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Slurs Mar Britain's 'Celebrity Big Brother'

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now we turn to a TV show in Britain that's causing a stir in India. So much so that when Britain's finance minister and prime minister in waiting, Gordon Brown, visits a Bollywood studio today, he can expect some awkward questions. That's because Brown's visit comes amid a furor in India over the treatment of a female film star who was subjected to racist abuse by British contestants on the TV reality show "Celebrity Big Brother."

NPR's South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves has this commentary.

PHILIP REEVES: The issue of Westerners being racist against South Asians could hardly be more sensitive in India. So when they learned of the abusive treatment meted out to Shilpa Shetty, India's newspaper columnists and letter writers began angrily tapping away.

The reaction of many is simply one of disgust. Similar sentiments filled India's media last year when two Asians were thrown off a holiday flight to the U.K. because the British passengers thought they looked suspicious.

But this episode is more complex and many Indians are well aware of that. In fact, it's given rise to a certain amount of intriguing self-examination. Take for example a letter in today's edition of one of the country's most respected English language newspapers: The Hindu.

This condemns the treatment of Shilpa, but points out racism in the name of caste and creed has existed in India for centuries. Others demand to know why the Indian authorities leaped to the aide of a Bollywood star who's handsomely paid to be on a tabloid TV show that sets out to be downright nasty, whilst doing nothing about the racism faced by a multitude of impoverished Indian laborers abroad.

One comment stands out. Among the jibes thrown at Shilpa on "Celebrity Big Brother" was about her singsong Indian accent. Someone called B.S. Calcy(ph) writes in The Hindu that instead of bursting into tears, Shilpa should have told her fellow participants to get used to her accent. After all, the letter argues, India's corporate gladiators, the likes of the Tatas and the Mittals, are on the march and have already landed on Britain's shores.

Philip Reeves, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.