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Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2007, 07:28 GMT
Big Brother row points to mature India
Paul Danahar
By Paul Danahar
BBC South Asia bureau editor

Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty
Goody and Shetty made up before Friday's eviction
White English people are ignorant stupid racists.

It's a sweeping, inaccurate generalisation but it's the impression that might have been left in the minds of millions of people in India who last week watched one of their own being, to use the English vernacular, "slagged off" mercilessly on British TV.

Contrary to much of the reporting around the world Shilpa Shetty is not a major Bollywood star. If she was she would not have shared a stage with the British B-grade celebrities also stuck inside the Big Brother House.

The programme makers wouldn't have been able to afford her pay cheque. But while she may not have been the darling of the big screen in India before she entered the reality show, she'll emerge, regardless of the means of her exit as a darling of the Indian middle class.

Onslaught

There has been a palpable sense of pride with the way she has dealt with what is widely seen here as racist, foul-mouthed onslaughts from her clearly under-educated, boorish English companions.

Ms Goody articulates in all her crassness the fact that your average English speaking Indian is a lot better educated than your average English person

But more interestingly the incident has also shown that India, contrary to the fears of British diplomats, has become comfortable enough with its position in the world to see things like the Big Brother row in perspective.

The Indian media has had a feeding frenzy on this story. It's dominated the headlines and been wall-to-wall across the dozens of new TV news channels that have sprung up over the last few years.

What there hasn't been is a knee jerk xenophobia against the British, in response to an Indian woman being abused by descendants of the old Raj.

Big Brother protest Bhopal, India, on Thursday
Shetty's treatment sparked protests in India last week
For many years India had a real chip on its shoulder about the UK. The injustices of the colonial era were never far from the surface. Given an opportunity Indian leaders would fall over themselves to take a dig at the British for an easy bit of popular press.

The best example of this was when the then Prime Minister IK Gujral publicly called the UK a "third rate" country in petulant response to a perceived slight from the British entourage out for the 50th anniversary of India's independence.

Future greatness

I'm sure that if the Big Brother controversy had been played out then, the reaction of the Indian media would have been much more akin to the kind of aggressive nationalism displayed by the British tabloids against the French.

But as India this year prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary of independent rule one thing seems to be clear.

India has stopped looking over its shoulder. It no longer views itself through the prism of its colonial past.

The "Britishers" are no longer the bogeymen they used to be because India is no longer suffering from the inferiority complex it used to have. India no longer feels the need to dwell on past injustices because it's too busy getting ready for what many predict will be its future greatness.

There has been outrage here at the treatment of Shilpa Shetty. But there has also been acknowledgement that there has been equal outrage in the UK from brown, black and white people alike.

Jade Goody on Big Brother
There was no crowd when Goody emerged because of security fears
The condemnation by Britain's political class from the prime minister down has received the same attention as the comments from the Indian government. The only exception to this measured response were the half dozen chaps in Bihar who found their 15 minutes of fame by burning a rather bad effigy of the Channel Four executives.

But no-one in India is going to claim that the actions of a few underemployed Biharis, which was recycled endlessly on TV around the world, represents the rest of the nation.

So despite the shrill cry from the British media, there was never any chance that this was going to become a diplomatic incident during the visit of Britain's finance minister, Gordon Brown.

His entourage were probably having kittens when the media started asking him about this story but the reality is that today's Indian leadership is much more interested in solidifying its place in the international pecking order than scoring cheap points off the likely next British prime minister.

Better educated

One English commentator noted after the row erupted that "Shilpa Shetty has taken the supposed British virtues of civility, articulacy, reserve and having a stiff upper lip and shown that.. we lack them".

That's not all India does better than the UK these days. In terms of their celebrity status Shilpa and her nemesis Jade Goody are almost on a par.

But taken as a snap shot of like-for-like India's B-grade celebrities are clearly better educated, better mannered and frankly speak better English than their UK counterparts.

