June 2009

Whenever there is a war, an insurgency, a civil war or of any other disruptive event in any country we see and hear about it in the media. We shake our heads at the brutality of it all and sometimes turn our faces away from the pictures of suffering. We are momentarily disturbed but then get on with our lives.

Over the last decade or so,since America started its war on terrorism, new words have entered the war vocabulary……..collateral damage, IDP’s (internally displaced people). This too has played a part in desensitising us to the full horror of what happens to ordinary people and their lives during a war or a conflict situation. Atleast the word ‘refugee‘ painted a mental pictue of a person in need of shelter, food and security but the new one (IDP) dehumanises the whole thing by reducing a whole population in turmoil to these three alphabets I,D,P……

What used to be casualty figures (meaning the number of people who had lost life and limb in a war) are now clubbed under the fanciful term ‘collateral damage’. Almost sounds like some loss made in a financial market or in a trade…….

Over the last month seeing the pictures of fleeing humanity in Sri Lanka and in Pakistan’s Swat region I have wondered  at the stories of these people.They flash past our screens and our attentions for brief seconds but what is the full extent of the sufferings of these people ? I wonder more about the women amongst dispalced people. How do they manage? How do they protect and care for their children under brutal circumstances? What happens to their simple and impoverished lives when even their bread winners are snatched from them?

Then yesterday I happened to read one account of some of these ‘ IDP’s’ on a Pakistani blogzine.I am cross posting it below.

This is an account of the suffering of the women of Swat in their own words.These are women from a very backward and conservative area and their already precarious existence has been further jeopardised by the happenings in that region.

Click on the link below for the full story:


All pictures are from the internet.


Disclaimer: Whatever I write below is not meant to condone the attacks on Indian students.The effort is to present the whole picture and not the narrow breast beating of our national channels.

It is the season for bashing it seems.While some hoodlums are up to targeted bashing of Indian students in Australia (mainly Melbourne) we in India are up in arms as a nation to bash an entire nation and its population as racist. Our media, that has trouble finding reporters to send to some not-so-remote parts of the country to report on the problems of these regions, seem to have no trouble sending shrill voiced,excited and half-baked young reporters to far away Australia to prowl the streets and send back reports that confirm our ‘worst fears’ : Australia is a racist country.

It all has a sense of deja vu……remember when Bhajji and Symonds had that monkey/maa -ki spat and we rose as one to beat our collective breast and shout RACIST……we got that mercurial sardar off the hook by some fancy testimonies of ‘senior’ players and flexing the BCCI financial muscles only to have him slapping Sreesanth a few months later. Now these ‘seasonal’ birds are at it again….walking the streets of Australia sending back lop sided reports without any regard for the long term effect they will have on the Indo-Aussie ties.

 Like migratory birds they are there for the short haul and once their channels and newspapers have something new and equally sensational to report on they will pack up their microphones and depart the Aussie shores. But what about the people of Indian origin who have lived there for decades, who will continue to live there after this storm has passed and who for the most parts like the lives they have made for themselves in Australian cities?

And what about the thousands of Indian students (at last count about 90,000) who will be continuing to stay back in Australia to complete their degrees? 

 And what about the injustice done to million of Australians who are not racist but have been painted as such?

The media is making a grave mistake and doing a disservice to everyone by whipping up this ‘racism’ hysteria. 

In all my years of living in Australia I never felt that the nation was racist. What it probably has are some people who are without a doubt racist. 

And those who are blatantly racist are racist probably because of :

1) their own narrow and xenophobic tendencies and 
2) because they know very little about India and Indians
3) what they do know about Indians comes from the Indians who are there (so maybe the Indians there are not being very good ambassadors for the country).

The vast majority of Australian population is warm,welcoming and accepting of the huge deluge of immigrants that has been arriving on its shores for almost 2 decades now.They are keen to put behind them the days of ‘whites only’ policies and move in tune with the changing global trends and attitudes.

Aussies are the biggest champions of the underdog and the under privileged.They hate the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (some being more advantaged and prominent than the others) and go to great lengths to be the ordinary ‘bloke’ next door, the ‘mate’ who will chugg a stubbie with you and be there for you when needed.

In my initial days in the country I was over whelmed by the number of Aussies who helped me in ways big and small.(If they sometimes seemed patronising it was because they did not know the difference between a well-off, well educated migrant and those seeking asylum from disadvantaged, war torn countries.) 

They explained things at work, helped me find books at the local library, explained to me the labrynthine Australian tax system and helped me find my first job. When I turned up at the interview looking very tense and stressed( I had lost way while driving to it and had was late) the interviewer held my hand, smiled warmly and told me to relax as, according to her, my CV was enough of an interview. She did not have to do that but she did.

