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Oprah In Hot Water Over India Special

by Sergio
July 24, 2012 12:38 PM
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It's been a while since Oprah Winfrey found herself embroiled in a controversy and now this time it looks like she has a whole country upset with her.

The problem stems from her recent Oprah's Next Chapter two part special Journey Through India chronicling her trip to India this past January, a trip that Oprah was later quoted as saying that it was "her greatest life experience"

However the show has been met with criticism from the Indian media saying that it repesented a destorted view of the country.

In the show Oprah traveled across the country visting famous sites, Indian celebrities, rich and poor families, Munbai slums, festivals and even attended a Bollywood party in her honor, However a visit with one well-to-do family in Mumbai caused some ire. During dinner Oprah asked her guests: “I heard some Indian people eat with their hands still?” 

That enraged Rituparna Chatterjee,  of the CNN-IBN network who wrote on the network's website: “Oprah, your comment about eating with the hand is really not that big a deal to us; we are used to gross Western ignorance regarding our ancient country. But as a responsible public figure about to air a show that will be beamed across the world, you should have done your homework. Using our hands to eat is a well established tradition and a fact none of us are ashamed of. Our economic distinction has nothing to do with it. A  millionaire here eats the same way a pauper does. You have been to Asian nations. You should know that. ”

Another attack on the show came from writer Rajyasree Sen who said the show was “...myopic, unaware, ignorant and gauche. This was Middle America at its best worst.”

Sen was especially upset with Oprah's tour of the Mumbia slums where she met a family of five living in cramped quarters.

Sen wrote: “And the slum is where Oprah’s 'oh-my-god-how wonderfully-pathetically-quaint-to-be-so-poor' avatar stepped out in full glory. .. Now I’m not surprised that Oprah was surprised to see an entire family living in such tiny quarters. Although I’m sure she could find cramped ghettos in the U.S... She did look for a shower head in the toilet and seem amazed to hear they bathed with a bucket. And she marveled at how all their clothes fit onto a small shelf. She pointedly avoided any mention of the massive LCD TV which adorned their wall. That would have killed the sob story." 

And it doesn't stop there folks.

Newspaper writer Dainik Bhaskar wrote a piece attacking the show under the headline: “Snobbish Oprah Mocks India.”

In it Bhaskar wrote that: “In a typical American snooty style, the talk show queen tried to portray a superficial ‘sob story’. Oprah was anything but a good guest when she went around the small room interrogating the family members about their ‘poor’ living style and ‘miserly’ living.”

And wait there's more

India Real Time, which is considered to be the Indian Wall Street Journal,  published a negative op-ed piece about the show: “The smell of incense (tick), the sari fitting (tick), the aspirations of slum dwellers (tick), and the glitz of Bollywood (tick). Let’s not forget arranged marriages and the fact that Indians, even rich ones, “still” eat with their hands (tick, tick). India as Westerners imagine it, one stereotype at a time."

However, there were those who defended Oprah's show saying that it reflected reality in India: One online poster commented that:

“The views Oprah presented are cliched BUT TRUE! I am an Indian who lives in the U.S... To many middle and upper class families, the India Oprah presents simply does not exist. I was shocked to speak to members of my family and they denied that people are dying of malnutrition and starvation below their very ivory towers. Oprah showed what she saw in India. What’s wrong with that? If we can’t clean up our act, then we have no business feeling offended,” 

Did you see the show? What did you think?

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  • d rosenberg | November 3, 2012 5:05 AMReply

    It is interesting the politics at work here. Who has the right to say what?? and when. Even Oprah is not We are in a huge world of cross assessing cultures and behaviors. More complex than ever, darned fascinating.

  • R P Singh | August 4, 2012 10:40 AMReply

    People like Oprah are actually mental slaves and are so much enslaved by the culture, language and religion of their enslavers that they are unable to comprehend their own slavery.

    Oprah's fore fathers were black slaves, brought to US (or whatever) by white masters. The whites masters purchased theses slaves from arab enslavers, who captured black people from deeps of Africa, chained them like animals and brought them to coastal African trade centers where slaves were sold. (

    People like Oprah's fore fathers in USA were slaves, and when freed, had been so much enslaved psychologically that they abandoned their culture, language, religion and ancestry to adopt the western (USA's) culture, language, religion, psyche, mannerism etc. primarily because they considered whites superior to them selves i.e. the blacks considered themselves inferior to whites and adopted everything that whites did or considered good. They did not have the courage to fight back and establish any thing of their own.