Members of animal charity Peta protesting against comments made against Shilpa Shetty in London
'Ms Goody has earned the ire of many in the UK for trashing its reputation across the world.
Unfortunately for the UK it's not just Indian celebrities. British companies have been outsourcing their customer service centres, software departments, biotechnology labs etc to the subcontinent for years now.

They did so because they recognised a huge pool of well-educated, English-speaking, middle-class people that could do the job not only cheaper than the folks back home, but often better.

Jade Goody clearly believed that her behaviour would be tolerated by the British public watching outside. She was wrong.

Ms Goody has earned the ire of many in the UK for trashing its reputation across the world. Her antics also over-shadowed Mr Brown's trip here.

But long term she may have helped Mr Brown make a fairly important point to the British public.

Gordon Brown had never set foot in India before last week. But he already knew the challenges its huge pool of young people posed to the UK economy. He outlined the challenges in his annual economic review late last year.

Ms Goody articulates in her crassness the fact that your average English-speaking Indian (most of whom have been through private schooling) is a lot better educated than your average English person. And by the way there are probably more than 100 million of them.

If you're British then Shilpa Shetty in all her well-mannered educated politeness is a lot more scary that Jade Goody could ever hope to be.


If you would like to send a comment about this story you can use the form below. Here is a selection of your comments so far.

What I find mind-boggling is that a woman like Jade Goody who has accomplished absolutely nothing in her life can be made a "celebrity" by the British people. This, while multitudes of good, honest and hard-working Britons struggle to make end meet. What does this say about the kind of trashy society that Great Britain has become??
Chris Alam, USA

What has the world come to? So much commotion over TV series, when so much hunger, poverty, religious discord and health issues are yet to be dealt with.
Zoe Rebelo, Tanzania,E Africa

It is completely unrealistic to say that all call centres etc have been outsourced to India due to the fact that Indians have a better standard of middle class, well educated people. You have only to ask someone and they complain about the appalling level of English language that many have heard when calling these call centres. I believe Jade's comments to have been blown out of proportion, and, writing this from Australia where I currently live, find it absurd that it is hitting headlines here as well. This has only highlighted the fact to me that the media is somewhat farcical, and is prepared to report on anything to provoke a reaction. The fact that this is being more widely reported than say, poverty in Africa, is just ridiculous.
Anna Palmer, UK

Mr Danahar's views are typically orientalist, using journalism for venting out his repressed racism/upper class arrogance. Two examples are stark: 1."The "Britishers" are no longer the bogeymen they used to be because India is no longer suffering from the inferiority complex it used to have". Does he mean to say that India's anti-colonialism was due to inferiority complex? 2. "No-one in India is going to claim that the actions of a few underemployed Biharis". Being South Asia bureau editor, Mr Danahar knows what do such remarks connote. It only shows how he shares the Indian upper class arrogance, degrading not only Biharis, but all poor people who are collectively called Biharis in a derogatory manner.
Kumarila, Maryland (USA)

Excellent Paul! You have just about summed up everything that I would have wanted to say.
Sateesh, Canada

Very good article, and thanks for pointing out the fact that Shilpa is in fact a B-grade actress. And those few idiots in Bihar (India's most lawless state) who were burning all those effigies really gave a wrong impression of how we feel about the whole issue. I would give the British a lot more credit for the way they handled the whole issue. Although a lot of them feel the comments made by Jade Goody weren't racist, they overwhelmingly disproved her behaviour on the show. If this had happened in America, rest assured Shilpa Shetty would have been voted out of show for using the 'race card'. After staying in both countries, I have to say that the British are far more tolerant than Americans. So Paul, don't be too hard on your countrymen.
Prem Patel, India

At the end of the day, the "incident" demonstrates the enduring, growing and changing relationship between Britain and India. It also demonstrated that boorish conduct will be denounced by Indians and British alike who share similar values.
Anthony, Canada

