The curious case of Indians down under..

Having lived in Melbourne for seven years there is one thing that is absolutely certain about Aussies, they are an inward looking society. An average Aussie loves his beer , his barbecue , his footy / cricket or sometimes both. They are drawn to the surf and the sea, as crystal blue lagoons engulf the country from all sides. It is difficult to converse with an average Aussie beyond the above. Compare this with the average Indian who can converse largely about anything under the sun. Sitting in India, the average Indian would know about world cultures , bondi beach, surf , sand , Bret Lee’s rock numbers , cricket , Shane Warne’s escapades , Kylie Minogue’s adventures, politics and a lot more than what is happening within his own domain. There is a marked difference in the intellectual levels between the two.The average Aussie’s opinion about Indians are yet to evolve fully. They have until very recently perceived us to be  with long knotted hair, dirty long nails sitting on the banks of the Ganges in deep meditation or performing some great Indian rope trick with or without the company of a snake charmer. All of a sudden this perception has been erased and replaced with the smart Indian in call centers and IT companies making waves, talking immaculate English and taking Aussie jobs back to India. There is without a doubt frustration. All developing countries need to learn to cope with their individual frustrations in a collective manner with changes in economic scenarios. Australia is rather slowly learning to do so.

The average Indian in Australia is an all-rounder who can acclimatize to any pitch, ward off bouncers that come his way and can cover drive his problems away. Indian students are lured to Australia by Australian universities who market themselves in every town in India with a promise of a bright future down under for the eager student. The largest number of overseas students in Australia are from India.  Scholarships are virtually not available and University fees are hefty. Students take loans for their education and work tirelessly at the local seven elevens or drive cabs when they reach Australia to sustain themselves and to pay back the hefty loans. There is a lot of struggle that the student endures during these years and rarely does he emerge the victor with a job in his hand. A basic requirement to procure a job in Australia is a permanent residency visa which nearly all students do not have at the time of completing their education. The students are rather helpless and stay back in Australia long after the course is over to secure the permanent residency status. It is at this time that they spend more time driving cabs or working in seven elevens and exposing themselves to unruly gangsters during late hours. A similar situation would arise in the US or UK too.

Not every Aussie is a villain and not every Aussie is a good bloke. They can become good friends and most surely can respect other cultures with time. Australia is one of the later colonies that shed the racist tag. The aboriginals in Australia still live like recluses and the white man has no time for him. But, how can we as Indians claim Aussies to be racist? Are we not equally racist in India. North Indians tag the entire South Indian region as Madrasi’s / sambharwallas and so on. South Indians call regions of north as cow belts. Tamilians and Kannadigas fight over Cauvery water. Holy war occurs every now and then, caste system still prevails. When was the last time we have let our “servants” drink from the same cup or eat from the same plate as ours? Why do we use fair and lovely for Pete’s sake! I have witnessed many Indian students in Australia not buying a train or a tram ticket and would jump over the barriers to enter stations. When caught by the inspectors, they feign no knowledge of the English language. Why can we not respect the law of the land too? We must acclimatize as much as possible when we are away and I would expect a foreigner to do so as well when he visits us in India.

In my opinion, every single country in the world is racist, some more, some less. The biggest race wedge is between the rich and the poor. We need to tackle the recent spat of killings and abuse against Indian students very severely and concentrate more on security concerns for the students. The “curry bashing” in Australia may very well be so, but we as a country too should learn to tackle racism within our own boundaries first before raising this slogan in foreign lands.

In parting, in my seven years in Melbourne I have not experienced racism in Australia but it could be also because I have not exposed myself in the unearthly hours on the streets like some Indian students are forced to do. But I would not call all such attacks as racially motivated. The attacks could occur in more dangerous cities like Rio or New York. Melbourne and Sydney in comparison are saint cities.

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23 Responses to “The curious case of Indians down under..”

  1. Anand Khare Says:

    Sharmilaji,

    I have read your article about animal abuse in India and how you are concerned about it. In your next article you appear to be very protective about Australia,where two Indians (humans) were ruthlessly murdered. Their only fault was that they were Indians.

    It is amazing that you still feel that those who have been attacked are at fault. And this attacks are not racially motivated.

    Sorry madam, I dont agree. Something needs to be done about it.

    Anand

    • masterpraz Says:

      Yes that incident was all over the Media here Anand, and as I said below, the “racial motivation” was certainly there (and those accused arrested), however I don’t see Australia (and certainly not Sydney) as having a huge “racial” problem towards Indians. And if we compare that to how many “incidents” happen with tourists or European’s in India, I think the stats would be substantially less.

    • Anand – Thanks for the comment. I am in no way protective about Australia at all. My point the entire time is “racism” is not always the motive for attacks. Given the risks that the indian students take, they are more out in the night trying to make ends meet and hence fall prey to gangsters and the like. Secondly, it is also not right to keep harping just about racism but external affairs should worry about actually providing security for the students in Australia. Thirdly, I believe that racism is pretty rampant in India as well. I do not think every time and all the time Indians are attacked because they are Indians. I think gangsters do not care about nationality.

