TV viewers in the UK are outraged at the racist treatment meted out to actress Shilpa Shetty on the reality show Celebrity Big Brother. Over the past few days, fellow participants have called Shilpa “dog”, “Paki”, and other offensive names.
Asian and British viewers have flooded Channel 4, which airs the show, and British media regulator Ofcom, with complaints. Till late on Tuesday, 4,500 complaints had been received. Most accused reality TV star Jade Goody, model Danielle Lloyd and singer-actress Jo O’Meara of racism.
“We’ll look into each complaint,” said an Ofcom spokesperson. The watchdog has asked for unedited tapes of the show.
|Shilpa Shetty in stills from the show Celebrity Big Brother, taken from Channel 4's website.|
On Tuesday, Keith Vaz, MP from Leicester East, moved an ‘early day motion’ in the House of Commons against the “alleged racist behaviour on Big Brother”.
The motion reads: “...This House views with concern comments made about... Shilpa Shetty by other housemates; believes that Big Brother has a role... in preventing racist behaviour...; regrets that these comments have been made, and calls on the programme to take... action to remind housemates that racist behaviour is unacceptable.”
Celebrity Big Brother is a spin-off from Big Brother UK. It shows celebrities living in a secluded house, trying not to get evicted, so they can win a large sum of money.
Many viewers think Shilpa is being targeted out of jealousy: she is being paid more — $680,000 (Rs 3.5 crore) as against the standard fee of $610,000 (Rs 3 crore) — than anyone else. She has also been more popular in the media than other participants, mostly B- and C-list celebs.
“Goody’s mother Jackiey (who has now been evicted) started calling Shilpa ‘Sipla’, then, sarcastically, ‘princess’ and finally, ‘the Indian’,” hotelier Girish Sanger told HT. “When Shilpa cooked chicken, Lloyd refused it, saying it was overcooked and that was why Indians were thin and sickly. She said, ‘How do Indians eat with their fingers? One doesn’t know where their fingers have been’,” Sanger said.
The Guardian quoted Lloyd as having said of Shilpa, “She is a dog,” and Goody as, “She makes me feel sick. She makes my skin crawl.” The daily said that on Monday’s show, “Shetty (had) ended up in tears”.
Goody has already been censured by the anti-bully charity Act Against Bullying, which ironically, she supports. It has dropped her picture from its website, calling her conduct “unforgivable”.
Journalist Sarah Gill told HT: “Viewers of all races are appalled… Shilpa was alienated and victimised...”
A Channel 4 spokesman stressed the complaints were being taken seriously. “We do not tolerate bullying or racial abuse. We are closely monitoring the housemates.”
Sunanda, Shilpa’s mother, said, “I hope Shilpa will handle the situation. It is a game and there is life beyond... I really hope she won’t get too affected.”