While the author so succinctly claims that "For many years India had a real chip on its shoulder about the UK. The injustices of the colonial era were never far from the surface", he forgets that India is still a relatively newly independent country, bound to suffer from the ramifications of its very recent experiences with colonial rule. Hence, a few more decades might be needed to erase completely the bitter taste of this experience and for India to get over it. The author would like the memory of the collective Indian psyche to be very short. Alas, it does not work this way.
Itishree Trivedi, USA

The Big Brother incident has brought out of the closet the hidden racism that underlies British society. The great country of Britain now needs to now correct itself before trying to solve world problems, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa etc. Britain should also stop beating on other countries for so called "human rights" violations.
Dave , USA

I was visiting England and saw the shows in question.... Sure, Jade was not so refined, but what strikes me in all this is that there's about zero mention of the fact that Shilpa was monumentally arrogant, condescending and dishonest. When Jade noted these things - in rather indelicate terms - Shilpa did not address those issues, but chose to attack the way those issues were addressed... which as anyone might expect, is only going to make anyone that much more displeased. This "Ooooh, poor Shilpa" is nonsense and a foolish response to media hype in England and in India.
Bob Hough, USA

The piece is absolute nonsense - the occupants of the Big Brother house are in no way a reflection of the citizens of this country (thank God), and in attempting to draw conclusions on the relative national character of contemporary India and Britain from it's frankly weak stock, the author is doing nothing more than clutching at straws, showing himself to have been sucked in and brainwashed by a programme that is an insult to broadcasting and free thought. Institutions like the BBC have a duty not to allow programmes of Big Brother's quality to prevail, and taking them seriously like this author does is tantamount to appeasement. Sensationalist articles such as this one, and the massive generalisations they make based on nothing but the most tenuous of premises, are as dangerous and irresponsible as giving the microphone to Jade Goody in the first place and allowing her to represent Britain.
Alex, UK

India is maturing from its colonial past to a new era of its true identity of a conscious nation.
A. Bose, US

I am astounded at the fuss being made of this so called racism. I am a UK citizen living in Canada and when I went to India four years ago I was the brunt of a lot of racism by the Indian citizens. The expression of "You can dish it out but cannot take it" comes to mind. I did not ever comment on the remarks about me that I heard whilst in India I just chose to ignore them. I then decided not to put my manufacturing plant there which cost several hundred people jobs. There is racism in every culture and the people that are the most racist are the ones that criticise any racism directed toward them.
Terrie Trevillion, Canada

How dare you insult myself and my fellow British people with your inane, racist drivel. Firstly, Shilpa has acted like a rude, selfish snob. Regularly telling people to, "Shut up" if anything they said wasn't to her liking or didn't tally with her wishes. She even slapped Cleo during one such incident. Not exactly the actions of a dignified lady. There were numerous displays of selfishness, not least the shopping list that she took complete control of, denying Jade a mere 500g of minced beef, whilst she ordered 10 chickens, roughly 30 to 40 times the financial expense of Jade's meagre request. Then she had the audacity to complain and lie about the stock cubes. As for your claims that she's articulate, "Learn your vocabularies, learn your dictionaries" isn't the finest use of the English language I've ever heard.
Jonathan Brooke Lyons, UK

By the way, has anyone pointed out that Jade Goody is actually mixed race herself?!?
Marcus, UK

Come on folks .. get a life! Two people clashed so what?
Monica Quince, Belgium

I am married to a Hindu man and have two lovely children and very much enjoy the Indian culture. I was appalled seeing Big Brother and I feel Goody is just an ignorant foul mouthed bully. My husband watches this more than me and he just saw it as bullying rather than true racism but everyone thinks differently in this subject - my eight-year-old son thought she was racist and a bully.
Michelle Pandit, England

Channel 4 should pay for Ms Goody to attend classes in cultural sensitivity. Big Brother producers should be required to attend. Ms Goody should volunteer to perform charitable work in India, preferably in Bihar where effigies of Channel 4 executives were burned. Ms Shetty should agree to supervise Ms Goody's work and be responsible for Ms Goody's security and well being while in India. Ms. Goody to bear all expenses and pay Ms Shetty for services rendered from the proceeds of her inevitable forthcoming "tell-all" book.
Shashi Rattan, USA

