'Cultural misappropriation' on e-commerce sites

(Left) One of the products highlighted by the complainants was still available on Amazon India’s website on July 25. (Right) Most of the products listed in the complaint were inaccessible with the above messages. (Screenshot/Morung Photo)
(Left) One of the products highlighted by the complainants was still available on Amazon India’s website on July 25. (Right) Most of the products listed in the complaint were inaccessible with the above messages. (Screenshot/Morung Photo)

Morung Express News
Dimapur | July 25


Three Naga women in Delhi have lodged a formal complaint to Amazon India and Flipkart against the ‘cultural misappropriation’ by their vendors, by selling products tagged as 'Naga Tribal Costume' on the e-commerce platforms.

The formal complaint have been issued by Weneiu Mero, Chunthailiu Gonmei and Ningthuiliu Gonmei to Amazon on July 23 and Flipkart on July 22, through their lawyer K Enatoli Sema, asking both the e-commerce platforms remove the vendors immediately.
For the uninformed, there was a recent uproar on social media regarding the products being sold by two vendors, Kaku Fancy Dresses and Chandu Ka Dukan on Flipkart and Amazon.

The 'fancy dresses' for children sold by these vendors used animal printed attires tagged as 'Naga Trible(sic) Costume'. They also had some items depicting Naga traditional wear including feathered headgears and exotic dresses.

Although the matter might have missed the eyes of the Civil Society Organisations in Nagaland, this did not sit well with Netizens, with many terming it as 'racist, disrespectful and gross misrepresentation'.

'Products misguiding, unlawful'
"A lot of people have bought those items and especially the children, for whom these dresses are made,  are being taught that Naga culture is like this, which is wrong and needs to be addressed," Chunthailiu, one of the complainant told The Morung Express.

The complainants have highlighted that as these outfits are being sold as fancy dresses for use by children. "Utmost care must be taken to ensure that the attires are not misrepresented lest children and others who notice and wear these outfits are misguided and wrongly taught about the cultures of the Northeastern States of India,” it added. 

Highlighting all the products being sold by the vendors as Naga traditional costumes, the complaint mentioned that the concerned vendors are using the e-commerce platforms to display, upload, publish and transmit information “which is not only incorrect and misleading but highly offensive in nature.”

"The costumes in question are not from Nagaland and do not belong to any Naga tribe and hence the selling of such a product is not against the law but amounts to cultural misrepresentation thereby hurting the sentiments of the Naga Tribes making it highly objectionable and unlawful," the complainants stated.

They further wrote of the high value Nagas attach to their culture, and highlighted the efforts being made to acquire the Geographical Indication (GI) tags for indigenous products.

The intricacy and painstaking efforts put into weaving each piece of the Naga traditional clothing "cannot be dismissed by grossly misrepresented outfits that are falsely claimed as belonging to the Naga tribes," they added.

Stating that such actions must be corrected and ensured they are not repeated in the future, they have demanded for the concerned sellers to be indefinitely suspended and their membership terminated.

Action taken report 
Following complaints online and negative reviews, Flipkart had temporarily removed the products from its site. However, after some time, the products were seen as available again, which prompted the step.
"It is a matter of educating the public about the wrong representation of our culture. Amazon and Flipkart should also have a sense of social responsibility. After negative reviews and publicity,  they removed the products but did not do anything concrete about it," Chunthailiu said. 
This shows that they have been a little irresponsible as well, she added.
The complainants also have pointed out the violation of the terms of use as listed e-commerce sites for vendors which stated that the vendors must not use the site for any material that is ‘illegal, offensive, deceptive, misleading, ethnically objectionable etc.’
The complaint has been issued, in exercise of power conferred by clause (zg) of subsection (2) of Section 87 read with sub-section (2) of Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Amazon India and Flipkart are legally required to take necessary action within 36 hours, it highlighted. 
While the complainants wait for their response, The Morung Express visited the links shared on the complaints on July 25. Flipkart seems to have removed the content. “Unfortunately the page you are looking for has been moved or deleted,” read the messages on those links. 
On Amazon India website, while two links cited were unavailable the message, “We're sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site,” three links with the description ‘Kaku Fancy Dresses Trible Girl Costume” (sic) for different age groups were still available.  
Besides, the products are also available on the vendors' website and reportedly on other sites like Snapdeal and IndiaMart.