 million salespeople in the south Indian state.

Instead of Pepsi and Coke, the shopkeepers would sell "only domestic brands of beverages," the trade group said. One of the reasons for this move is the dispute with the multinational companies after locals accused it of using up too much groundwater in the drought-prone state.

More importantly, however, the boycott targeted the American-based firms as part of a backlash against foreign meddling, provoked by the animal activists from the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA). Previously, PETA moved against the ancient bull-wrestling tradition of jallikattu, which sparked massive protests across Tamil Nadu.

"There are multiple reasons behind the boycott, but most important is how PETA tried to kill jallikattu," President of Tamil Nadu Traders Associations T. Vellaiyan told the AFP news agency.

Fighting the bull-fighters

The tradition of bull-wrestling is revered among Tamils and boasts over 2,000 years of history. It involves bull owners releasing the animals into a crowd of people, who try to wrestle it into submission, ride it, or hold on to it and remove flags from its horns. However, animal rights activists said owners use alcohol to intoxicate the bulls before the event or throw chili powder in the animals' eyes to get them to act out violently when released. Many spectators also sustain serious injuries while trying to wrestle and subdue the animal.

India's Supreme Court banned the activity in 2014, but some bull-wrestling organizers ignored the ruling and pushed for the court's decision to be reversed. The debate grew even more heated with protests in late 2016 and early 2017, and PETA throwing their weight behind the ban. Faced with the state-wide outrage, the central government of India temporarily suspended the ban in January.

Tamils see the ban as an attack on their tradition and cultural identity. Lashing out against PETA, they also turned their anger against Pepsi and Coca-Cola, whose water consumption also drove ire in the region hit by nearly two years of drought. Previously, authorities were forced withdraw building permits for new bottling facilities, after farmers staged violent protests.

dj/sms (AP, AFP)

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