US diplomat regrets her ‘dirty, dark’ remark

August 13th, 2011 - 8:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Aug 13 (IANS) A diplomat at the US consulate here Saturday expressed her deep regrets over her remark - “I became dirty and dark, like a Tamilian” - that has stirred a major controversy.

Vice Consul of the US Consulate Maureen Chao made the remark at a function Friday at SRM University, around 40 km from here.

The US Consulate has also termed her comment as inappropriate.

However, students and officials of the university maintain there was nothing racial about the US official’s remark.

In a statement put up on its website, the US Consulate said: “Yesterday (Friday) at a Study Abroad Orientation Program at SRM University, Vice Consul Maureen Chao gave a speech describing positive memories from her own study abroad experiences in India 23 years ago.”

“During the speech, Ms. Chao made an inappropriate comment. Ms. Chao deeply regrets if her unfortunate remarks offended anyone, as that was certainly not her intent.”

Chao, while narrating her experience in India in 1989 when she came to the country on a semester programme, spoke about her 72-hour train journey from New Delhi to Orissa.

She had the audience in splits while recalling her experience in exchanging her lower berth in the train compartment for an upper berth with a fellow passenger.

Chao said when she came out of the train after the journey, her skin got dusty and dirty and, after a pause, added that “I became dirty and dark, like a Tamilian”, landing herself into an avoidable controversy.

While non-Tamil students at the SRM University applauded her remarks, many others were upset.

“As Secretary Clinton recently noted, the US-India partnership is based on our shared values of democracy, liberty, and respect for religious and cultural diversity. The US Consulate in Chennai and the US Mission in India are committed to upholding these shared values,” said the consulate statement.

Officials and students at SRM University, however, are blaming the media for making a mountain out of a mole hill.

“The US official was narrating her own travel experience. After 72 hours of journey, she said, she was dark like a Tamilian. I am also a Tamilian and I am dark, it is a fact of life. The remark was meant to be jovial,” M. Ponnavaikko, vice chancellor of SRM University, told IANS.

“Everybody at the auditorium felt that it was meant to be a jovial comment. It is a normal student behaviour to applaud if one group is commented upon,” T.V. Gopal, dean, International Relations, told IANS.

“The US official meant that remark as a joke and not to be taken seriously and be hurt. However, as a diplomat it was inappropriate on her part to make such a remark,” a Tamilian student told IANS, preferring anonymity.

Another engineering student, declining to be named, told IANS: “I am also a Tamilian. It was a jovial comment and not to be taken seriously. It is wrong on the part of the media to give racial colour to such remarks and blow it up.”

“Certainly there is nothing racial about the official’s comment. Students did hoot when she made that remark. But that is normal student behaviour,” a student from north India told IANS, on condition of anonymity.

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