Bollywood star and Muslim peace-maker win TV show after racism row

By staff writers
28 Jan 2007

It started as another UK reality TV show scrabbling for ratings and ended up at the epicentre of a global row about race, culture and class. But tonight (28 January 2007) Shilpa Shetty, the Bollywood star, brought a hint of redemption to Channel 4 by winning Celebrity Big Brother with 63 per cent of the 4 million plus popular vote.

Ms Shetty, from a Hindu family in India, had been subject to abuse from other contestants in the house which provoked demonstrations in Mumbai, debate in the House of Commons, a police investigation, wall-to-wall media comment, and condemnation from Chancellor Gordon Brown.

However this evening she showed magnanimity to Jade Goody, who has borne the brunt of public condemnation over accusations of racism and xenophobia, saying that “people make mistakes and we are all fallible.” She said she did not believe the comments directed at her had been intended as racist.

Events in the Big Brother House led to a record 50,000 complaints to the UK broadcasting watchdog – 32,000 more than the post-broadcast condemnations of BBC 2’s Jerry Springer The Opera, engineered by evangelical Christian groups.

Jermaine Jackson, brother of Michael and a key part of the Jackson Five group, finished second in the public popularity contest. “Remember that kindness is a strength” were his last words to Ms Shetty as he left the CBB house.

Jackson was the main peacemaker on the show. In an interview with presenter Davina McCall, he admitted that he had found the whole experience difficult – and said that he survived by prayer and fasting, as well as trying to stay positive.

“He's a Muslim and deeply devout. He's been a rock for Shilpa as she's been dealing with aggression from the Goody family, and he's the man we all went to when we had a problem”, said Sunday Mirror journalist Carole Malone, also a contestant.

Channel 4 TV chiefs have been strongly criticised by the public and MPs for the way they handled the conflict on the programme, widely perceived as racist and bullying.

But there has also been condemnation for the harassment of Ms Goody, and concern about the media ridicule directed at women from working class backgrounds whose lack of understanding and sympathy for those very different from them was clinically dissected by the cameras.

Others simply complained at all the attention being directed at a single TV show, when people are dying across the world from war and poverty.

The controversy did not completely die on the final night. A small but persistent group in the crowd booed Shilpa Shetty. But the overwhelming majority gave her support, and deplored the way she had been treated.

Priyamvada Gopal, post-colonial specialist from the University of Cambridge, commented recently: “For British Asians, the public display of familiar battles poked at raw wounds, inspiring large numbers to protest. I would feel a lot more excited about this apparent resurgence of anti-racist awareness if recent years had shown more evidence of a genuine activist spirit among us.”

She asked: “Where were these tens of thousands of protesting voices when young Zahid Mubarak died at the hands of a white racist cellmate with whom he should not have been made to share a cell? When a few hundred Sikh women protested alone at discriminatory treatment by British Airways meal supplier Gate Gourmet?”

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow writing on Guardian Comment-is-Free: A household solution. Big Brother has shown us the banality of badness, but what about the domesticity of good?

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.