Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shilpa Shetty incident and racism in India

There is a lot of controversy because of the apparent racism being shown towards Shilpa Shetty in the 'Big Brother' reality show in UK. This has touched off a massive 'nerve point' with people calling the British as racist, the police starting an investigation, more than 10,000 letters being written.
One sample article on controversy from the Express.

Police are investigating threats against Celebrity Big Brother housemates after an outburst of public concern over alleged racist bullying of Bollywood siren Shilpa Shetty on the British show.
Almost 10,000 viewers have complained about the treatment of Shetty, 31, who has been called a "dog" since the reality television series started barely two weeks ago.
The controversy made headlines in British and Indian newspapers on Wednesday and has even spilled on to the floor of the House of Commons, Britain's lower chamber of Parliament.

There is bound to be wide-spread indignation spread among people here in India against the racism being directed towards Shilpa Shetty. Now is as a good time as any to take a look inward, and see how many glass houses we live in. Indians tend to believe that racism is something that happens outside India, and we are a fairly tolerant race. The more I think about this, the more I think that this is a very flawed argument. The evidence for this is immense.
The very concept of lower castes and scheduled castes is nothing but an extreme version of racism. And this has not gone away, I see it in the attitudes of everyday people in the city. If discussion tends to go towards people who can be identified as belonging to a 'lower' caste, the kind of language I hear makes my ear cringe. Words and expletives are freely thrown.
From ages, the concept of beauty is very intricately linked to fairness. A girl is not beautiful unless she is fair, and even a guy needs to be not dark to be good-looking. Thus you have a variety of medications / creams geared towards making the skin more fair. And nobody sees anything wrong in that.
If we take the example of Delhi, an Indian citizen from the north-east faces an incredible amount of discrimination. People use all kinds of names, they are accused of low morality, low intelligence, and god alone knows what else. And if you have an exchange student from one of the African countries, the amount of public ridicule and stares a person like that faces can embarrass anybody even standing near such an exchange student.
What about our foreign-traveled citizens who have been to places such as the US/ UK/ Europe, etc ? In speaking to some of them, racial expressions directed towards people of either the African-American community or the Hispanic community can be very shocking.
There is a mass condemnation, and sweeping descriptions made of their weaknesses and inabilities. This can be very shocking the first time you hear of such a thing. Then you realize that the person who is making the statements does not even feel that he/she is doing anything wrong. This actually shocked me the first time when it happened, and it got me thinking of the amount of inherent racism within Indian society.
And I don't think that until people realize that they are wrong, this will get corrected easily.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:27 AM