Shilpa in Celebrity Big Brother - Colour Me Brown

January 18, 2007
The Buddha Smiled

You can always gauge what's big news in the UK by the contents of the gamut of free evening papers like "London Lite" or "The London Paper". On the way back from work today, most of these free publications had enormous taglines about the row on Celebrity Big Brother involving Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. This morning's Metro also had a full cover story, with a picture of Shetty in tears after yet another round of brow-beating.

In addition to being raised in the UK House of Commons, noted by UK Chancellor Gordon Brown on a trip to India, and commented on by the Government of India's Junior Minister for External Affairs Anand Sharma, the issue has raged on the internet and news shows for the past twenty four hours. The key issue in question is whether the abuse and intimidation that Shetty is being subjected to by several UK housemates qualifies as racism, or its apparently less sinister cousin, bullying.

Fellow Desicritic Sakshi feels that the issue is one of bitchiness, not racism. I would however, beg to differ. The issue isn't just that Shetty is being subjected to intimidation - that much is obvious. The issue at stake here is that for whatever reasons that might have caused the coven to develop a dislike for Shilpa, they are choosing to act on that by picking on things that are blatantly racist. To refuse to identify her by her name, to generalise about Indians as a whole on the basis of their interactions with her, to tell her to "f*****g go back home", and to "go back to the slums" is nothing if not racist. The motivations behind making those statements may or may not be racist - that is not what I question at this point. However, the manner in which the feelings of the coven are verbalised is definitely racist, and as a consequence totally unacceptable.

Unfortunately, Channel 4 seems to have decided that it will try to milk the controversy for all its worth, and by trying to adopt an attitude of feeding clippings to the public that will fuel the controversy are trying to milk the situation for all the viewership ratings it can get.

There have been some discussions of whether Shetty needs to be more aggressive in her reactions to statements from the coven. Funnily enough, when I hear that, I remember something that my mother told me when growing up - that by reacting to people in their language, you only reduce yourself to their level, and that does you no favours. Shetty has shown incredible restraint, resilience and much more class than any of her persecutors.

I only wonder how long it's going to be before things get so ugly that external intervention is required. I am amazed that the producers of the show can sit back and let the behaviour that is rampant in the house continue without doing anything about it. I struggle to think how far this can go - will we need to see Shetty physically attacked by the deranged coven before they intervene? (Though given that she's a black belt in karate, I wouldn't mind seeing her kick some chav a**.)

But what is worth investigating in some detail is what drives this victimisation of Shetty. Perhaps not surprisingly, it probably stems from the insecurities that she creates in the coven. But more importantly, those insecurities are driven by the fact that she does not fit the classical stereotype of what South Asian/Indian women are truly like. British media and culture have incredibly static stereotypes of what Asian women are supposed to be like, and very few women have managed to take those stereotypes on. Her jamawar draped figure is in contrast to the standard Goodness Gracious Me or The Kumars & No. 42 imagery of slightly dumpy middle-aged women, who are neither glamorous nor sexy, and therefore non-threatening if you're an aspiring beauty queen. She is incredibly articulate, but while this is okay if you're a BBC newsreader or reporter (e.g. Nisha Pillai) it is at complete odds if you're a UK celebrity - take a look around, and you will struggle to find a single female UK celebrity that is articulate, beautiful & successful. Try adding the adjective, "brown" to that set, and you'll hit a total blank.

To top everything else off, Shetty isn't even consonant with the only image of a glamorous South Asian woman - Amber (played by Laila Rouass) in Footballers' Wives; a character that is sexy and incredibly intelligent, but nasty, shrewish, conniving and vicious ("a Bollywood freak show" is one of the terms used to describe Amber's less than savoury character).

Unfortunately, Shetty fits none of the stereotypes currently available to the UK masses, and is therefore that much more threatening. To top it all off, her privilege grates a large proportion of the UK's white working class, which is resentful of the upper class and bourgeoisie anyway - to then have that posh-ness on display from a "brown" woman, someone who is subconsciously thought of as being less than them, is even worse.

So we have four disgusting, ill-mannered (and dare I say it, ill-bred) scumbags ganging up on a woman who is much better educated, more talented and classier than all of them put together, and try to "take her down" a few pegs. Unfortunately, the policy has backfired on them, and the sort of dislike generated in the majority of viewers should hopefully see all of them evicted sooner rather than later.

