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US senator calls Indian monkey

Republican George Allen is accused of calling a Democrat student worker 'macaca', writes S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2006 13:33 IST

A leading US Senator is in trouble for using a pejorative term to refer to an Indian American youth.

Republican Senator George Allen, otherwise counted among the friends of India on Capitol Hill, is at the receiving end after repeatedly using the word "macaca" (a genus of monkey) for the Indian youth working for Democratic challenger Jim Webb in the upcoming Congressional elections.

After being slammed by Indian American organisations, Democrats and a Washington Post editorial, Allen has now tendered an apology even while insisting that he had no idea that "macaca" meant a monkey and a term viewed as a racial slur.

The Virginia Senator was on a campaign trail last Friday when he singled out the 20-year-old Indian student, SR Sidarth, who was videotaping Allen for his Democratic opponent.

"The fellow over here with the yellow shirt — Macaca or whatever his name is — he's with my opponent. Let's give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," Allen remarked, prompting his supporters to break into laughter.

All that was captured in Sidharth's video camera and Allen did not appear to have the faintest idea that the comment would snowball into a huge controversy, which it has over the past couple of days. By Tuesday, Sidarth was on various TV channels and Allen in damage control mode.

Webb's campaign was the first to try to turn the tables. "The kid has a name. This is trying to demean him, to minimise him as a person," it said.

Several Indian bodies jumped in. "It is unacceptable that Senator Allen used a racial slur to refer to a 20-year-old native Virginian of Indian descent," Indian American Leadership Initiative's president Jay Chaudhuri said.

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, also chided Allen. "Campaigns are tough. But George has been in campaigns."

Sidarth himself said he felt Allen was singling him out because he was the only non-white in the audience. "If he wants to make an apology, he can talk to me personally rather than doing this through the press," he said.