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'They should have just asked for 12 blondes'
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May 23, 2008 15:54 IST
For the two cheerleaders from London [Images] who have levelled charges of racism at event marketing company Wizcraft, their experience may have left them shaken but they insist it is not an "indictment" of India. Both girls claimed it was an "isolated incident" and that they are yet to experience racism elsewhere in India.

"I don't believe India is racist," Ellesha Newton, one of the girls, said in a matter-of-fact manner.

Newton and Sherinne Anderson, who alleged that they were asked to leave the Mohali ground without performing on April 19 because their "skin is too dark", addressed the press in Mumbai on Thursday along with Jorge Aldana, director of Fierce Performance Production, which employs the girls as dancers. Wizcraft has been hired by actress Preity Zinta [Images] for her Indian Premier League [Images] team, the Punjab Kings XI.

After being removed from the grounds, Newton told that a Wizcraft employee used the highly derogatory term "nigger" as part of his explanation for why the girls couldn't perform. "Of course," she explained, "tears soon followed. I was in a state of shock." When asked if there were witnesses, both Newton and Anderson answered in the affirmative. Not only did fellow teammates see and hear the dispute, they said, but members of the crowd also overhead the offensive comments and saw them sobbing.

"It was our second day in India, and our first match," recalled Newton. "Everything was fine the night before, when we had practice." But the next day, when the girls took the field before the Yuvraj Singh-led Kings XI in the April 19 match against the Chennai Super Kings, they were "asked to leave" the grounds prematurely. When they asked why, Wizcraft employees, they alleged, told them that their skin colour was "too dark", they said.

When Aldana found the girls upset, he became incensed, and demanded that they be allowed to perform. Anderson said, "My heart wasn't really in it after that. But Jorge wanted us to, so we did." Newton added, "I was horrified (to go back on the grounds)."

"They should have just asked for 12 blondes," Aldana said grimly. "I feel horrible that they had to experience this. This sort of situation should never occur again."

For both girls, it's their second trip to India. Earlier, they had come to dance in Bollywood films, including Akshay Kumar's [Images] Singh is King.

Sabbas Joseph, director, Wizcraft, is incredulous at the girls' claims. "It's a simple attempt to extort money; it's been going on for the last two days" he told "The allegations are baseless. If not, why has it taken over a month for them to come forward? They're manipulating the media."

"It's not about the money," Aldana countered, dismissing the extortion charge. "We just want an apology. I've been SMSing and calling the directors (of Wizcraft) all day. It's complete disrespect." While Joseph insisted he felt sorry for the two girls, he said, "their manager is to blame," before again reiterating that no racially motivated incident took place on the 19th. "We're a reputable company and we have employees trained to deal with international performers," he said.

Aldana said the contract he had with Wizcraft was breached, and that the girls were supposed to be flown home to England [Images]. "Now I have these girls here in India," he mentioned, adding that they will have to foot their own bill home. He alleged that Wizcraft being a much larger company than his, is trying to use superior resources to avoid honouring the agreement.

Preity Zinta was not available for comment, but Aldana claimed to be in touch with her. "She's been very supportive," he said. "She's looking into this. Again, we want everyone to know that this is not about India or Indians. We love India. This is about a single company."

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