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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 29, July 4, 2009

Indians Down Under

Tuesday 7 July 2009, by Badri Raina


The Kangaroos have been behaving badly. Hopping mad, you might say.

This time not on the cricket field, but on the streets, and inside Indian homes and hostel rooms down under.

A number of Indian students studying at Aussie universities have been at the receiving end of hate-violence from young, vigilante gangs—all white and anglo-saxon.

They scream “you Indians, go home” and suchlike.

All very nastily racist, but racism strangely not directed at other than the Indian race (if it be a single race, that is.)

Which recalls to mind a White Australian couple we used to be friends with in far-away Wisconsin, USA.

Aussies, as you know, tend to be slow and under-stated human beings, but such was our friendship that they did once manage to articulate the view—complaint, if you like—that Indians do not “mix”.

Which was our own experience as well.

Most Indians we knew there over four odd years tended to keep within themselves (often within regional/linguistic groups merely) as they studied and/or earned. A sort of invisible electric cowl wrapped their social existence, which remained confined to Indian cooking, Indian festivals, and Indian music, mostly of the filmy kind. A sort of profoundly purist insularity of individual and collective selfhood.

Never any sort of osmosis involving the dread of unclean spotting.

No wonder, some Indian electronic channels who are justly inflamed at the goings-on are being told by some experts that Indians are singled out because of two conjoint reasons: one, they do well and earn well; and two, they remain aloof from the natives. Sort of Jew-like.

Apparently the Chinese/Malays/Philipinoes and others seem less a threat to Australian jobs, the meaty ones especially, and more reassuringly sociable.

None of which may excuse the patently racist attacks now underway.

And just as the reality of the wantonness of violence seemed to come home to Indian corporate channels and upwardly-mobile metropolitan Indians (for whom Narender Modi remains a shining prospect for a staunch and no-nonsense future dominance of the world) after the Mumbai attack of 26/11 on the affluent icons of south Mumbai, the attacks on meritorious Indians down under have kindled an angry spark against racism.

Better late than never.

The Aussie Government which benefits from the Indian influx and whose racism has thus far been, happily, restricted only to their own aborigines had better get busy in earnest. Or else, an Indian travel advisory might follow. Until some influential Indian parents, backed up by organised sponsors among travel agencies, get together to demand its removal so that their wards can go to Australia, study, and be successful in life.

In the meanwhile, the Indian thespian, Amitabh Bachchan, emulating the Nobel laureate, Tagore, has taken the crunching decision to refuse a doctorate from the university of New South Wales. Why he should have deserved it in the first place escapes me.


On the other side, as the channels say each time they break for that imperiously unchallengeable commercial break from whence their bread and butter comes, just sample the following headlines from Indian papers through just the last five odd years—all random but true:

—the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister called a ‘chamar’ (same as calling a black American a ‘nigger’) by a member of the Assembly; remember that the said Chief Minister is a Dalit;

—a High Court judge has the court premises washed with ganga jal (the waters of the holy Ganges) because the judge he took over from was a Dalit;

—upper-caste parents refuse to allow their children to eat meals at schools because the cook is a Dalit woman;

—Dalit children in government school have mid-day meal tossed to them into plates marked out, because they are Dalits; the Dalit girl students are routinely expected to wash all the utensils after the meal is over;

—a Dalit boy publicly tortured and killed with police personnel watching; accused of stealing a carcass;

—a Dalit groom unhorsed and flogged for daring to ride through an upper-caste street;

—a Dalit girl gang-raped and killed for being friendly with an upper-caste boy;

—two Balmiki Dalit young men die cleaning out a soakpit owned by a Brahmin in Fatehpur village; the Brahmin stood by with others but did not attempt to save the manual scavengers because he could not touch them for being Dalits.

And, indeed, much more in the same vein.

Ever accost an Indian corporate channel inflamed by such events? Do tell me. Or an Indian thespian actor have his lovely locks shaved clean? Or make even a one-line mention in his blog?

Do you know why? Ah, none of this qualifies as ‘racism’; it is mere time-tested casteism with deep religious sanction. Did not even the great Gandhi say that as a “sanaatan Hindu” he believed in the “varna vyavastha” (caste system)?

Then what is a mere corporate channel or a thespian with lovely locks?

Recall that at the Durban Conference of 2001 (August 31-September 8) where racism was debated by international NGOs, official Indian representatives put up staunch resistance to casteism being clubbed with racism in opposition to the view held by reputed historians that the two were indeed one and the same. (See my “Caste and Race: Discrimination By Any Name”, Economic and Political Weekly, August 11, 2001; also listed in


Reprehensible as the attacks on Indians in Australia are, it remains instructive that the outrage such events cause now in India most affects the sort of Indians who were outraged by the Mumbai attack of 26/11.

Indians who see themselves as exemplars of a resurgent nationalism backed up by resounding capitalist performance, Indians who are most proud when their wards win something like the Bee spelling contest in America. Indians who expect all other Indians uncritically to endorse the outrages or silences they express or perpetrate.

Indians who view the indigenous battles for social equality and social justice, not to speak of the war on untouchability, as frustratingly inimical to the future of such “nationalism” as they peddle day in and day out.

Just as they expect citizens and governments of other countries to recognize that the new India is far superior to them all, barring America (and, by association, Israel), and to accept their changed, unequal status (indeed one commentator on an electronic channel the other night pointed out to the Aussies that India is a nuclear power while they are not), they concomitantly also expect lesser Indians to accept that the new “nationalism” is the product of some select Indians who are extraordinarily endowed, and with whom Dalits and suchlike must not seek parity.

Not to speak of the premium that high-caste, svarna (twice-born) Indians have placed from the times of the influx of the Aryans on skin colour.

God may be Light in Christian lore, he is fearsomely bright and burning Agni (fire) in “mainline”, Vaishnavite Brahminism. And the dark-skinned Ravana remains a type of the Prince of Darkness in such Brahminism. Even when, amazingly, Ravana was an erudite Brahmin himself. What scope, then for the dark-skinned Dalit?

To this day, when children are born, or daughters-in-law transacted, they had better be light-skinned; failing that, they begin life from a position of great handicap.


Time then for inhabitants of the erstwhile Britannia’s penal colony—Australia—to know that things that may be understood or excused here in India (untouchability etc.,) must be put forthwith to end there. Or else.

And we haven’t even touched upon what sort of iniquities women—even the most high-powered ones—continue to suffer in the new global leader, India.

Another time.

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