Montreal, January 28, 2007 • No 210




Jayant Bhandari is an entrepreneur. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and grew up in India.




by Jayant Bhandari


          It is hilarious to see people trying to enforce political correctness on Celebrity Big Brother. Managed by Britain's Channel-4, this reality TV program shows us a group of famous people locked together in a house for about 25 days, isolated from everything outside. The house is infested with cameras, which provides voyeurs of the outside world streaming internet feed. As time passes, the housemates loose their consciousness of being watched by the outside world. At the same time, the lack of creative endeavors and distractions – TV, books, etc., are banned inside the house – creates an environment in which the worst within people starts to surface.


          I never thought I would take any interest in this series until a celebrity episode got into motion. The "cast" contained a bunch of British men and women, a black American and an Indian actress. The Indian celebrity is Shilpa Shetty. The black American is Jermaine Jackson (Michael Jackson's brother). There are Carole Malone (an English writer), Ken Russell (a British Film Director), Donny Tourette (a rock singer), Jade (a reality star who has her own very famous fragrance), Jackie (Jade's mom), Jack (Jade's boyfriend), Danielle Lloyd (Miss England 2004), Jo (a singer), and a few more; making it a house of fourteen people.

          As days passed by, Jackie continued to call Shilpa "the Indian," refusing to learn her name. Danielle called Shilpa "dog" and all sorts of f-words. They made fun of Shilpa's love for onions. They mocked Shilpa's accent. Danielle said that Shilpa couldn't even speak proper English. They called her a liar, a manipulator, a nightmare, etc. One participant asked another whether it was (the contemptuous) people of China or India who eat with their hands. One suggested that Shilpa should go home to India. Shilpa has been accused of acting like a princess. When they realized that Shilpa did not see the sarcasm hidden behind being called princess, one called her a loser. They ganged up to ridicule Shilpa and make her life complete hell.

          All this led to accusations of racial abuses appearing on front-page news. Not only tabloids, but also quality newspapers are running extensive reporting as headlines. The Indian politicians got involved and so did the British parliament. Tony Blair had to make statements. Never in the history has, apparently, so many complaints been made to the government department in the UK that deals with complaints against the media. But while the so-called racism of the white contestants in the January 2007 episode is being highlighted, the Indian participant's conduct is being largely condoned.

Shilpa provides the fodder

          Has Shilpa been all that innocent? Shilpa told housemates stories about how well known she is in India. She told them about the entourage of servants she has back at home. Shilpa made fun of Jade's accent. She repeatedly tells the men in the house that she had never faced such bad-mouthed people, adding that in India when she enters a room, everyone respectfully gets up. What is she alluding to? Shilpa repeatedly says how different her culture is from the English, to point at how well mannered Indians are. Is this not her racism? Shilpa attempts to control what and when people eat/drink, manipulating the food budget to suit her taste. She misses no opportunity to tell others that she is indeed a princess.

"The world over, white Westerners are called racists. This is anything but true, at least when you take an objective look at what happens outside the West."

          Germaine Greer wrote in the Guardian, "There are no good reasons for watching Celebrity Big Brother and very good reasons for not. Not watching will spare you the nerve-fraying annoyingness that is Shilpa Shetty. Everything about her is infuriating: her haughty way of stalking about, her indomitable self-confidence, her chandelier earrings, her leaping eyebrows, her mirthless smile, her putty nose and her eternal bray, 'Why does everyone hate me?' Not to mention the crying jags… The problem is that most of the housemates are too dim to convey what a pain in the ass Shilpa is without appearing to persecute her. So Danielle, beside herself with rage because Shilpa cooks with onions, calls her a dog. Jack Tweed calls her a cunt. The word was bleeped out, leading many viewers to speculate that she had been racially abused. That is not surprising. This is a racist country; to the vast majority of couch potatoes out there, Shilpa is a 'Paki bird.'" (Emphasis mine)

          Why is Shilpa still sticking out? She has the choice to walk out, and avoid the company of her hellish housemates. She is not, for one simple reason: her staying is giving her an option to revive her flagging career in India. Even more importantly, if she stays, she will go home with a guaranteed 300,000 pounds, at least.

The hypocrisy behind "racism"

          In an Indian city, Patna, fans of Shilpa have taken out protest against racial discrimination. Others are lobbying to ensure she wins. Support for Shilpa has been unprecedented. She is believed to be a victim. But isn't this quite condescending? What about Shilpa's racist statements? Is it that only whites can be called racists, tacitly meaning that the whites are innately more powerful?

          The world over, white Westerners are called racists. This is anything but true, at least when you take an objective look at what happens outside the West. I have never found a non-Western society that is less racist. India is the most bigoted/racist country I have ever been to. Not only skin color, but all sorts of genetic and superficial features are the bases for how much respect one gets there. Indeed, the darker-colored south Indians, like Shilpa, suffer racism in Mumbai. I am surprised that she does not acknowledge the truth.

          Servants in India sit on the floor. They are usually treated worse than pet dogs are. The people from northeastern provinces are derogatorily called "chinky," for their Chinese features. A girl from a northeastern  province living in Delhi is automatically assumed loose by local men. Muslims in India are pretty much barred from jobs, or at least the professional ones. Women in most of India's rural areas, if not so much in cities, have an abysmally low status. Lower caste people in many rural areas of India are barred from going into higher caste areas. In some areas, even their shadow is not to be "touched." If you drive an expensive car in India, police hardly ever stops you; if you drive a cheap one, they mostly do. Africans are called Negros, a word used with negative connotations as is now usual around the world. Hierarchies, classes and castes come in so many shapes and sizes in India that it is impossible to put it in words.

          Of course, such "racist" Indians have a hugely high respect for those with white skin. I hated traveling in India with a white person. Mostly Indians, who would otherwise treat me with respect, then treat me as an escort. In some public sector offices, I get my tea in plastic cup while a white person gets his in a china cup. The whites are very often provided services that have nothing to do with hospitality, but servility.

          Indians and others around the world should do some introspection. They should learn to be honest. Racism from Westerners is a very marginal issue. It is time non-Western societies start addressing their own racism and bigotry. If not, at least, they should stop pointing fingers at others.