Even though with changing economy, invasion of television, greed for material and millions of problems - hopefully Indians will not loose Tolerance.
Sanjiv Patel, USA

Jade Goody doesn't represent the majority of Britons, she doesn't even represent celebrity in this country. She represents a pathetic shameful but minority subculture of Britain, and trust me. The problem is in this country is that the silent majority are too often neglected, nobody cares about the intelligent modest people who run this country.
Steve, UK

Mr Danahar is not off the mark for the better part of his analysis, but sticking up for the likes of Ms Shetty is well, a bit too much. No one forced these publicity-hungry has-been celebrities on these TV shows. Come on sir, India and Britain have better things to do than pandering to the contrived sensibilities of the likes of Ms Shetty.
Jaganniwas Iyer, India

I'm British born, but I have never heard of Jade Goody. Come to that, I've never heard of Shilpa Shetty either, but on my PC she looks a lot more attractive!
Alan Conroy, Spain

India and China will rule the world in the next 50 years.
Raman Chauhan, Canada

I wish the average person in the US could read this story and see what part he or she represents therein. However, and I am sad to say this, my nation is full of denial, long and short term memory loss, and an over inflated sense of self. This country is overpopulated by the likes of Ms Goody, and could stand to learn quite a bit from Ms Shetty. Thank you for the insight and yes, the US should be afraid as well.
Joy Garscadden, US

It was a clash of culture, and Jade's is certainly the dominant culture of celebrity in this country at the moment.
Pieter Gerits, UK

Jade Goody's racism should be condemned. Mr Danahar's article, however, moves far beyond that topic, for a general "India's better than Britain" swipe. Of course, India has a huge, highly educated workforce. And India is destined to be one of the most powerful economies (and rightly so!), but I sense here that such a reality is being used for an angry put down to a readership who, by default, are probably a lot more educated and open minded than Jade Goody. Thanks for the warning that Brits should be scared, Mr Danahar. Isn't there a word for that kind of talk? I remember when the BBC was dispassionate!
Tom Dibble, United States

Let me understand this: Shilpa Shetty is a beautiful, articulate, poised and highly educated young lady, and we are supposed to be scared of her? Attracted, in-love and gaga about her, definitely, but never ever scared!
Jefferson, England

I suggest that Shilpa Shetty had planned her protestations before she even entered the programme.
Tony Smith, Spain

Shilpa, I think you have handled the situation well. There is no point of arguing with a person who fails to give respect to others, or a nation.
Dhruba Chakravarty, Australia

What a frank, realistic view! Having in lived in Britain for two years, I cannot help admitting most of the above is true.
Remus Negoita, France

I take no issue with Paul Danahar's argument regarding the new Indian middle class. I would like to say, however, that he is callous in his remarks regarding postcolonial Indian attitudes towards the British Raj. Resentment over 200-plus years of imperial subjugation should not be so dismissively referred to as a "chip on the shoulder" and "knee jerk xenophobia." Surely there is more to it than a mere attitude problem, and 60 years may not be quite enough time to "get over" two centuries of foreign rule. Moreover, loss of faraway colonies is far easier to accept and attain closure over, than a bloodbath in the wake of, and partly due to, an ill-planned imperial departure.
Burney, Boston, USA

It is appalling how much Jade is being bullied now and to see how people from a country (namely India) which itself is so racist, where religious violence occurs, where homosexuals, women and children are get horrific treatment- sometimes even at the hands of government officials, a country where caste system originated and inter-community prejudice is widespread has the gall to talk about tolerance! Clean up your own backyard first!
Vic Friman, Sweden

Why is this news?
Mark , The Netherlands

As Mr Danahar writes, there might be in India 100 million of English speaking, well educated people, perhaps even better educated than their British pairs. However, it is not to be forgotten that India has a fast growing population of 1 billion people. So the well-educated middle-class only stands for less than 10% of the total population. The other 90% are illiterate and appallingly poor, and most of them would probably kill in order to live in Britain.
F. Portillo, Spain

