Outrage at the racist attacks on Shilpa Shetty by white housemates on a British reality TV show exploded on Wednesday, triggering reactions at the highest levels of government in both countries.
Complaints received by media watchdog Ofcom shot to 14,500, the most ever. Broadcaster Channel 4 got 2,000, and with both organisations expecting more to come in, Celebrity Big Brother closed in on Jerry Springer — The Opera as the most complained-about show of all time.
Inside the house being shown on the programme, Shilpa’s ordeal continued. New footage showed teenage housemate Jack Tweed telling Shilpa to pick chicken bones out of the lavatory with her teeth, and Jade Goody, Tweed’s girlfriend, saying she wanted to “headbutt” Shilpa. Goody also said, “She says she is a Bollywood actress, but for all I know she could be a phoney from the Old Kent Road.”
In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hadn’t seen the programme, but was opposed to racism in principle. “I have not seen the particular programme... and cannot comment on it. (But) We should oppose racism in all its forms,” Blair said.
In Bangalore, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown condemned the attacks. “I want Britain to be seen as a country of fairness and tolerance... and anything that detracts from that, I condemn,” Brown, on a three-day visit to India, said.
Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, who had a meeting with Brown, said, “India is extremely sensitive to... discrimination and racial abuse. I have onveyed this to... Brown. I have told him that we do react very sensitively to such issues.
The Chancellor has told me that Britain subscribes to a non-discriminatory social system.” In Delhi, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said India had sought “details” its London mission.
“We will take appropriate action after getting all the details.” MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna said, “We have taken up the matter with UK through the High Commission (in London) and asked them to take action according to their own laws.”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi said he had spoken to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. “I requested that the matter be verified,” Dasmunsi said.
(With The Guardian and HT Correspondents, New Delhi and Bangalore)