- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

From combined dispatches

LONDON — A sponsor of a British reality TV show dogged by accusations of racism suspended its support yesterday as Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty complained she was being racially abused by her fellow contestants.

Carphone Warehouse, Europe’s biggest mobile-phone retailer, said it was suspending sponsorship because it did not want its name associated with accusations of racist bullying.

“Celebrity Big Brother” has sparked protests in Britain, where more than 30,000 viewers complained to the country’s media watchdog while Indian supporters of Miss Shetty have burned effigies of her adversaries.

The contestants are oblivious to the row that has erupted over Miss Shetty’s treatment because they are cut off from the outside world while on the show, where their antics can be watched 24 hours a day.

India has asked Britain to check whether race laws have been broken by the contestants, incarcerated in a house and garden together where TV viewers vote them off one by one.

TV Channel 4, whose show has been a huge ratings success, had issued a statement insisting Miss Shetty was not suffering racial abuse but saying there had been a “cultural and class clash,” Reuters news agency reported.

After a dispute over ingredients used in their communal cooking, Miss Shetty’s housemate, Danielle Lloyd, said: “She should [expletive] off home. She can’t even speak English.”

Miss Shetty’s chief tormentor, Jade Goody, told her, “Go back to the slums.”

British actress and fellow housemate, Cleo Rocos, seeking to comfort Miss Shetty, said of the clashes: “I don’t think there’s anything racist in it.”

But Miss Shetty replied: “It is, I’m telling you.” Clearly shocked, the 31-year-old actress said: “I am representing my country. Is that what today’s UK is? It’s scary.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was dragged into the dispute in Parliament and his successor-in-waiting Gordon Brown, the finance minister, was forced to defend Britain’s image on a trade visit to India.

The show was front-page news in Britain and India.

“A reality TV show has shamed our country in the eyes of the world,” concluded Britain’s Daily Express.

Several Indian newspapers condemned the “racist jibes” thrown at the Bollywood star but said the country should examine its own prejudices before expressing national outrage.

“Discrimination on the basis of color is ingrained in the psyche of most Indians,” the Hindustan Times said.

Many of India’s 1 billion people still live within a hierarchy imposed by the Hindu caste system and Muslims face widespread prejudice, being seen as the enemy within since Islamic Pakistan was carved out of British-ruled India.

Indian TV channels have shown continuous footage of the show, in which one housemate has said she was scared to eat food prepared by Miss Shetty because, “you don’t know where those hands have been,” and another referred to her as “the Indian.”

So great is the uproar that Mr. Brown has spent much of his tour trying to quell Indian anger.

“It is important for me to say that thousands of British people have phoned in … to condemn what has happened on the ‘Big Brother’ program,” Mr. Brown told reporters.

Miss Shetty, meanwhile, became the favorite to win the competition.

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