NEW DELHI - Shopkeepers in Tamil Nadu state in India began removing Pepsi and Coke from shelves on Wednesday after unions called for a boycott of the soft drink giants, urging consumers to shun foreign brands.
The boycott proposal could affect more than a million outlets in one India's most prosperous states, which is home to nearly 70 million people.
Trade unions there said they targeted the US companies in a broad swipe at foreign businesses as tempers flared after the authorities issued a ban last year on the traditional bull-wrestling festival, Jallikattu.
The court decision, which followed a legal challenge by US-based animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), sparked backlash and some supporters of the ancient custom fumed over meddling from abroad.
There is no suggestion the soft drink firms were in any way involved in the ban.
"There are multiple reasons behind the boycott, but most important is how Peta tried to kill Jallikattu," Mr T. Vellaiyan, president of Tamil Nadu Traders Associations, told AFP.
"We have appealed to traders to stop selling products from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo from today to make this campaign a success."
The unions have urged people to buy local beverages instead as they do not "use chemicals and are healthier than foreign products".
India's leading beverage association expressed disappointment at the proposed ban, saying Coca-Cola and PepsiCo provided direct employment to 2,000 families in the state.
The two companies have been blamed for draining groundwater in the state, which has been suffering through a severe drought for roughly two years.
The handful of bottling plants run by the two in Tamil Nadu have been the site of angry protests, with permission to build at least three new facilities being withdrawn amid violent rallies by farmers.
Over 200 farmers have committed suicide in Tamil Nadu in recent months after crop failure due to poor rainfall and inadequate water for irrigation.
The controversial and sometimes deadly Jallikattu festival was banned by India's top court last year, but the authorities bowed to public outcry and overturned the ruling in January.