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Oprah’s India Special Under Fire

Oprah Winfrey
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Oprah may be the "Queen of Media," but she's still susceptible to the backlash that sometimes comes with the title. She recently documented her trip to India this past January for an upcoming two-part OWN special, "Journey Through India." Considering this trip to be "her greatest life experience," Oprah visited a wide array of sites, festivals, parties, regions, and individuals, including a well-off family in Mumbai. During a dinner with the family, Oprah asked her hosts whether "some people eat with their hands still." In another segment, Oprah is seen visiting a family of five living in cramped quarters. Herein lies the contention that has sparked criticism from many.

India Real Time, a highly read and influential newspaper in the country, published a negative Op-Ed about the special that read,"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." 

Rituparna Chatterjee of the Indian network CNN-IBN posted the following 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."

Oprah's feedback was not all bad, however. An Indian US resident left a comment online, stating: “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.”

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