Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Indian School of Discrimination

The Ash-Abhi wedding was supposed to be the biggest media story this fortnight but the dynamic duo of Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty decided to take the top spot sweeping this hot news from all the channels. Everywhere, you had stories of the British model of racism and the suffering of Shilpa in the hands of a bully Reality TV contestant, Goody, and suddenly UK and India were locked in the biggest diplomatic row between the two countries in recent times.

Enough has been said of the so-called racist attack by Goody and her gang against Shilpa and I’m not going to get into the nuances of the attack involved. Clearly, there were racist remarks involved and Ms. Goody (no longer a Goody, I guess) has been thrown out of Big Brother while the media and the governments on both sides have denounced the racist behaviour in strong terms. There has been a lot of commotion involved with the matter being raised in the British Parliament and widely debated in the media in both countries.

While it’s fine for the ordinary Indian out there to feel outraged, why is the Government dirtying its feet in the entire affair by getting involved unnecessarily? Is the issue so important that it has to issue statements and ask Mr Gordon Brown for an explanation? The British PM-in-waiting, Gordon Brown, in India on a trip, expressed his regrets at the turn of events and stated that such behaviour damages the British image. Our honourable MoS of External Affairs, Anand Sharma, said that “The government will take appropriate measures once it gets to know the full details” while the FM added, for good measure, that the controversy will not affect Anglo-Indian relations. Thank God, we want Arun Sarin and Tesco to invest here, don’t we??

Ms Shilpa, “an award winning Bollywood actress” (as BBC referred to her) is not in “Big Brother” to represent India. She’s being paid about Rs 3.2 crore to be a participant in “Big Brother” – a huge amount for an Indian actress. Like every other Reality TV show, this is another obnoxious show where people live together and fight to vote out each other periodically from the show. Shilpa is very much aware of the rules of the game and should expect such jibes which are more in tune with the kind of programme it is. Getting ragged and then raising the bogey of racism may not look like the smartest thing to do but then, who’s benefited the most??? Shilpa and the programme “Big Brother” of course.

The “Big Brother” acknowledged by a Channel 4 executive as “the most boring BB that we have had in years” was on the verge of being axed and all this publicity has given it a new lease of life. Last heard, Shilpa is being flooded with foreign offers, a move that may revive her career which is currently going nowhere. Now, who can say for sure that his entire conundrum was not the creation of some smart spin doctor who used “racism” as a strategy to boost the TRPs of the programme?

Jade Goody (Wikepedia lists her profession as Reality TV contestant) is of course no do gooder. She has been rightly condemned for her racist behaviour and booted out of the programme. The fact that more than 10,000 complaints were received by Channel 4 expressing the dissatisfaction by the majority against her behaviour probably is a sign of the racist slur actually existing in UK.

Many people have used this controversy to raise their voice against the discrimination they have been facing and the presence of a celebrity like her and the extensive media coverage has only helped them in underscoring their feelings which has been badly shaken, more so in the post-9/11 era.

It is also time for us to look inwards and ask whether our attitudes are any different from the West. Ask the Muslim, who has lost his family and home in the Gujarat riots, how it feels to live under Modi’s rule of law? Ask non-Hindu families how easy it is to get a proper accommodation in “forward looking cosmopolitan” Mumbai? Why do we have villages in Tamil Nadu (and elsewhere) where upper and lower class people are served tea in separate glasses? Did not Khairlanji ridicule our claims of abolishing untouchability? Every now and then, Shiv Sena thugs raise the anti-South Indian bogey, asking “lungi wallahs” to get out of Mumbai (this strategy no longer works, so it has been consigned to the Sena Strategic Archives), while the North-East remains an area which is present merely in the Indian map taught in geography classes in schools.

This brings into picture the nature of the Indian School of Discrimination. Are we merely victims of this racism which is making its appearance everywhere- politics, sports, cinema and you name it. Globalisation has brought about an amalgamation of cultures, at times when people are not ready for it. This conflict surfaces in such situations as exemplified by the “Big Brother” fiasco. So, while the economic status of people may have changed; it has not resulted in much of a social and cultural change.

Fair skin is marketed truly an asset in India, as illustrated by our classified and skin cream ads. Check out the matrimony section of any paper and you will see the demand for fair-skinned, beautiful girls with white, wheatish, “mera wala cream” and god knows what complexions. The Fair and Lovely Ads amplify our obsession with colour with ads promising fair skin and the resulting marriages. All instances of how we worship the “white colour” ourselves though of course, we do not admit it.

And don’t forget the Indian class discrimination. Just for a minute, think that instead of the sultry Shilpa Shetty, it is Rakhi Sawant out there. Would we be so sympathetic about the entire affair? Rakhi has already been branded a “slut”, “item girl” and what not. Her involvement in such an incident would have lead to people brushing aside the case and suggesting that she’s in it only for the money and so no point cribbing. And what is Shilpa there for? Showcasing Indian virtues!!! The poor Indian worker gets railed and abused doing menial work in the Gulf but don’t even expect the Government to bat an eyelid? After all, what are the rights of these nameless people in front of the Shetty babe?

So, while is is fine to condemn racism and other -isms let us not forget where we stand in these matters. Being self-critical is no weakness; as we move ahead, let us not forget that growth does not mean only sound economics but also an ability to respect different views, faiths, cultures and live in harmony in an inclusive fashion, without trampling anyone's feelings.

Finally, there is a business opportunity in every story. The Indian tourism department, in a show of Gandhigiri, invited Ms. Goody to India and the latest news is that she's going to be in India shortly. Now that is a smart PR job!!!


  1. I agree with you 100 percent gentleman.India is the most racist country in the world.Even if people project themselves to be neutral outside,they stink from inside.I think military rule should come in our country in the future and the first law that must be made is 'BAN ANY ORGANIZATION THAT TALKS ABOUT RELIGION'.be it the shivsena or the bjp or the all india muslim personal law board or any imam or rss,whoever it maybe,throw him behind bars for 10 years."religion should be for personal faith and belief and not for mass politics.Shilpa shetty is a big waste of our time.the media which conducted special programmes focusing on tat incident were stripped naked when shilpa reversed her claims of racist attack.

  2. Wouldn't say an eye opener....but yes it did bring out one dikta hai woh bikta hai (whatever is seen is sellable & sold)... Shilpa shetty row was nothing but a media driven frenzy...and all barons....celebrities from all walks of lives were drawn into the frenzy. Everyone had a view & everyone wanted to be thats what such reality shows aim to achieve in first place aren't they. So kudos to Channel 4 for one of the most successful media campaign of the year.

    Now on the issue of India & only comment will be look around and where in the world is racism not there...Across geographies it is prevalent and is a way of life to large extent... it is not an isolated phenomena in highly evolved Homo sapiens but a stark reality in all species.. watch any animal planet will see animals also following racial discrimination...after all ain't it survival of the fittest.. Only in human beings the contours may not be entirely physical but extends to mental & psychological...

    So before we pass judgment on this particular episode & take a moral high ground...well realise the fact that there exists none in the first place...and there never was an intention of one. Lets not give undue importance to this episode, which is in most probability is a staged act, and play into the hands of media…Lets focus on real issues facing humanity… hunger is sub Saharan countries…Global warming…. Epidemics…lest they are less important than wiping the tears of a certain shetty babe who didn’t enter the show out of love for one’s country or for the greater good of humanity but purely economical reasons…