    You can find a lot of such people in India too. In fact, in past 2000 years, a large number of population/culture groups have abandoned their own culture, religion and language considering themselves to be inferior to their conquerors and have adopted their conquerors' thought and psychology. Such examples can be seen across Europe, North America, South America, Middle East, South East Asia etc.

    Oprah's forefathers ate with hands, used language of their native land, followed culture of their native tribe and worshiped their 'natural' gods.

    My comment on Oprah's blabbering is that she is a copy of her enslavers and incapable of independent though or natural analysis, while she may be good (I doubt that) for the culture, religion, language, political and social systems of her enslavers; she is unfit to comment on our culture.

  • bondgirl | August 4, 2012 12:15 PM

    I think the rat meat you ate this morning had rabies, and it's affecting your brain. She asked a question in an effort to seek understanding, she didn't comment on your culture. Funny how you can't use her present history to strip her down, you only go 150 years back in time. Is it because her biography makes yours look pathetic in comparison?

  • Bren | July 25, 2012 8:58 PMReply

    This appears to be completely overblown. At some point in one's fame if you are black, you can do no right.

  • Katie | July 27, 2012 5:11 PM

    I completely agree!

  • Got Chill? | July 25, 2012 7:53 PMReply

    The tone of these criticisms is really off putting. I guess there are such things as "dumb questions". The family didn't seem offended when she asked the question so...yeah. There is a better way to criticize without sounding like a total bitch, sir.

  • Orville | July 25, 2012 5:51 PMReply

    I will have to see the special on India but I commend Oprah for showing that India has a serious caste and class problems too.I sure hope Oprah talks about India's racist CASTE SYSTEM which still exists! It seems from the negative quotes the rich Indians probably from higher castes don't want to the rest of the world to know the caste system still exists.In India, the caste system is so ingrained that it is hard for Indians that are born in a LOWER CASTE and CLASS to move up the social ladder. I sure hope Oprah also discusses the untouchables people born to be viewed as the lowest of the low in India. The untouchables encounter so much oppression and discrimination in India.

  • Floyd Webb | July 25, 2012 11:31 AMReply

    It was an ignint comment and a very American one at that.
    SOME average Americans often travel with closed mind.
    No one is obligated to kiss the ass of a rapidly declining and discredited empire.

    It is most unfortunate that some if us think we deserve some extra props SIMPLY CAUSE we
    Americans. As individuals show respect to the world and they will show it back.

  • noel | July 25, 2012 5:04 AMReply

    When it comes to third world the sob story and stereotypes are never ignored by the western media. I like that oprah didn't ignore the sterotypes. I love that india press are on her throat for that. Good grief.

  • donnadara | July 24, 2012 6:25 PMReply

    I saw the special. I didn't see any LCD TV on the wall. A family of five lived in an area about the size of an office cubicle. The American poor don't live like that. The sleep, eat, and do everything in the same area. The truth hurts. Read Katherine Boo's, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers to learn about poverty and corruption in India. I notice the severe poverty of the widows who are routinely cast out of the families and forced to pray all day and live on a handful of rice for a living wasn't addressed, because they couldn't even argue with that. If you didn't see the show, I don't think you should comment.

  • C A Paswan | August 4, 2012 10:44 AM

    Americans print dollars to buy from other countries, Indians have to work to earn dollars to purchase from other countries.

  • Saharah | July 24, 2012 7:44 PM

    There are Americans who live like the "poor" shown in the show. India, as America and other countries has the full range of super rich, super poor, and everything in between. When Oprah was in Australia, she didn't cover the plight of the indigenous people there. I think the board of tourism in these countries has a lot to do with what is covered.!

  • ABP | July 24, 2012 4:44 PMReply

    Yeah someone instigated the "conflict" they know how their country is so that's why we seem them coming over here in droves?! She's a cash cow for some people who want attention. When you're on the Oprah show you go places. People sometimes take a different route though if they can't get in, over, under, and throw slander and threats....

