It’s been a few weeks now, since Esha Gupta has been receiving backlash for her comments on Arsenal’s Nigerian footballer Alexander Iwobi. A few weeks back, Esha Gupta had shared a screen shot of her WhatsApp chat with a friend on her Insta story, where the actress’ friend called Iwobi “gorilla faced” and said “evolution stopped for him.” Esha replied to her friend saying, “Haha... I don’t know why they don’t bench him more.” As soon as the actress posted this, netizens took screen grabs in no time and started trolling her as racist. Even after deleting the story in no time, Gupta had posted an apology on Twitter, which read, "Guys I am sorry you thought it was racist. Was bad on my part, being a sports lover. Sorry guys, forgive the stupidity. It was our frustration during the game. Sorry as I didn't realise it directed towards racism. We laughed over the spur of the moment which was the game results. I have been the victim of racism before. This is not something I am proud of. It was a fault. Sorry guys!”

Now, while speaking to Bombay Times, Esha Gupta broke into tears and has revealed how much the backlash has affected her. Starting with the details of her WhatsApp with her friend, she said, “The Arsenal game was on and the frustration of it was being discussed on a group chat on WhatsApp. We all do it when we watch a crucial game in any sport. Even while watching cricket, we say things like, ‘Kya yaar, dhang se khel.” My friends were saying something, I was laughing at it because we were discussing other things, too. The only thing that I wrote was, “Why don’t they bench him?” I am very passionate about sports and Arsenal has been my life.”

Further, getting involved in the conversation, she said, “I didn’t make those comments. I mentioned the benching. My mistake was the ‘haha’, but honestly, when you are discussing hundred things on a group chat while the game is on, you don’t tend to read each and every comment that’s written. It was all about the frustration of the game, and my ‘haha’ was in response to that emotion. Call it dumbness, ignorance or me not thinking it through, it was a spur of the moment reaction. I really didn’t know the repercussions that the word (gorilla) could spark. In India when we use the term (monkey for instance), we don’t look at it as a derogatory word. Bandar toh hum masti mein bol dete hai. In a playful way we say things like, “Yeh toh bandar lag raha hai.” It’s never used as a cuss word. If I have to abuse someone, I’ll perhaps use a Punjabi gaali. No one ever uses (Gorilla) as a gaali. I really didn’t know that (it has a racial slur). When the backlash began, at that time I didn’t know, ke log kis baat pe bhadak rahe hai. So my first reaction was ‘sorry if you thought it was racist’.”

Talking about her apology being half-hearted, she told the leading daily, “You write better worded apologies if there’s even remotely something in your heart that tells you that you may have done something wrong. It was a spontaneous tweet. If I had any hate or negative thought behind posting that chat, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Main jaan boojhkar khulley mein kyun bolungi ke main racist hoon? People should think about it. Is it even logical? My first apology wasn’t a planned one. I wrote what I thought at that moment. All the sports fanatics across the world, who were quick to label me as ‘racist’ should know that even I am a person of colour. Nothing comes easy to us! I would be the last person to do it to someone. The word racist has affected me the most. It’s a hate crime! How do I explain or make someone believe that I am not a racist? They will believe what they want to. I feel helpless. It took me two days to realise what happened. I can face hate for something that I know I have done.”

Esha also revealed that she has sent apology letter to Iowbi. “I have sent an apology letter via email to Iwobi directly, as well as the club (a copy of which is with BT). There was no point reaching out to him on Twitter. I wanted the statement to reach him first and I have done that. The person who is affected by it the most should know that I am really sorry. I hope to say sorry to him in person as well, because my love for sports is so deep that I will be the last person to disrespect a sportsman on the basis of his colour,” she said.

Talking about being the Arsenal’s brand ambassador, she said, “I am not Arsenal’s brand ambassador. I am a female celeb who follows football. My dad follows football. I was 13 when I saw Arsenal play at the Highbury stadium (home of Arsenal FC, till 2006). The biggest highlight of my life was meeting Thierry Henry. He is the reason I started following football. I love the sport and Arsenal has always been my favourite team. If I had an issue with someone’s nationality, I wouldn’t have followed club football; instead, I would have just followed countries and their national teams. Be it actors or sportsmen, we can’t call ourselves global citizens if we were just pro this and pro that.”

Further, the actress said that she has always been against racism, she told BT, “I was always against ‘gorapan bechna hai’. I am not your gori chitti heroine and I am proud of who I am. Yes, I have heard people say things like “yeh Punjabi hoke bhi kaali hai.” Maybe, we use these terms lightly, but we don’t always look at it in derogatory fashion as India is so diverse. We grow up among people of different colour and we celebrate our diversity. Are you saying we don’t face racism when we travel abroad? Things do change once you become a celeb, but you still face it. Tell me one person who hasn’t faced it. I was 17 years old when I faced it in Europe. We were in a restaurant and despite repeated requests, the waiters refused to attend to us. They kept looking through us as if we didn’t exist. Everyone calls us ‘curry’ internationally. Even we face it, so why would I do it to someone else? The picture that is being painted is wrong. Why accuse me of something I have not done? That’s not our upbringing.”

Images Source: instagram/eshagupta

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