Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty made big news when she joined the league of nine international celebs on UK’s Channel 4 reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother.
However, Shilpa – who is reportedly getting Rs 3 crore for her appearance on the show – is now at the receiving end of racist abuse.
At least, that's what viewers have been complaining about to the UK independent media regulator Ofcom.
The number of complaints has gone up from 200 to 2,000 and most of it is about Shilpa facing racist slurs from her housemates on the show.
Channel 4 says it's only 'girly rivalry' but promises action if there is substance to the complaints.
The allegations of racist attacks are not just limited to the world of showbiz.
In cricket, the ICC has banned South African cricketer Herschelle Gibbs from two tests for making abusive remarks against Pakistani fans. Gibbs will now appeal against ICC’s ruling.
So is racism increasing in sports and society across the world? That was the question put forward by Vidya Shankar Aiyar on the show Face The Nation.
On the panel of experts was a British journalist Jessica Hines, columnist Anil Dharker, Sports commentator Charu Sharma and journalist for the Sunday Tribune in Durban, South Africa, Doreen Premdeb.
Shilpa, a subject of racial abuse?
When asked whether she felt that Shilpa had been a subject of racial abuse on the show, journalist Jessica Hines said, “Yes, she has. I don’t think she realizes quite how much because she can’t see and hear everything they are saying, but we can. But there has been foul and horrific bullying on the show. The other participants said things like ‘I think in your country they undercook the chicken that’s why you all are so thin and ill in India’. She was called ‘the Indian’, ‘the Paki’, and asked ‘Do you live in mud huts?’ It was quite bad.”
Channel 4 claimed it was just ‘girly talk’ or ‘girly rivalry’, could that be true?
“She is much more beautiful and successful than the others on the show, so there could be rivalry, but not related to the men but just because women can be such unbelievable b******. But what they were using to bully her is not just ‘girly’ stuff, it’s racial stuff,” Hines added.
When columnist Anil Dharker was asked the same question, he took a completely different stand on the issue. “From what I have heard, she was called a ‘dog’. I was wondering whether the abuse was to the dog or to Shilpa. It was a mild term being used. If she was called ‘the Indian’, that’s very factual. If Shilpa had called one of them a ‘dog’ or ‘the English’, would we have thought of it as racist? I don’t think we would have. I think there is too much of sensitivity. Gibbs has been hauled up for racism. Gibbs himself is not white. He’s either Black or of mixed race. Racism exists all over the world. We, Indians are the most racist people in the world.
So is this nothing but multi-culturalism or that racism is a reality?
“We always get too self-righteous. We are ourselves so cruel to Black people,” added Dharker.
When Vidya Shankar Aiyar asked Doreen Premdeb from Durban how she would react to the stories, she said, “In South Africa, racism still exists. It will be a long while before we can actually break the shackles of racism.”
Considering that, she said she was not surprised by what Gibbs said or by what Shilpa was facing on the show Big Brother.
Sports commentator Charu Sharma, however, agreed with what Dharker said. “There is too much sensitivity. Racism always existed and it will continue for a long time in the process of the world trying to understand each other. In Shilpa’s case we are being far too sensitive. It’s not just social, economic or cultural, it’s also linguistic imperialism. They come up with lots of terms and words to which if you just reply quickly, most bullys will back down. But we back off because in our culture we are not used to retorting. So let’s not make too much of it,” said Sharma.
Considering Shilpa was paid a hefty sum of Rs 3 crore for participating in the show, did the actress invite this upon herself?
Though he had not seen the show, Dharker said from what he had read, Shilpa came across as a regal person on the show, talking about her lifestyle in Bombay and how many servants she had and how she was called a ‘princess.’ “If you set yourself up as some kind of a high personage, people will make fun of you behind your back,” he added.
Charu Sharma had a few tips on how the actress could deal with such bullying. “It would be a bit of an occupational hazard. You are going into a difficult setup where people are clawing at each other. But talking about the money she was paid, it had nothing to do with racism or where she was coming from. But in a situation like that, people will try to upset her, so she could try to retaliate if she has the mind to,” said Sharma.
Racism In India
Did it seem like Shilpa’s approach so negative that it was but natural that she would have to deal with the reality of racism?
“Here we are looking at one Indian in a group of ignorant British people. But Indians are quite good at racism themselves. I think basically people are just scared of the other, whatever form it takes. So it’s always going to be there,” said Hines.
On her first trip to India, did Doreen Premdeb face any racial abuse in the country?
“No, I haven’t yet. People have been very friendly. There is a communication barrier though, since I don’t speak Hindi. But people have been supportive and happy to meet a South African-Indian,” she said.
When asked whether she felt that Shilpa had invited the trouble upon herself, Doreen said she wasn’t sure if that was true. “Even though she spoke of her royal life back home, I don’t think that called for a racist attack on her,” she said.
When asked whether she was surprised by the amount of racism that existed not just in London but across the world, Hines said she most certainly was surprised at the situation.
“When I started watching the show I found myself gasping in disbelief. I asked myself whether I was too sheltered and lived in an environment where everyone was fairly racially integrated. This level of ignorance towards different cultures is pretty shocking. For example, the participants on the show are being mean to her and they probably have no idea about anything about India. One of the participants, Goody went into the Big Brother room and asked a question about Eskimos. That kind of a thing is total blindness to other things,” she explained.
Just total blindness and ignorance?
“In general, racism exists because we do not understand different cultures and when we feel threatened, that’s when we become racist,” said Dharker.
“It is definitely born out of ignorance. A lot of people are not exposed to different cultures and sensitivities. It’s up to us to react and maybe give it back to them. We can certainly hope for its eradication,” concluded Sharma.
Results of the SMS poll
Is racism increasing in sports and societies across the world?
Yes: 89 per cent
No: 11 per cent