|     |  
5.7.2010 India bans leather shoes in schools as 'vestige of colonial rule'

By Dean Nelson

Instead canvas plimsolls will replace uncomfortable and "environmentally hazardous" leather shoes.

The move by the country's school boards follows a campaign by Maneka Gandhi, Indira Gandhi's widowed daughter-in-law, who is now an member of parliament for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. She is one of India's leading animal rights campaigners and a fierce opponent of slaughtering cows, which are revered among Hindus.

India's Central Board of School Education and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination has accepted her proposal.

Black leather shoes were introduced as mandatory items in Indian school uniforms during British colonial rule and have continued unchallenged ever since. Their widespread use has made schoolchildren the country's largest consumers of leather products, according to the People for Animals (PFA) campaign.

Sixteen schools in Madras have already banned leather footwear in response to their campaign and protesters have since been lobbying schools in Chandigarh, Punjab.

Now central government officials have backed the campaign following a series of letters from Mrs Gandhi.

"This decision was forced on Indians by the British. It is a decision that is not just unhealthy for children but environmentally very dangerous," she wrote. Leather shoes do not absorb sweat, force children to change their shoes during the day, and cause schoolchildren to have larger carbon footprint, she said. They are also more expensive for parents.

Gerry Arathoon, Secretary of CISCE, has backed the campaign and said the board believes leather shoes 'stink', gather dust, need regular cleaning with 'toxic' polish, and that the tanneries they come from are a source of disease for their workers.

Canvas shoes, by contrast, are easy to clean, comfortable, absorb sweat, kind to cows and without colonial associations.