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British Reality TV Show Becomes All Too Real

Accusations of racism leveled at a British television program have sparked outrage on the streets and in the highest levels of government in both Britain and India.

The staged reality of Britain's "Celebrity Big Brother" television show has morphed into an unpleasant political reality in India.

Keith Vaz, a member of the British Parliament questions, "Would the prime minister join me in condemning racism and xenophobia in any form?"

At issue are comments that participants on the TV reality show "Celebrity Big Brother" made to and about Shilpa Shetty, a popular Indian film actress.

Over the past few days the 31-year-old Shetty has broken down in tears on the program when other contestants have made cutting remarks about her accent and skin color, and expressed other remarks considered to be derogatory. She says she is being racially abused and the story has appeared on the front pages of Indian and British newspapers. In India, the controversy has prompted recollections of British colonial rule.

One viewer expressed his concern. "They should not have said such things against Indians. The issue was discussed in their parliament, which is a good thing. The discrimination taking place against Indians for a long time is still prevalent today."

In Britain's Parliament, lawmaker Keith Vaz forced Prime Minister Tony Blair to comment on the controversy. "I have not seen the particular program in question and therefore cannot comment on it, but of course, I would agree entirely with the principle he has outlined which is that we should oppose racism in all its forms," said Blair.

The Indian government has asked Britain to investigate the alleged racism against Shilpa Shetty.

Each installment of "Celebrity Big Brother" runs three weeks, and during that time the program's participants live together and agree to have their interactions televised. They also decide who must leave until only one remains. That contestant wins a prize.

The contestants are cut off from the outside world and are unaware of the current controversy surrounding the Bollywood actress. The controversy has generated about 30,000 complaints to British TV regulators. And the main sponsor of the show, mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse, has suspended its support of the program.

The program's broadcaster, Channel 4, has denied the racism charges, saying there had been a "cultural and class clash" among the show's contestants.