  • joi | July 24, 2012 4:34 PMReply

    I don't get why they are upset about the truth. If eating with your hands is a well established traditions why are they being so defensvie about it? I think they're more embarrassed about how their people are still living in 2012, but a lot people around the world are living the same way. Hey you invited her there, man up and accept your traditions.

  • sarah | July 25, 2012 3:07 PM

    Eating with your hands is not an unusual thing to make a snooty remark about either! Arnt burgers,hot dogs,etc. not eaten with your hands? Or do you use special cutlery for that? There is a lot more to India than the slums,but sadly even such a well-traveled,global "icon" was ignorant enough to not understand. what should we expect from the average Westerner? Your loss.

  • i see their point | July 24, 2012 6:29 PM

    Actually, it seems that they are offended because of HOW the question is asked and its implications. Her question comes across as though this cultural norm is something to overcome, or that they are somehow behind, and unaware that the rest of the world doesn't engage in such primitive behavior especially Oprah's world.

    The criticism is sound and relevant. Oprah should have known better, and she comes across ignorant to people who actually understand what she is doing.

  • yentapishala | July 24, 2012 2:48 PMReply

    Oprah, an African woman has forgotten or doesn't know most of the Africa eats with their hands.
    After all fried chicken taste better when eaten with bare hands!

  • Twinkie | July 24, 2012 8:29 PM

    Well, atleast we don't wipe our a** with are left*hand, maybe
    that's why most Indians prefer not to shake hands; using their
    lefthand! "Ouch!"

  • Lvfg | July 24, 2012 1:59 PMReply

    half of the cultures of the world eat with there hands. so!

  • Lvflg | July 24, 2012 2:00 PM

    half of the cultures of the world eat with their hands. so!

  • Ashley | July 24, 2012 1:40 PMReply

    Black people get just as offended over seemingly "small" things like stereotypes and image too, and wonder why whites/others don't understand their position. *shrugs*

  • Ashley | July 24, 2012 3:35 PM

    I don't want to write a dissertation about what should be obvious in my comment. But since clarification is needed....

    As an African American I understand where Oprah's critics are coming from because we have had similar battles in regards to image. I also understand where Oprah--or anyone who is questioning/curious about another culture--is coming from.

    Oprah is coming from the point of view of her audience, that's what a talk show host does. Comments such as "typical American snooty style", "Western ignorance", "myopic, unaware, ... gauche".... Are those not stereotypes of "typical" Americans?

    In a nutshell one should not become easily offended by a person who doesn't have a full understanding of one's culture because there is a chance you don't fully understand another culture as you do your own.

    What you may think someone else should already know about your culture may not be the case. So calm down, take a chill pill and educate...respectfully.

  • other song | July 24, 2012 1:52 PM

    what are you talking about and how does it relate to the issue at hand?

  • Amari | July 24, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    Often it seems those who speak on India don't want anything but the Bollywood ideal, and when someone shows the slums and begins asking questions, then they get offended.

    Though no doubt Oprah is a smart business woman, is she not allowed to have curiosity about other cultures? I mean, you can learn but so much from a book, and getting to ask questions of those who are actually living the life makes more sense for you get a more genuine answer.

    Not to say Oprah isn't slightly shady at times, but even with Slumdog Millionaire they were complaining about India's portrayal.

  • sarah | July 25, 2012 3:15 PM

    That shows you still don't get it,do you? You still see just the slums in a country and act as if you know the country in and out. A global icon who has visited so many nations, comes to India and immediately rushes to the slums to get persons who are "living the life" live,with their portrayal of the classic sob story intact. Cause that's what you do,right? Its not America so this nation has to be miserable right?

  • Doug | July 24, 2012 1:14 PMReply

    This guy is mad over her asking about them still eating with their hands. Good God she asked a question.

  • Ash | July 25, 2012 3:14 PM

    Point.Missed.By you.

  • phil | July 24, 2012 1:13 PMReply

    I haven't watched the it yet but I caught a snippet of when she was in the home with the family of five. Seems to be a valid criticism. An outsider has to be careful with the image he/she presents of another culture because he/she tends to view it through the prism of stereotypes.

  • Said in Los Angeles | July 24, 2012 1:05 PMReply

    Very well written. I love the flow of the guy who commented on the poverty stricken family of 5 living in a cramp quarters yet has a big LCD screen in the living room. ....

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