NYT: NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT – JACKSON HEIGHTS; Of Gods and Soles: Hindu Images on Shoes Lead to Protest

Forget Miami’s Cubans. The New York City Hindu lobby is a force to be reckoned with.

Last month, after a discount store in Jackson Heights started selling sandals adorned with colorful images of Hindu gods, Hindu residents began an e-mail blitzkrieg that elicited hundreds of outraged responses from around the world. In letters addressed to a Hindu anti-defamation Web site and to the manufacturers, the protesters described the placement of Shiva, Ganesha and Gayatri on the top and sides of platform shoes as an insult, and they demanded that the manufacturer cease production and apologize.

”It was really a shock to us, being Hindus,” said Usha Gandhi, a public school teacher who lives near $10 Express, the store on 82nd Street where the shoes were being sold. ”My daughter Sabrina saw it and said, ‘Oh, Mom, you should do something about it.’ ” Ms. Gandhi alerted The News India Times, a weekly newspaper based in Manhattan, but with readers throughout North America and in India.

After the paper published an article about the shoes, Indian news services reported that Fortune Dynamic, the California manufacturer, had stopped producing them, in response to a flood of angry e-mail messages. But according to Patrick Huang, a lawyer for the company, the shoes were discontinued because they were not profitable and the product was dropped before the complaints came in.

While images of Hindu gods may appear on T-shirts, shoes are a different matter, said Ravi Adhikari, the reporter who wrote the article in The News India Times.

”Shoes carry all the filth from the street,” Mr. Adhikari said. ”You are not supposed to take your shoes inside the house even, and there’s no way you could go into a temple with them.”

Danny Mizrahi, who owns $10 Express, said the 54 pairs of Shiva sandals, as they are described on the box, sold out quickly at $5 a pair.

”All kinds of people bought them — young, old,” Mr. Mizrahi said. ”But not Indian people,” he added.

Mr. Mizrahi said he did not know the shoes were a problem until Mr. Adhikari approached him. ”He told me: ‘Did you know this is a god? You’re stepping on god,’ ” he said. ”I told him I had no idea.”

While protesters continue to demand an apology from the manufacturer and some have discussed legal action, Mr. Huang said the company acted within its First Amendment rights.

”We did send out letters expressing regrets, but we do fall short of apologizing,” he said. ”We’re not violating any law; we’re not violating anyone’s trademark. We thought it was like putting the image of the Virgin Mary on a T-shirt. Now we know.”