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Shilpa turns anti-racist icon in UK

The Indian film actor's victory in a celebrity TV show reflects the growing economic confidence of the Asian community in Britain.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2007 14:54 IST

Shilpa Shetty's runaway victory in Celebrity Big Brother was made possible not only by the wide revulsion caused by comments by housemate Jade Goody, but also by the 'brown pound' - the growing economic strength of Britain's Asian community.

Members of the Asian community here retain their affiliations along their country of origin, but network among themselves in remarkable ways on issues that affect them all - for example, racism.

This is more so among Asians who are born and raised in Britain.

This ability to put up a united face when it comes to issues affecting the entire community has been evident on earlier occasions, not least when millions of British Asians - and others across the globe - voted for Amitabh Bachchan as the greatest star of the millennium in a BBC poll.

Shetty's win reflects the growing economic confidence of the Asian community, many of whom join the annual list of Britain's millionaires.

Unlike their parents' generation, there is a clear intention among young Asians to make their presence felt in multicultural Britain.

Shetty polled 63 per cent of the votes in the final round and there are indications that even those Asians - and British - who had never watched the reality show that has a group of celebrities cooped up together in a house with no access to the outside world, phoned in to vote for Shetty.

In places such as Leicester and Birmingham with large minorities of Indian/Asian origin, there were several instances of multiple voting by members of the Asian community.

Shetty having a hard time on the show touched a raw nerve among many Asians who have grown up here or lived here for years.

By all accounts, the outcome of what turned out to be an impromptu referendum on Britain's commitment to combat racism has been welcomed by one and all.

Sceptics believe that part of the vote for Shetty could be attributed to political-correctness, but many now see her as Britain's pin-up girl against racism.

Sunanda, Shetty's mother and constant companion, could not have written a better script while raking in the millions and turning her from a struggling Bollywood actress to an anti-racism icon.

The Shetty family has gathered here and is literally laughing all the way to the bank, with sponsors, publishers and others lining up outside their door with offers.

Politicians wanting a piece of the cake have organised a function at the House of Commons, where the alleged racist comments by Goody figured in Prime Minister Tony Blair's question time and also an Early Day Motion moved by Labour MP Keith Vaz.

Church leaders also joined in to hail Shetty's demeanour in the face of alleged racism.

A priest in Ballyshannon, Ireland, has used the Shilpa Shetty show to reach out to his parishioners.

Father Frank McManus, who celebrates mass at St Joseph's Church, urged children to follow Shetty's example if they want to lead a good life.

He compared her modest clothes with the "in-your-face" outfits of the other women in the show and pointed out that she spoke English better than the English girls on the programme.

He also praised her for the way she represented her country.

Surendra Shetty, Shilpa's father, told the news media here that his family would welcome Goody with open arms during her India visit next month.

He said he would invite Goody to his Mumbai home and ask her to sit at his dinner table.

He said: "There is so much being said about this young woman (Goody) that can only deeply hurt her. She said a few hurtful words towards my daughter, but that should not also make her the victim of aggression and hate.

"We are Hindus who pray for peace. My family follow the Mahatma Gandhi's principle of non-violence and non-animosity towards others.

I am absolutely overwhelmed with the love and support that has been shown by the UK public towards Shilpa.

"A few distasteful remarks by a few individuals do not mean the whole country is bad."

Goody has been given a six-month visa by the Indian High Commission here and is likely to visit the country next week.

Meanwhile, speaking to the media after winning the show, Shetty defended Goody and another housemate, Danielle Lloyd, by saying that "They are young but not racist". The interaction with the media was no less dramatic than the show.

Lloyd entered the room where the event was being held and publicly apologised to Shetty by saying: "I would like to apologise for the words I have said, they were not meant to be racist, I am not racist."

Shetty accepted the apology as tears welled up and said: "She is a mother of two and I do not want to see her ruined because of this. It was just a game, we played that game and now it is over."

First Published: Feb 17, 2007 14:51 IST