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In India, as elsewhere around the world, touching something with the bottom of your feet, especially if they are dirty, is considered a sign of immense disrespect. It is customary to remove one's footwear before entering someone else's home or a place of worship.
So when Phoenix-based Ratnesh Mishra came across a picture of an Indian flag doormat on Amazon's Canadian website, he was incensed. He wrote a Facebook post and tagged India's prime minister, its ruling party and its famously social-media-savvy foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj.
On Wednesday, a week after Mishra's post, Swaraj took up his cause on Twitter, responding to one of the hundreds of people who have petitioned her to demand action from Canadian authorities. Her tweet storm escalated the protest into a possible diplomatic spat. Her Twitter messages included: "Indian High Commission in Canada This is unacceptable. Please take this up with Amazon at the highest level"; "Amazon must tender unconditional apology. They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately"; and "If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian Visa to any Amazon official. We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier."
Later on Wednesday, a spokesman for Amazon based at its headquarters in Seattle contacted The Washington Post to say that the doormat was no longer for sale on its website.
The Indian High Commission in Ottawa did not respond to a request for clarification on whether it had lodged a complaint with Amazon's Canadian offices. On social media, many Indians expressed shock that Swaraj had escalated the issue so suddenly, noting that Amazon has many officials who are Indian and has a massive operation in India itself.
The company that sold the doormats, XLYL, also offers versions with the American and Canadian flags. No laws in Canada prohibit these sales.
The product had been accruing one-star ratings from offended Indians.
"Unlike US or Canada where people have shoes, underwear etc made of national flags, we indians respect our flag. Please remove this flag before this information goes viral and people stop using Amazon in india. This is hurting our sentiments," wrote a user named Soumitra Bhattacharya.
Most were relatively respectful in their protests, asking Amazon to "kindly remove" the listing.
Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, owns The Washington Post.
Keywords: Sushma Swaraj, Canada, India, Indian flag, Amazon, Amazon Canada