Two years after Jeremy Clarkson, the controversial presenter of ‘Top Gear’, was embroiled in a row over claims that he had ridiculed India and its people in his programme, he has landed in another controversy – this time an Indian-origin actor has accused him of using racist language.
In the popular car-based show on BBC, Clarkson drives around in various countries and interacts with local people, often making irreverent comments laced with British humour. Most viewers, including those of Indian origin, enjoy the programme.
In January 2012, BBC received several complaints over his India-based programme, with the Indian high commission stating: “The programme was replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked cultural sensitivity. This is not clearly what we expect of the BBC.”
In his recent episode set in Burma, Clarkson used the word ‘slope’, which is considered a derogatory term for people of Asian origin. Somi Guha, a London-based India-born actor, has asked her lawyers to sue the BBC for using the term.
Clarkson insisted he is not a racist, while thousands of viewers wrote in to news websites, asking Guha to ‘go get a life’.
Guha is represented by Equal Justice, solicitors specialising in discrimination, who earlier brought legal action against Channel 4 for broadcasting the late Jade Goody’s racist comments against Indian actor Shilpa Shetty on Celebrity Big Brother in 2002.
Equal Justice claims that Guha’s action could cost the BBC 1 million pounds in punitive damages under equality laws unless it apologises and takes the hit show off the air. A BBC spokeswoman for ‘Top Gear’ said it had no comment on Guha's legal action.
Guha, who starred in 2006 sci-fi movie ‘Children of Men’ and television programmes, wrote in her complaint to BBC: “Casual racism in the media by established BBC stalwarts is constantly brushed aside. Discrimination within the industry is accepted. Racial profiling of roles is accepted and expected”.
She added: “I find it offensive that Jeremy Clarkson refers to people of different races in pejorative terms. What is that saying to children who watch him? - that it's OK to bully and make racist comments. Jeremy Clarkson has made derogatory comments about Mexicans. Now he bullies an Asian person. It has to stop.”
During the 2012 row over its India-based programme, 'Top Gear' had insisted that it had not insulted India: "The Top Gear road trip across India was filled with incidents but none of them were an insult to the Indian people or the culture of the country.
"Our film showed the charm, the beauty, the wealth, the poverty and the idiosyncrasies of India but there's a vast difference between showing a country, warts and all, and insulting it".
It added: "It's simply not the case that we displayed a hostile or superior attitude to our hosts and that's very clear from the way the presenters can be seen to interact with them along the way".
"We genuinely loved our time in India and if there were any jokes to be had they were, as ever, reflected back on the presenters rather than the Indian people".