During this same period I met a large number of fellow Indians who have made huge economic strides in their new country and who by and large live peacefully and happily in Australia. But I also met a large number of those who remain caught in their ‘us Vs. them’ mindset. In their large, double storied houses (dubbed Mc Mansions by the media) they gather routinely for chai and samosas and for ‘Indian dinners’ wherefor  the entire evening they try and outdo one another in detailing how Australia is not all that great, how Aussies do not accept them, how they are discriminated against, how the ‘white‘ culture pollutes and alienates their children  and how ‘great’ their motherland India is. In their curry aided weepy, sentimentality they forget to mention the eagerness with which they had sought migration to Australia, the haste with which they had discarded Indian nationality for the Aussie one and how when they go to India for vacations they can hardly find anything good or right about the country.Ghettos are dangerous things but mental ghettos are even worse.

If Aussies are upset (as New Zealanders earlier were) about the rapid demographic changes in their country it is also because of the arrivals failing to integrate fully with the locals.And this applies to all immigrants.In the suburb where I worked the large number of Afghan and other Muslim immigrants had forced the local KFC to turn Halal and keep no pork products, the nativity scene celebrations could no longer be held in schools during Christmas season lest they offend the Muslim sensibilties.Mince pies, those most iconic of Aussie treats, were not to be served during school fairs etc (pork/non-halal issues. Electoral considerations make the local politicians  also bow to these demands (in some case the demand is assumed and not actually made).

In the local play grounds the Aussie boys play Footy on the weekends and the people from the sub continent play cricket to loud music from Bollywood films. The Indians ( and others ) also by and large fail to embrace the concept of volunteering in the community. Voluntary work in the community is the virtual backbone of the Aussie way of life and by focussing only on what they can get from Australia the  sub -continent immigrants fail to address the issue of what they can do for the communities they arrive into. This often leads to white Aussies leaving suburbs to move to newer or suburbs further away and the old suburbs gradually turn into ‘Asians only’ areas. This happens with the Chinese/Vietnamese/ Indian and various other communities.

Then there is the vast student population from India.Where are these large numbers coming from? In areas like Chandigarh there are virtual assembly line businesses specialising in sending the Punjabi youth to Australia. None of these students have any intention of coming back.Most intend to settle Down Under. Australia is the new ‘Kanaada’ for the Punjabi.With the Canadian immigration now taking close to 5 years to get through they have set their sights on Australia as the country to migrate to.Australian migration rules are more stringent then the Canadian ones and hence the use of the education route to achieve the immigration dream.

They enrol in small TAFE (tertiray educaion system) courses in hair dressing, nursing care and similar with an eye on filling the vacancies in these areas and making Australia their new home. Nothing objectionable in all this except that they arrive in Aussie cities from small towns and cities of India with little or no idea about the culture and value systems of the new country. For them all ‘goras’ are the same and they carry the baggage of these stereotypes with them. I have personally heard  some of these students talking in English (and Indian languages) about how ‘loose’  white women  are, how little the ‘white’ parents care for their children, how easy it is to trick the benefit system of Australia to claim more dollars………………..

Why am I writing all this in an article supposed to discuss the attacks on Indian students? I am sharing this so that people understand how bizarre and one sided is the picture being painted by our jingoistic media. I am sharing all this so that we pause to look inwards towards our own idiosyncracies and inflexibilties while clamouring for action against the perpetrators of the current attacks. Those guys need to be caught and punished but we too need to soul search a bit about how we treat the ‘other.’

Australia on its part  needs to crack down on the violence agaisnt overseas students and it also needs to take a long hard look at its immigration policy and its mega efforts to sell Aussie education all over the globe. It spins money ofcourse but by ignoring the concerns of the Australian population and without making a good case for its policies they are going to invite further problems on their head. Australia maybe a large continent but it has a small population of just 21 million and although they need the immigrants to keep their economy chugging along they also need to look far into the future and anticipate how their society may have to change with the arrival of more and more immigrants. Easy education dollars,  earned now by roping in students via education fairs held world wide, may be attractive and tempting but may prove too expensive in the long run.

The time to act is now.For both countries. Both countries need to sensitise their young people about the other’s cultures and way of life. The media could still redeem itself by focussing on this rather than calling a whole country racist and beaming interviews of students who say they want to leave Australia. Take my word for it.Most won’t

It never ceases to amaze me how as a nation we are so ready  to hang our jingoistic nationalism on to the peg of one arrogant and ill mannered cricketeer but show no desire whatsoever to actually change in ways that would do India proud.

Jug Suraiya on the issue: