A woman journalist at an event to promote Salman Khan's new film 'Tubelight', asked a question that not only momentarily stumped a child actor but also angered many for its racist tone. During his interaction with the press, 5-year-old Matin Rey Tangu delighted everyone with his antics.
The boy, completely at ease in front of a large audience, would repeatedly lean towards Khan to whisper in his ears, get up from his seat, and answer questions with a cheeky wit that the audience simply loved. When it was her turn, journalist Lipika Verma asked Matin "Aap pehli baar India aye ho? (Is this your first time in India?)"
"Kya?" asked the boy from Arunachal Pradesh, obviously not understanding the question. Realising her mistake, the journalist is heard rephrasing "aap pehli baar Mumbai aye ho? (Is this your first time in Mumbai?)" Since then a lot of publication, including Huffpost India, highlighted the inherent racism in Verma's question. The journalist faced a barrage of shocked and angry reactions.
Facing trolling on social platforms, Verma defended herself by saying that it was just a slip of tongue, and that racism is a very serious issue that should not be sensationalised by the media.
"I was aware of the fact that he's a northeastern child...but I was just pondering over something and it slipped (my mind) and I asked 'are you coming to India for the first time'? My fellow journalists immediately corrected me. I had heard that he (Matin) had gone shopping in Mumbai and I thought I will write about that," Verma said, implying that she accidentally said India instead of Mumbai.
When Salman deliberately repeated her earlier question, despite Verma piping up that she meant Mumbai, Matin said: "India? Hum India per hi baithta hai, toh India par aayega hi kaise? (I live in India. How will I 'come' to India?)
The audience broke into amused laughter at Matin's simple honesty and witty response. However, it's an issue that blew up soon after into a racism debate. Racism towards the people from the north eastern states is deeply entrenched in Indian society. They often face racist slurs regarding their physical features and in some cases, even physical violence.
While Verma could well have made a genuine mistake, she did repeat the question — is this your first time in India — twice before Salman and those around her intervened. Matin himself asked 'kya' (what) twice..
However, Verma said that the intent behind her question wasn't racist. "Don't presume or read between the lines."