/ 18 January 2007

Bollywood star speaks of racist attacks on TV

Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty has said for the first time she is being racially abused in a British reality TV show, which has sparked protests in London and New Delhi and damaged Britain’s image of tolerance.

Shetty and her fellow contestants on Celebrity Big Brother are oblivious to the international row that has erupted over her treatment as they are cut off from the outside world while on the show, where their antics can be watched 24 hours a day.

So while India has asked Britain to check whether race laws have been broken and Shetty’s admirers burned effigies of her alleged abusers — fellow celebrities incarcerated in a house and garden together — Shetty herself had not mentioned race.

The issue surfaced on Wednesday night after a row over stock cubes used in their communal cooking in which Shetty’s housemate Danielle Lloyd said: ”Shilpa should fuck off home. She can’t even speak English.”

British actress and fellow housemate Cleo Rocos, seeking to comfort Shetty, said of the clashes: ”I don’t think there’s anything racist in it.”

But Shetty replied: ”It is, I’m telling you.” Clearly shocked, the 31-year-old actress said: ”I am representing my country. Is that what today’s United Kingdom is? It’s scary.”

The programme’s broadcaster, Channel 4, had earlier issued a statement insisting Shetty was not suffering racial abuse but saying there had been a ”cultural and class clash”.

The show has been a huge ratings success story, but has also provoked 27 000 complaints to Britain’s media watchdog.

Leaders defend UK

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was dragged into the row in Parliament and his successor-in-waiting Gordon Brown was forced to defend Britain’s image on a trade visit to India.

The show was front-page news in Britain and India as both cultures contemplated their shortcomings.

”A reality TV show has shamed our country in the eyes of the world,” concluded the Daily Express.

The Independent said Britain’s ethnic minorities ”are more likely to be expelled from school, jailed, unemployed, poorly paid, living in sub-standard houses and victims of crime”.

Several Indian newspapers condemned the ”racist jibes” thrown at the Bollywood star but said the country should examine its own prejudices before expressing national outrage.

”Discrimination on the basis of colour is ingrained in the psyche of most Indians,” the Hindustan Times said.

Many of India’s one billion people still live within a hierarchy imposed by the Hindu caste system and Muslims face widespread prejudice, being seen as the enemy within since Islamic Pakistan was carved out of British-ruled India.

Indian TV channels have shown continuous footage of the show, in which one housemate has said she was scared to eat food prepared by Shetty because, ”you don’t know where those hands have been”, and another referred to her as ”The Indian”.

So great is the uproar that British Finance Minister Brown has spent much of his tour trying to quell Indian anger.

”It is important for me to say that thousands of British people have phoned in … to condemn what has happened on the Big Brother programme,” Brown told a crowded news conference.

”They, like me, are determined that we send a message worldwide that we want nothing to interfere with Britain’s reputation as a country of fairness and a country of tolerance.” — Reuters