LOCAL PROTEST

Why Mumbai's Muslim neighbourhoods aren't selling soft drinks during Eid

To protest against Israel's strikes on Gaza, some shop owners are boycotting products made by companies headquartered in the US, whom they see as a silent spectator.

As Muslims celebrated Eid after fasting during the month of Ramzan, one popular item was missing from several tables in Mumbai’s Mohammad Ali Road: aerated drinks.

For the past two weeks, hotels and eateries on this street, which is famous for its festive food during this month, have boycotted Israeli and American products to protest against Jerusalem's continuing missile strikes on the Gaza Strip. They have stopped serving products made by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kraft, among others.

Tensions escalated between Israel and Palestine after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in June. On July 8, Israel launched air strikes, and Hamas, which is in control in Gaza, sent rockets across the border.

According to Palestinian health officials, more than 1,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians, have died since then. Fifty-three soldiers and three civilians from Israel have died.

“From Colaba to Byculla, nobody is selling Israeli products,” said Mohammad Saleem, a textile wholesaler, referring to a swathe of the city with a high concentration of Muslims. “How many people have died because of Israel? The least we can do is hurt their profits.”

Mohammad Ali Road is a magnet for food lovers during Ramzan. The street and its side roads become an open-air food hall in the evening as observers break their daily fast. Several eateries in the area carry posters saying, “The call for boycott has been given because we do not want to strengthen the hands of the killers of humanity.”

Two weeks ago, a group of unidentified people visited these shops, distributed the posters and asked the owners to stop serving Israeli and American products, shopkeepers said. Many popular soft drinks are manufactured by companies based in the US, which supports Israel, so the boycott is one way to protest, they said.

“Normally for Eid we make arrangements to get three fridges and at least two ice boxes,” said A Siddiqui, a manager at Hindustan Restaurant, one of the few eateries open on Eid. But this year he has wrapped even the one fridge he owns in cardboard packaging to hide the brand names.

The demand for aerated drinks has also dropped because much of the initiative for the boycott has come from the public, Siddiqui said.

Two customers, a young boy and a middle-aged man, did wander in asking for Thums Up, once an Indian brand that Coca-Cola now owns, and Mirinda. Both are on the list of drinks to be boycotted, so Siddiqui turned them away.

“It is not as if demand has disappeared,” Siddiqui said, smiling. “But compare this with last year and you will see the difference. It is not like other times when there was violence. The public now knows what is happening because of the media, social media. That is why people themselves took the initiative to boycott.”

Social media appears to be among the chief reasons people are joining the boycott. Many people on the street told Scroll.in that they were responding to the horrific images they had seen on Whatsapp.


One of several images circulated on Whatsapp groups.


Hindustan still has old stock, but Siddiqui does not plan to sell any of it until the boycott is over, which may happen in a matter of days or take weeks. But the absence of aerated drink sales has not hurt his business, he said.

Winners and losers
The boycott has, however, hurt distributors of cold drinks. The 100-year-old Hind Cold Drink House still has a vast stock of cold drinks and will not accept any new American or Israeli products for the time being, at least until it can sell off its old stock.

About 90% of its hotel customers have stopped ordering aerated drinks altogether and customers who walk in are asking for Indian drink brands, said Mohammad Fahad, one of the shop's proprietors. Over the past two weeks, the fortunes of Fresh Jeera, an Indian brand, and Oro, an English brand, have risen. Retailers of general stores are not participating in the ban and his business from them has not reduced.

Indian soda manufacturers are also seeing a temporary surge in business because of the boycott. One of them is Farhan Jummani, the owner of Kraze. The company manufactures its soda in Kurla, but runs a shop selling flavoured soda on a road off Mohammad Ali Road. Only three years old, his store has seen a boost in popularity over the past two weeks.

“People can’t have Pepsi and Coke, so they come here instead, for our jeera masala drink,” said Jummani. "So business has indeed been better."

There was a similar boycott around five years ago, he said. At that time, his shop sold Coke and Pepsi and did see a dip in business.

 
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