    • Anand – Thanks for the comment. I am in no way protective about Australia at all. My point the entire time is “racism” is not always the motive for attacks. Given the risks that the indian students take, they are more out in the night trying to make ends meet and hence fall prey to gangsters and the like. Secondly, it is also not right to keep harping just about racism but external affairs should worry about actually providing security for the students in Australia. Thirdly, I believe that racism if pretty rampant in India as well. I do not think every time and all the time Indians are attacked because they are Indians. I think gangsters do not care about nationality.

  2. masterpraz Says:

    This to my mind is one of your most heart-felt piece to dates Sharmila-love it! Having lived in Sydney for the last 3 years myself I agree with a lot of things you’ve said here.

    Coming from a New Zealand background (I was raised there much of my life) I’ve found it a lot easier to make friends and mix in with the locals here. I agree that “beer”, “BBQ”, and “beach” is customary to the “average” aussie as much as Cinema, Cricket and religion is to the average indian.

    Agree on the racism parts on all counts, I’ve never experienced “Racism” as such anywhere here and I do stay out at all hours on weekends partying it up hard over here :)!

  3. masterpraz Says:

    I’ve seen Italians, Greeks and Turks all getting beaten up over here in Sydney in all sorts of various fights. In my humble opinion the average Australian doesn’t know the difference from a Sri-Lankan to a Pakistani to a Indian when he/she is drunk so it’s unfair to claim this as a racial attacks on “Indians”. Yes, some of those that have been attacks have been Indians, and were called “curry muncher” etc however that was an isolated incident. A lot of the train assaults that happened also happened to Asians and other minorities.

    Certainly, “some” Australian’s (specially in QLD) are resistant to immigrants on the whole, but the Australians I know (and I work with/contact/interact with over 50 per day) aren’t racist. I think the biggest difference is in the Sense of humour, Aussie’s have a very over-whelming sense of humour at times (specially after 8 beers) and their joking does tend to get racial a little bit..it’s a matter of perception as I’ve seen Indian’s all over, LONG before all this took place and even still now refer to Europeans as “salla goraa, phirangi etc”!

    • masterpraz Says:

      Also a lack of knowledge is essential here. The “Australian”‘s have adapted to Lebanese, Greek, Turks, Italians, English and countless others I’m sure the Indian’s can get along peacefully here.

    • Praza – Agree, and I am sure you know the situation a lot more than I after spending so much time there. Aussies can be plain “dumb” most times. Even the way they talk about India, it is more like slander and sledging on the cricket field but their humor is pretty genuine.Crimes happen everywhere. Pritish Nandy spoke on twitter today about the way we treat African students in India.

  4. masterpraz Says:

    My fave line… “The “curry bashing” in Australia may very well be so, but we as a country too should learn to tackle racism within our own boundaries first before raising this slogan in foreign lands”

  5. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    I would agree with you Sharmila and others that its not the Indians who are the only target.

    I certainly refute over Anand’s thoughts.Having read that you have lived in Australia,i think you surely might be having a precise idea of the environmental and behavioral aspects of those living there.

  6. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    Ya we would surely be a happier lot to see our people happy and safe there…..

    BTW,what about Poets and Pancakes.Any problems getting it or what??

  7. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    Ye Sharmila,its exactly what I was searching for that day.How did you get this link?But sorry I could not provide the same…..

  8. It was a wonderful and timely piece of writing, Sharmila. Branding every act of violence as racism is not the solution to this menace. What exactly is racism? According to the ‘International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination’ adopted by the UN, racism is – “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”. So isn’t casteism that is so widely practiced and accepted in India also a form of racism. What about the recent rapes of foreign students in India? Were they sexual crimes or cases of racial abuse? If calling somebody black is a racial slur, then what about the word ‘Gora’ that we use for white skinned foreigners? I am not at all trying to justify what is happening in Australia. I only wish to say that by projecting ourselves as victims of racism on the slightest pretext, we are only undermining our chances of becoming a real world player.

  9. That ‘madrasi’ tag is interesting. I used to think its because before the states were created..all the south states were under the madras presidency which was directly below the bombay presidency..so all of south was a madrasi at one point. I may by wrong though.

  10. Good article Sharmila. I couldn’t agree more. Like mentioned above, violent attacks happen everywhere including India. I think you cannot term any particular country as racist. It is only a certain section of people who act as a threat to the people and society.
    On the recent attack in Australia, Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna described the attack as “heinous crime on humanity”. Well, making such statements is nothing short of hypocrisy. Our ministers should first look at what is happening in India. Racism is everywhere and even for a moment we agree that the attacks on Indians were racially motivated, then too percentage wise it would be nothing if we compare the “racist” attacks in India. Two recent examples of this would be the serious attacks on Christians in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh. Secondly North Indians are subject to constant voilence, which is specifically targetted towards them and there are many such examples which clearly reflect that they are racist attacks. The difference between Australia and India here is that powers in the government in Australia are doing their very bit to reduce voilence, whereas in India, specifically in Mumbai it is the political parties who are responsible for fuelling such attacks.
    Still a matter of shame that there are around 138 million people that are still considered as ‘Untouchables’ who face everyday violence and discrimination.
    Well, space here will fall short as there are countless such examples/incidents, so I better stop.

  11. […] of coverage from the Indian media. I had also discussed in detail my own views on it here – https://sharmilasays.wordpress.com/2010/01/06/the-curious-case-of-indians-down-under/ I share the same view of Hong Kong which I would think is a lot safer than even Melbourne given it […]

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