Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Racism in India: Pt2

In the second part of a special series on racism in India, this article examines how the Indian media actively perpetrates racist perceptions of Africans, and how Indian society treats Africans that are present in India. The original article can be found here

Why Do Black African Racial Stereotypes Persist in India?
By Madhur Singh / New Delhi Friday, Jun. 18, 2010

African-Indian bonhomie was all the rage in India's media last week, amid celebratory coverage of homegrown telecom company Airtel's $10.7 billion acquisition of Kuwaiti company Zain's African operations and TV images of Indian visitors blowing vuvuzelas at soccer's World Cup in South Africa. Amid all the backslapping, however, an African student in India who runs a news and current-affairs website from the city of Bhopal accused companies like Coca-Cola of airing racist commercials on Indian TV that portrayed Africans as primitive savages.
"Indian marketers have a field day in putting 'blacks' where they've always 'belonged,' at least in the average Indian mind-sets," wrote S.K.Y. Banji, an Ugandan who has lived in India for more than four years and runs thereigntimes.com. His comments were endorsed by fellow Africans who posted on the site, sharing their own experiences of racism in India, and soon Banji's concerns were being aired in segments of the mainstream media. Yet there was hardly any public outcry, and none of the companies have issued apologies.

One of the commercials in question, for Coca-Cola's Sprite — which a Coca-Cola spokesperson says was received "very positively" by a test audience in India — shows two young Indian men captured by savages in an African jungle. While one of them tries to win over the captors by doing a silly jig, the other simply offers them Sprite. "There is nothing offensive in this ad," says Martha Wariithi, a Kenyan by birth who is the director of knowledge and insights for Coca-Cola's India and South West Asia unit. "It's lighthearted ... It fits very well for the positioning for Sprite in the market."

The Indian lemon drink LMN, produced by the Parle Agro corporation, has a blatantly racist subtext in its TV spot that shows two Africans digging in the sand for water. When they spot a tap nearby, they wrench it off and start using it as a shovel. Parle Agro would not comment to TIME on the commercial.
Another spot, for BP's Castrol engine oil, shows two young Indian men being magically transported from place to place: a beach, a lion-infested jungle — and a cauldron being carried by smiling African cannibals. BP has not responded to TIME's queries despite indicating it would do so.

The Castrol ad is for contests that can take winners to South Africa for the World Cup, and Coca-Cola is an official sponsor of the event, which aims to showcase Africa in a new light. It speaks to Indian society, long the subject of British Empire stereotyping, as it struggles to adapt to the cultural challenges of its status as an emerging power in a globalized world economy.

"It's amazing how two global companies, in an age of YouTube and Twitter, can think they can get away with such blatantly racist advertising," says Hari Krishnan, vice president at the Delhi office of ad agency JWT. "Perhaps it's just a matter of time before they hear from their global headquarters." But there hasn't been much of an outcry against the commercials in a country whose people have themselves been victims of racism. Indeed, many Indians do not see the advertisements as racist or offensive. Despite their experience with prejudice abroad even today, most Indians seem prone to accept easy generalizations about other peoples and cultures.
"These ads could never be aired in the U.S.," says Diepiriye Kuku, a Delhi-based Nigerian-American conflict-resolution consultant who blogs on his exposure to prejudice in India, a country he says is decades behind the U.S. in addressing racial issues.
Kuku wrote an article titled "India Is Racist and Happy About It" in a leading Indian newsmagazine last year. In a post on his blog, he recounts a visit to a zoo: while he was watching a giraffe, some 50-odd families stopped in their tracks to stare at him. "But," he points out, "Indians don't only stereotype foreigners. They stereotype other Indians too." Indeed, racism against northeastern Indians — whose features often have more in common with those of people in countries farther east and who are the subject of various myths about their sexuality — is widely documented. And the fact that skin-lightening creams are one of the fastest-growing product lines in India's cosmetics sector reflects an obsession with fair skin.

But globalization has opened the doors of the world to many Indians, allowing them to experience other cultures not simply through movies and TV portrayals but by traveling abroad and interacting with foreigners in work and academic environments. "I believe the next decade is going to belong to Africa," Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder and chairman of Airtel, said in an interview after sealing the Zain deal that made Airtel the world's fifth biggest telecom operator. In India, that may take some getting used to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Racism in India

Long time no publish, but that is due to change soon. Below is an article that will re-appear in the special section on racism in India. Fascinating look at racism and discrimination in bolywood, which of course begs the question: if actresses from India were treated the same way in the UK, what would be the outcome?

Original article can be found here

White British actresses told to leave Bollywood

British actresses who appear in Bollywood films are being targeted in a hate campaign by one of India's most feared political leaders.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi
Published: 5:55PM GMT 17 Mar 2010

Stars including Alice Patten, the daughter of Lord Patten of Barnes, and Hazel Crowney, a former model from Kent, have been accused of stealing jobs from local girls.

Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a Mumbai nationalist street gang and political party which inspires terror throughout the city, has called on foreign white actresses to go home.

His campaign for a ban on the estimated 1,000 British and other foreign actors who regularly appear in Bollywood films has been widely criticised but many foreign actors are too afraid to speak out.

Thackeray is especially feared in Bollywood, where he has the power to shut productions and close cinemas.The campaign for a ban comes as increasing numbers of European and South American actresses are finding roles in Bollywood movies.
In the last few years, Kylie Minogue and Denise Richards have appeared in major Indian films. Miss Patten starred in Rang De Basanti, one of the most popular Bollywood films of recent years, while Minogue appeared in a raunchy song and dance scene called Chiggy Wiggy in the film Blue with action hero Akshay Kumar.

It has also become increasingly common for Hollywood stars like Sylvester Stallone and Superman star Brandon Routh to take cameo roles in Bollywood productions to boost their appeal. This international approach could now be threatened because producers and directors fear Raj Thackeray will ruin their films if they do not comply.

The campaign to ban foreign actors was launched last week after the MNS raided a the set of Crooked, starring Amitabh Bachchan, India's most famous star, and demanded to see the work permits of 136 foreign actors and actresses. The MNS holds seats in the Mumbai region but its strength comes from its activists who are regarded by many as violent street thugs.

Its supporters have launched violent attacks on rickshaw drivers from other parts of India and threatened organisations which retain the name 'Bombay' instead of 'Mumbai.' Shalini Thackeray, an MNS leader, said: "Why can't our Indian actors dance with locals? We will insist that only local junior artists should be employed.

"We will check whether they have valid permits. Many times, foreigners come here on tourist visas, but take up work in Bollywood."

She was supported by one of Bollywood's top dancers, Rakhi Sawant, who said: "Because of these foreigners, our Indian girls remain jobless. These white girls are like lollipops that only last for two days." Vir Singhvi, one of India's leading commentators, said the party was using the issue to win over Mumbai's women voters who have so far shunned the MNS.

"The MNS says [these dance scenes] are against Indian traditions, vulgar and cheap. They do this to get women's votes because women object to half-naked dancers, but it's not enough of an issue for women to change their minds," he said.
Leading Indian film director Jag Mundra last night criticised the campaign and said it could push up costs and force film-makers to shoot more scenes overseas. To save money, directors usually hire attractive backpackers passing through Mumbai and shoot dance scenes in local clubs or film sets.

"The reason producers pick white girls is because a lot of them have better figures and are willing to expose them," he said.
"If you need a bikini shot, not many Indian girls are willing to turn up in a string bikini. But most white girls will not have an issue with that. Titillation has been an important part of Bollywood."