We curse and call our fellow citizens, always have, always will, it's a British thing, however appalling, but nothing more becomes of it. As soon as any kind of comment is made to, or about, a member of another country or religion, the whole thing is blown out of all proportion. In order to intermingle with other races, the word racism wants obliterating altogether from the English language so that we can all get on with out lives.
Carol, UK

This incident reflects poorly upon Britain's image as the media and society seems to be building third class role models. Maybe time once again to focus on good, clean 'British' values and throw out the trash?
Robin Bhowmik, Reading, UK

The decline of one nation and the rise of another are manifest.
Charles Hazell, UK

Would someone please tell me why we are wasting so much time and energy on what is little more than a second rate show with second rate "celebrities"?
Carol, UK

Big Brother is a very popular show and guess a very good platform for Shilpa to highlight the Indian values and traditions. What is the harm in doing so? After all, most of the people only know India as being a rural nation of snake-charmers.
Priya, Canada

In India you easily get publicity by courting controversies. The media are waiting to pounce on any such trivial controversies. But I really doubt whether Shilpa's career would be resurrected after this ugly incident.
Raj Singh, United States

We cannot think that Jade Goody, good and bad, represents all of England. She doesn't even represent all of her neighbourhood. I understand some of the feelings associated with this incident, but to think that England is essentially retreating into social cannibalism is plain dumb. Lets keep some perspective.
Van Martin, London, England

Jane Goody would not exist if we did not create her and now we are upset with what we created. Big Brother is a shameful programme anyway but its the sort of rubbish most of us seem to demand. Of course we ought to scared of Shilpa Shetty but our only consolation should be that educated and polite people like her would be too disgusted to want to live in Britain anyway.
Adrian Baron, Kinsgtown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

I disapprove heartily of the way Jade is reported to have behaved in the house, but I would stop short of drawing conclusions about British society from it, much as I would stop short of drawing conclusions about India from the ludicrous effigy burning scenes we witnessed.
Tris, UK

In recognition of the distinctly British attitude and values Shilpa showed when tolerating Ms Goody and co's abuse, why don't we award her an honorary British citizenship? It would definitely help repair the damage to our international reputation abroad and set a benchmark for us back at home!
Piers Register, United Kingdom

I believe that the vast majority of the British people are civilised and decent, and their reaction to this incident confirms that. But we should not be in denial about racist and such discriminatory attitudes existing in our societies (including in India), and should do what is necessary to combat them. That would be especially important in our increasingly multi-ethnic societies.
Padma, India

I had lived in Watford for the past fourteen months and had seen the reality show. There is no need for Shilpa or for that matter any Indian to feel offended as this is a show wherein each contestant tries to bully the other. If Shilpa felt offended she should have walked out of the show and if Goody really meant what she meant, she was just ill informed. The media also did not have better story to cover and they are highlighting an irrelevant issue.
Shiva Subramanya, India

I agree with Mr Danahar about the Indian reaction but the parallels between Ms Goody and Shilpa Shetty are few and far between. Ms Goody represents the worst of modern Britain whereas Ms Shetty represents something of the best that modern India has to offer. We should remember that no nation is perfect. If Ms Goody's so called career is now at end however, Britain will have taken a step in that direction.
Pankaj, UK

While Ms Goody's comments are deplorable, she has expressed sincere (I hope) regrets in the course of her interview. Maybe it is time everybody put this behind them and look forward.
Chandra Ram, India

The producers carefully crafted this conflict. Make no mistake, the black gentleman on the show is well educated and mannered too, but the white participants seem to have been rounded up at a local pub. The demographic on the show is not representational, or fair, it is just constructed to incite. I've travelled to India and it is one of the "best read" nations in the world, but not everyone is well mannered and well read in India either. If you put an uneducated Indian on the show, they would potentially make ignorant statements as well. Maybe Ms Goody couldn't afford private schooling as the "average" English speaking Indian can. I am curious from which source Mr. Danahar quotes this fact.
Brett, Japan

