Television

Ofcom registers plaint against 'Joanna Lumley's India' as 'materially misleading'

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MUMBAI: The UK's communications regulator Ofcom recently registered a complaint against "Joanna Lumley's India" to be 'materially misleading'. It has been registered under the "Complaints assessed, not investigated" section of Ofcom. Ofcom has decided not to pursue complaints recorded between 1 and 20 August 2017 because they did not raise issues warranting investigation. "Complaints assessed" fall under the procedures for investigating breaches of content standards for television and radio.

TV show 'Joanna Lumley's India' has been alleged in a section of the UK media for airbrushing history. Lumley had returned to the place of her birth to celebrate India and walk in her ‘family’s footsteps’. However, her show alleged overlooked British oppression in the former colony. In the final instalment of Lumley’s three-part travelogue adventure across India, she explored Rajasthan, Delhi and the mountainous North West ending in Kashmir, the place of her birth.

Joanna Lumley’s India, shown on ITV, promise to “celebrate” modern India and “walk in my family’s footsteps”. Within minutes of the beginning of the first episode, there was reportedly an omission. Walking through Kolkata, then called Calcutta, Lumley notices the British-inspired architecture. She however fails to mention that the first Anglican cathedral on the subcontinent St John’s Church was built by James Agg, her great-grandfather and the first of her ancestors to arrive in India in 1777. She probably is unaware of the lineage, the Guardian reported.

But. it was not hard to trace it. Or, it could be because of those four chilling words -- British East India Company – the trading corporation turned “aggressive colonial power”, as the historian William Dalrymple pointed out, the activities of which brought the word “loot” (from the Hindustani 'lut') into the English dictionary, and from which Agg may have made his fortune.

The Brit EIC was not just a group of merchants, but a military force that plundered India throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. In Bengal, the first of the regions to fall to the British Raj, the immediate outcome was full pockets for the Westerners and poverty for the citizens. Indians were stopped from trading, were forced off their land by harsh taxes, and saw their world-renowned textile industry destroyed. 

The poverty of this great city, Lumley says, was down to “conflict and politics”. Or, did she say: “conquest and policies” – such as the 50 per cent tax on income, the extraction of which was routinely helped along by torture. Defaulters could expect to be caged and left in the burning sun. Or, at worst, to quote Edmund Burke’s 1795 testimony in the Parliament about the horrors inflicted upon Bengali women, “they were dragged out, naked and exposed to the public view, and scourged before all the people ... they put the nipples of the women into the sharp edges of split bamboos and tore them from their bodies,” the Guardian wrote.

As Lumley’s camera crew panned over a child beggar, it began to feel like the presenter was in denial. Take the segment on the Dalits, or “untouchables”. It is hard to imagine, purrs a moralising Lumley, how “this modern country” can “tolerate such discrimination”. Yet, as Shashi Tharoor outlined in his new book "Inglorious Empire," the British helped to entrench caste prejudice, giving a final shape to it as a means of control. "We had castes," Tharoor says, "but we did not have the caste system."

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