Saturday, 20 January 2007

Racism What?

THE last few days have Seen many newsworthy events that ought to have occupied the front pages of the papers, held up traffic in Internet blogs and forums, and grabbed the full attention of the public.

Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, along with the judge who sent hundreds of Shiite rebels to their deaths at the behest of Saddam Hussein, were executed in controversial circumstances a few days after the dictator was himself sent to the gallows.

Global warming and greenhouse gases were once again in the public eye, with the United Kingdom prime minister himself attacked by environmentalists for refusing to contain his long-haul international travels, both for private and public commitments.

And the Bank of England, for the third time since August, has raised interest rates another 25 basis points to 5.25 percent in the face of a three percent annual inflation rate (against the two percent target). Given that a fourth increase is again expected as early as next month, this should have merited a lot of column inches and minutes of intelligent analysis on prime time television.

None of the above, however, were newsworthy enough to occupy CNN, Sky News and BBC programs’ top billing in the last couple of days. Add to that headline billing in virtually all of the UK papers, a number of major European and Asian publications, and even the venerable New York Times, and you begin to get a sense of just how big this story has become.

So what’s the latest buzz all about? RACISM. Yes, you read it right. The “R” word. The race card. The unspeakable taboo of all taboos has reared its ugly head, and kicked up a storm of protest all the way from Birmingham to Bombay.

And this was not an employee dismissed or denied promotion on the basis of skin color and ethnic origin. Nor was this the case of a student denied admission to a prestigious university for being a minority.

This was the story of how a famous movie star from Bollywood got a rude introduction to British manners and civility when she joined “Celebrity Big Brother,” the reality show franchise that has now practically reached all corners of the globe.

Shilpa Shetty, idolized by hordes of adoring fans in her native India, got an even bigger screening than the one she had in the world’s largest film industry. And not for a blockbuster film she made, but rather for being at the receiving end of what many people perceive to be racist treatment against her by her companions in the house.

Even for a reality show known for embracing the controversial, nothing in its history so far has been bigger than this. So big that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, many members of the UK and Indian governments, plus a host of respected news personalities have had to comment on its implications.

The fallout from this episode is as yet unclear, but its outcome will probably not be trivial. Far from just affecting the fortunes of the show’s producers and the television network hosting it, it is also bound to have an impact on the futures of the protagonists involved.

But what really transpired within the confines of the house? And why has a whole British nation, plus any number of Europeans, Americans and Asians been dragged into a debate on a subject that is mostly swept under the carpet, and is only ever spoken about in hushed tones and quiet whispers?

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, January 20, 2007 (

No comments: