Oprah Winfrey’s India special that premiered earlier this year has been criticized for being “snobbish” and “ignorant.”
Oprah visited India in January to shoot a special for her show Oprah’s Next Chapter. Responses to Oprah’s take on India in the special, which was premiered simultaneously on both the Discovery Channel and The Lifestyle Channel, have been rather negative. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Oprah visited various places including Mumbai slum, the Jaipur Literary Fesitval, a widow’s home, and lastly the Taj Mahal. Oprah spent time with families in the lower slums as well as mingle with upper class milionaires at a Bollywood party that was hosted in her honor by leading Mumbai socialite Parmeshwar Godrej.
One of the biggest criticisms about Oprah happened while Oprah was sitting down for a meal that an upscale Mumbai family had laid out for her. Oprah asks her hosts “I heard some Indian people eat with their hands still?” This comment spurred a lot of negative feedback. CNN-IBN posted a comment on their website by Rituparna Chatterjee, a displeased Indian “who eats with their hands.” This comment states:
“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. ”
Chatterjee also questions Oprah on what she expected when going to India saying,
“Poverty is an inseparable part of India, you say, and seek out the human stories that make the grind bearable. But which India have you come looking for? The one that shops at state-of-the-art supermarkets and vacations abroad or the one whining about their misery in tiny holes of homes with LCD televisions on the walls? The India that scrapes by with $200 a month but sends its children to subsidized government schools to pick up fluent English? The India of your press information – fascinating, with its many-headed goddesses and grimy, naked children playing by roadside hovels – or the India of the future – an economic superpower that looms large outside the range of an average American’s myopic vision? ”
Rajyasree Sen, a writer for an online news site Firstpost.com, also negatively critiques the show by saying that the two episode series was “myopic, unaware, ignorant and gauche. This was Middle America at its best worst.”