I realised a long time ago, that when a person is insecure or doesn't like herself, then instead of trying to be a better person, it is easier to bring others down to her level.
Vashti Bowlah, Trinidad, West Indies

Sure, Britain is a long way from eradicating racism but no one should get any praise out of this entire episode. Sympathy for Shilpa, may be.
Abhijit Rajan, India (Resident of US)

I don't believe British people have anything to find scary about a large pool of possible immigrants who are well educated, speak English and have a desire to succeed. Coming from Canada a country that has more than 20% of its population foreign born I can say that immigrants contribute their fair share to society.
Justin Acton, Edinburgh UK

While there may be some individuals who are racist in Britain, it's not the institutionalised racism that exists in India.
Steve, USA

Shilpa Shetty is not a B-grade actress. Only she isn't the top most one. I don't think Jade Goody's celebrity stature ever matched Shilpa Shetty's. Shilpa Shetty is a 'star', much more than what this article suggests.
Anurag, India

Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty are a class apart in more ways than one.
Mamta Srivastava, Canada

A well written article. Paul Danahar has understood India better and its people even better. Today's India is poised for growth and development. Such acts will be seen as a non-issue but there are many in India who still feel Britain is a racist society and this has added fuel to it.
Paul Belson, India

Superbly said, I could not agree more. What Jade highlighted in her diatribes last week was the presence, on every corner of our once sacred green land of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Brunel and Churchill, of an increasingly ignorant, spoilt, junk-food eating, anti-social, booze-worshipping, MTV ipod generation of young people that do not know the meaning of a hard day's work. Since the UK lost all its heavy industry in the 80s the offspring of the working class has turned into an underclass. Ironically it takes something so representative of this useless generation - Big Brother, for us to realise this.
Richard Loach, Canada

Finally, a balanced comment on modern British ignorance. I don't mean the allegedly (or perhaps actually) racist remarks - I did not follow the Big Brother story, because Big Brother is rubbish. I mean Mr Danahar's pointed comment that 'your average English-speaking Indian ... is a lot better educated than your average English person'. Sadly, my experience tends rather to support this claim. Many of the younger (and not-so-young) generation in Britain seem to think ignorance a virtue, and boorishness a substitute for thought. Let's hope that this 'many' is in fact a minority, but I have my doubts.
D Fear, Germany

I currently run a project scaling up an India supplier. They have etiquette and expertise. Technically they are educated to a better standard, higher motivation and a strong willingness to learn. I worry for the UK as the standard of graduate is generally poor. Inability to spell, add up or tackle difficult tasks are evidence of the successive failings of our pass rate driven education system. The manners and etiquette? Liberalisation of society has handed rights to child and handcuffed the teacher. Rights may well be fundamental but they also need maturity and intelligence to be exercised responsibly.
Gareth Knowling, UK

Considering the state of moral and cultural decay of our European societies, it is not unlikely that within 10 or 20 years we shall be polishing the shoes of our Indians and Chinese masters. I am inclined to think that we shall deserve it.
Jean-Bernard Brisset, France

India doesn't have a chip on its shoulder??
Carl, Nottingham ,UK

Shilpa may be a B class actor but she handled herself like an first class human being.
Dorothy Green, US

Jade Goody represents everything that is wrong with this country. She is a cringe worthy example of someone in the public eye that sends out wrong messages to many young people here and abroad. Her lack of education and culture does nothing to our country's image.
Ann K, UK

Sorry for being a pain but I was annoyed by some inaccuracies in this article. Just thought that you might like to know that Shilpa Shetty is a critically acclaimed actress and if you would look at the list of the top Indian actresses you would probably put her fifth on this. I am no 'fan boy' but she is definitely not on anything other than the A-list in terms of celebrity status in India. Therefore, saying that she is an Indian B-grade celebrity is not nice, rather just insulting looking at her talent and dignity in bad situations, and you just cannot compare her to Jade Goody in any way. All I ask is that you research on your subject before writing, please!
Danny, England


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