Cheerleaders called 'niggers' - Details of racial abuse at Mohali match out in the open

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  • Published 22.05.08

Mumbai, May 22: Ellesha Newton and Sherinne Anderson, the two cheerleaders who have alleged racial discrimination at an IPL match, revealed today that the “N-word” was used against them by an employee of Wizcraft International, an event management company.

Wizcraft, which was at the time handling the cheerleaders for actress Preity Zinta’s Kings XI Punjab, has called the allegation “baseless”.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Ellesha said in the presence of Sherinne: “He used the ‘N-word’ and said the crowd doesn’t like girls with dark skins.”

In a strange, if tragic, coincidence, Ellesha’s mother, Sonya, is a racial equality officer in the UK. “She ensures people from different ethnic groups and nationalities are not discriminated against,” she explained with a wry smile.

If Ellesha would not use the word, when called at Portsmouth her mother said: “What is especially disgusting is that they used the word ‘nigger’.”

Standing at 5ft11, the statuesque Ellesha, who started learning to dance at the age of two, recalled how that person had stopped the two of them from going up to the podium at Mohali before the match started on April 19. “This guy put his arm in front of me and stopped me. ‘You are not allowed in… go back’, he said.”

Both girls dismissed the argument that the “crowd doesn’t like girls with dark skins”. Sherinne added: “The crowd was brilliant and cheered us a lot.”

The girls were allowed back at the intervention of Jorge Aldana, the director of Fierce Performance Production which had brought them over from London as part of a team of 12. But after the second match, their contract was terminated.

Ellesha, who has big, expressive eyes, is a quiet and disciplined girl who keeps a little pink diary, to which she refers every once in a while to refresh her memory. “I am the more sensitive of the two, and I was glad that I was wearing dark glasses. (But) that day, Sherinne was more moved. I could see she was crying.”

The athletic Sherinne is the more vivacious of the two, sporting a Victoria ‘Posh’ Beckham-like long-in-front-short-at-the-back hairstyle. “I guess it was the mixture of embarrassment and anger. The crowd was already in, we were on the pitch, and suddenly in front of all those people we were asked to leave. And because of the way we looked,” she said.

That was the state in which Aldana, who held a news conference today with the two girls to tell their story that The Telegraph had revealed on May 20, found them. “I told them (Wizcraft people) that their attitude was wrong. It equalled an Indian being called a Paki in the West,” he said.

The nightmare haunts them still. Ellesha said: “I was working for a choreographer yesterday or the day before, and every time he looked at me or spoke to Aldana, I had a feeling that he’s going to say that ‘she can’t stay for she is dark’.”

Aldana, who takes pains to make it clear that his relations with Preity are cordial and that she called him after the news became public, said his company was trying to get the girls work in Bollywood.

“I did not put in a written complaint (about the incident) because I thought it will be amicably sorted out and the girls will receive an apology, but no,” he said.

The girls were too shocked to think about lodging one and did not know whom to complain to. The human rights commission is the body to which a complaint such as this can be made. “Now that Wizcraft is denying the incident and making us sound like liars, we will like to make our point,” Sherinne said.

Wizcraft had said yesterday: “We would like to clarify that these are baseless and false allegations that have been made against us…. At no point has the company endorsed or supported discrimination against individuals on the basis of gender or nationality.”

The girls do not recall anyone else from Wizcraft having discriminated against them during rehearsals or at any point other than the incident at Mohali. But there might have been an undercurrent of bias.

“There was another girl in our team of mixed descent. Her mother is from Barbados and her father from Mauritius. Everyone kept asking her whether she was Indian. She was with me on my podium, but then during rehearsals she was removed to another podium, so that all of us who have coloured skin were divided,” Ellesha said.

It’s not that they are entire strangers to racial bias. “Back home there is an underlying feeling and, maybe, I have had to work harder for everything.”

Ellesha recalled that her recruitment for a show in China was cancelled because the client wanted something different. “But never have I been so discriminated against.”

Sherinne felt the same way. She remembered one instance in London when she had a feeling she was not part of a dance because of the colour of her skin.

Ellesha’s mother said that 90 per cent of the people she worked with were Indians. “(Seeing) how offended Indians were when Shilpa Shetty was discriminated against on Big Brother, why do they feel that others can’t be offended too?” Sonya said.