Monday, January 25, 2010

Encouraging signs from Australia

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Last week, two prominent Australians talked openly about their views on allegedly racist attacks on Indians in Australia. In my last post, I mentioned how the Australians are getting their communication wrong and defensive in failing to acknowledge a pattern in the violence against Indians. However, recently Victoria’s Police Commissioner, Simon Overland said that his department was aware of a trend in violence against Indians for two years now and were drawing up plans to tackle the same. He said to ABC radio that Indians were “over represented when it came to robberies” and not so much in assaults. He said that 50% of assaults against Indians were at the workplace and some of them possibly racist.

Similarly, Australia’s former army chief, Peter Cosgrove, categorized the attacks as racist, rejecting the official line and indicated that there were some kind of a “profiling approach to attacks on South Asians,” implying that it is indeed racism. Rather than dismissing them as routine crime, Cosgrove called for some introspection on the part of Australian society. Incidentally Cosgrove was the Australian of the year in 2001.

Coming from two prominent Australians, this line of communication projects a mature approach to dealing with the issue. It portrays a resilient and confident society capable to face the demons within and deal with it. As I said earlier, the debate is not about whether Australia is racist or not; rather the Australians should attempt to confine the debate to whether Australia can deal with such issues or not.

Diaspora’s role

In this entire episode, the potential of the Indian diaspora has not been adequately leveraged by the Indian and Australian governments. Australians should make more efforts in portraying the Indian diaspora as an integral part of multicultural Australia while India could have leveraged the same diaspora for influencing Canberra, and, also for seeking their assistance in mentoring ‘new’ Indians in Australia. It will be good to see something happening on this front.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Australia: Needed proactive, sensible and sensitized communication

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The Australian High Commission in New Delhi is doing a United Colors of Benetton. The walls of the embassy building and the visa office look like giant billboards with happy and colorful pictures of “Australians” - of different races, national origins, skin color - being displayed. Huge billboard size pictures all, happy and together, with the words “Multicultural Australia” in bold. There were pictures of Asians, Africans, Arabs, Anglo Saxons and also Indians. This did not exist earlier, definitely a first in the capital, as the Aussies try to look coherent in their denial of racist attacks on Indians in Australia.

The straight talking Aussies suddenly are defensive and fumbling for answers in the face of a relentless campaign by Indian media. Australia’s image has never been so badly dented in India. In all their official communication, the Australians have denied that these attacks are racist, and, an attempt is being made to club them with regular street crimes. Then, they announce a person of Indian origin (Peter Varghese) to be the next High Commissioner to India, also announce that they are sending the largest contingent to Commonwealth Games in India and put up billboards on embassy walls to counter the negative publicity. Despite all this, there was a 46% drop in student applications to Australian campuses from India this year. India contributes the most to Australia’s $ 15 billion education industry.

Where the Australians are going wrong is in their failure to acknowledge the possibility of a ‘pattern’ in the violence. This acknowledgment is lacking in all their communication (which has been very few) to Indian media. It is not a question of whether the country is safe or not. Rather than denying the possibility of racism altogether what should be communicated is that the Australian system is sophisticated and sensitized enough to grasp the nature of the problem and then deal with it. The comments by the Victorian Police Commissioner on safety statistics do not help and one wonders why is he speaking to the media at all? Discrimation/racism exists in every society and all claims to the contrary is total B******* … everybody knows that, especially Indians who live amidst diversity and conflicts all their lives. Anybody who has ever lived in a different culture also understands that some form of Aversive racism exists in every society. It’s human.