DUMB, DRUNK AND RACIST IN AUSTRALIA
No, I did not meet that creature during my recent Sydney vacation but the above mentioned title is the name of a hit reality show recently aired in Australia which caused quite a stir. So why should it concern you and me? Let me tell you why.
Some time back many Indians had been subjected to racial taunts and attacks in Australia, especially in the city of Melbourne. The Indian media had gone to war over these attacks as if Australia had become the new South Africa of the early sixties and seventies. A chance came my way to find out the truth in these allegations. Close friends of ours Anup and Surubhi had invited us to spend a couple of weeks with them in Sydney. I must confess that there was some bit of anxiety in my mind as my wife and I boarded the massive AB 380 Dreamliner Boeing jet bound from Singapore to Sydney. The last thing one would want would be to face racial abuse in an alien land and that also on holiday. I sank deep in the business class comfort of the new jet but my anxiety surfaced again as the plane landed and docked to its berth and my wife and I walked into Sydney airport. A friendly Indian face greeted us as we walked through the tube in the airport. And then from the airport itself and during our entire stay every third or fourth face I saw in the city was an Indian or a Chinese.
The racial mix hit me almost like a cultural shock because one had heard that till the late seventies, Australia had whites - only policy and immigration into Australia was frowned upon. Our host drove us through the city and I braced myself for the racial sledging behind the ‘How are you mate’ friendly greeting. Arnab Goswami and a host of other television channels had prepared us for that possibility. We reached our hosts upscale home in a largely white neighbourhood at Manly without an incident. The next few days rolled past as we hit the beaches, enjoyed the ozone depleted sun with skin creams, the sheer beauty of the Pacific rim, the malls and the cosmopolitan buzz of Darling harbour in Sydney. But the racial incident that was supposed to be waiting just round the corner never happened. And then it hit me. The Aussies are perhaps one of the easiest going people, a completely friendly lot and perhaps also a people who are misunderstood in many parts of the world, especially ours. That is not to say that there has been no racial tension in Australia. The racial riots that took place in Cronulla some years back dented Australia’s image. And there is some truth in the incidents of harassment that many Indians faced in Melbourne.
But then back home are we a society of seamless, communally happy people vested with moral authority to speak against societies and countries and condemn them at the slightest pretext? The truth is that countries like Australia like many in the developed world are fast becoming multi racial societies with incredible sensitivity to individual and community rights. The entire world is in the throes of incredible sociological change but we continue to lionise people who have been complicit in communal riots that killed thousands from a particular community.
The makers of the hit reality show ‘Dumb, Drunk and racist’ went into every aspect and detail of the racist incidents in Melbourne. They employed the unusual device of asking a group of three Indians to go back to the scene of the ‘crime’, to confront those who had tormented them in the past. What does this kind of a show achieve? It tells us that as a society they have nothing to fear but fear itself and that the wounds of the past are best cleansed by confronting the past and moving ahead course corrected in the present. Now can you imagine anyone in India doing a show where the victims of the Gujarat riots confront their oppressors?
Tailpiece: At a theatre show in a community college my wife and I and our hosts were the only Indians in an all white audience. During half time the lady behind the counter serving tea and coffee asked us whether we were visitors.
“Yes,” I said. “Our hosts live in Manly but we are from Bombay,” I replied.
“Oh you mean Mumbai!” smiled the old lady.