The only positive in this entire fiasco is that for a change, the blatant racism has not gone unnoticed. India's growing economic clout has made this incredibly problematic an episode for the UK. The country is desperate to be seen to be multicultural, and currently has its Chancellor and PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown on a trip to promote trade & investment. The furore in the press and the concern expressed by the Indian Government over the appalling treatment of a woman who had gone to be a representative of Bollywood and India to the UK has made what could have been a UK media incident a global diplomatic embarrassment. It remains to be seen if the Government will choose to intervene or not.

Until then, all I can say is if you can vote, please vote to keep Shilpa in the house - after all that she's been through, she deserves to win!

The Buddha Smiled is a product of the global village, with a distinctly Indian flavour. Thanks to daddy ji's job, he grew up in four different continents, went to 10 different schools, and speaks about four different languages (though of what use Bhojpuri is likely to be in Argentina remains to be seen) He is currently doing the "right thing" with his life, which essentially means not giving it all up to go travelling (as if he hadn't had enough). "It" in this context includes working in a big bank in London, where he enjoys playing a cog in the great capital markets wheel. Pet hobby horses include Bollywood, Indian literature, current affairs, taking over the world with a hedge fund and a pencil sharpener, and trying to figure out what all this life stuff is REALLY about.
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January 18, 2007
03:49 AM

Mr Buddha : See you did your job giving a perfect end - Vote for Shilpa for victory. :)

And I totally agree with what your mum said and believe my mum taught me the same. But she also said that "Kindly fight your own battles and don't get them to the house". When I said that Shilpa needs to take a stand that doesn't mean she needs to stoop to the level of those scumbags. She can ignore or set the record straight once and for all. But our lady in many instances chooses to unfold the white flag thereby trying her best to prove that she is "miss goody too shoes".

The whole "jaadu ki jhappi" act only works in movies...we are afterall living in Kalyug. You have to see from whom those profound sentences are coming from - 3 completely un-couth women out of nothing but jealousy.

But this doesn't mean we dig the hole more than required.

It's not a freaking battle it is at the end just a GAME.

January 18, 2007
04:23 AM

by reacting to people in their language, you only reduce yourself to their level, and that does you no favours.

Smart girl, your mum ;)

January 18, 2007
06:29 AM

It is heartning to see so many people oppose bullying.As an Indian, i have at times suffered bullying , sniggering disguised under the cloak of cultural differences.I was losing faith, but the furore that this treatment of Shilpa has generated makes me feel that the majority in Britain,like anywhere else, are kind hearted people who dont stand by it. Thank you, i say, to all British people - you have restored my faith in humanity. This fair judgement has acted like a soothing balm on my wounds inflicted by few (who obviously are in minority).

January 18, 2007
08:46 AM

Buddha Smiled : My views are in sync with yours.

January 18, 2007
11:37 AM

Shilpa 2 win!


January 18, 2007
01:48 PM

shilpa undoubtedly should win and the bitch jade should.she has no self respect for herself,wonder her parents and teachers never took any roll to devolop her,nasty stupid girl,spoiling the reputation of whole uk

January 19, 2007
10:08 AM

Hey I heard that Danilella Llllloyd has been approached by the BNP to do a calender shoot for them.

Does anyone know if this is true?

January 19, 2007
10:11 AM

This whole event is very typical of the British. If you don't/can't understand, be racist!

January 20, 2007
12:32 AM

What a whiny little princess Shilpa Shetty is. Must the usual gaggle of Indian politicians intervene to always try and make everything into the obligatory international incident? What a goofy circus. Grow up, Shilpa. If you don't like these types of Survivor/Lord-of-the-Flies reality TV shows, then don't go on them. They're already notorious for what happens, so don't try and play the wounded innocent.

January 20, 2007
04:47 AM

Nice article!

"The only positive in this entire fiasco is that for a change, the blatant racism has not gone unnoticed. India's growing economic clout has made this incredibly problematic an episode for the UK. The country is desperate to be seen to be multicultural, and currently has its Chancellor and PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown on a trip to promote trade & investment."

A heartening indicator of how far we've come from the days when we were regularly called 'wogs' and it was okay. It's time we started standing up for ourselves!

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