Top Gear appears to “mock” Indian culture and reinforce cultural stereotypes

The Indian High Commission here has protested to the BBC over a programme on India that it said was “replete with cheap jibes and tasteless humour and lacked the cultural sensitivity that we expect from the BBC.”

Top Gear, a popular motoring programme watched by millions of viewers, is presented by Jeremy Clarkson, one of the “star” presenters who has been previously involved in a series of controversies, including allegations of racism made by, among others, the Chinese and the Mexicans.

‘Light-hearted road trip'

When the BBC sought permission to film a special edition of Top Gear, it described the programme as a “light-hearted road trip” whose “key ingredients will be [India's] beautiful scenery, busy city scenes, local charm and colour within these locations, areas to illustrate the local car culture that exists in India.”

The High Commission, however, was shocked that the finished product shown over Christmas bore little resemblance to the promised format.

Instead, it appeared to “mock” Indian culture and reinforce cultural stereotypes about India.

India House said the BBC was in “breach” of the agreement on the basis of which it was given permission to film in India.

It demanded that the BBC make “amends, especially to assuage the hurt sentiments of a large number of people.” Given India's long and “valued” relationship with the BBC, it was “extremely disappointed” and felt let down.

The High Commission was reportedly deluged with angry phone calls and letters from Indian viewers. The BBC admitted that it had received 23 complaints and said it would respond directly to the High Commission in “due course.”

Labour MP Keith Vaz called for a “swift apology” from the BBC and Mr. Clarkson.

Spoof ‘trade mission'

The 90-minute programme, dressed up as a spoof British “trade mission” to India, opens with a scene outside Number 10 Downing Street, purporting to show Prime Minister David Cameron waving to Mr. Clarkson and his team as they leave for India. It appeared to suggest misleadingly that the programme had the Prime Minister's “blessings.”

The scenes to which viewers have objected include one wherein Mr. Clarkson shows off a car with a lavatory fitted on its roof and says: “This is perfect for India…”

In another, he is stripped to his underpants as he shows off a trouser press to Delhi's “good and the great” at a party, saying it had a huge market potential in India.

Banners found offensive

Viewers also objected to banners reading “British IT is good for your company” and “Eat English muffins” that the Clarkson team attached to a train. When the carriages split, the messages become obscene.

Some, however, said the Indians were “over-reacting” and that in fact the programme mocked the British government for its claims to promote trade with India.

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