Just a few weeks before I came back to Australia this year, an Indian was stabbed to death in Melbourne. Since then, at every dinner party, I had to explain the "real situation" to everyone. Indian television media is extremely hyperactive. I have said this before and I would say it again. The government had to issue an order of restraint to the media following similar reports of Indians being attacked after the unfortunate incident. Although this causes a lot of anxiety to people who have sent their kids to Australia and also others who have family members living here, one good thing about the whole media coverage is that both Australian police and the Australian government have been put in the spotlight. We cannot deny that it has not helped in a certain way. In today's times, any country would be reluctant to admit that racism is even a small element of their culture. Moreover, labeling Australia as a racist country is unfair. Some Australians could be racist but that certainly does not imply that the whole country is racist.
Amidst this frenzy we had statements from various Australian authorities. The Victorian Police Chief admitted that Indians were being overrepresented in the robbery statistics. Here's a quote from his statement:
"I have said from day one undoubtedly some of these attacks have a racist motive or there is racist elements to these attacks. Regardless of who they are, what they are, what colour they are, what occupation they are, my job is to make the state as safe as I can for everyone."
Now, lets go back to Mumbai. In the good old days of Mahatma Gandhi, Indians learned to boycott. We still do that in our own fancy ways by boycotting something as peripheral and frivolous as a game of cricket. So Mr.Bal Thakrey promptly roared in his own secure forest- Samna that he would stop the Aussie cricket team from playing in Maharashtra. The direct Gandhian line has taken to "relay fastings" where one member of the group sits on the podium on a "hunger strike" to wait for someone who takes his place later. :)
The radical groups have taken to violent boycotting of everything that comes in the way of what they want. In fact, these days it is hard to tell if they really want the end that they are striving for. These kind of statements can be compared to a Rakhi Sawant arranging her own Swayamwar on "reality" television. The whole saga is not really to get a husband, it is for getting everything that she would on the way to her alleged destination. Do we ever have a Mumbai chief admitting that he is responsible for every person's safety? When a Sachin Tendulkar says, "I am an Indian first and then a Maharashtrain", all the hyenas in Mumbai start tearing him apart. When the statement he made is so relevant because he represents India, not Maharashtra everywhere he goes!
Around the same time as the Aussie attacks came to light two years ago, Mumbai witnessed a similar style of attacks. The Marathi-Bihari debate that is still giving votes to the Thakrey family. Mumbai is the most sought after city in India. Everyone wants to be in Mumbai. Naturally people who speak the same language as the rest of Maharashtra would want to assert their importance. The latest official reaction to this issue is seen in the headlines today. To be a cabbie in Mumbai now, you have to know Marathi well and you should present a proof of over fifteen years of residence in Mumbai!
The day I returned, I got into a cab driven by an Aussie gentleman. He shed some light on the "other side" of the whole racist debate. Indian cabbies are attacked in Australia mostly because
1. They do not know the streets at all. They jump into a cab the moment they land in Australia and sometimes even do not know how to use the GPS.
2. They misuse the meter by hitting buttons when the passenger is not looking. Unless you ask for your printed receipt, you will never know you were duped.
3. They play Punjabi (Indian Bollywood) songs in the taxi when they have passengers.
4. Some or all of this is done on Friday and Saturday nights when most cabs are used by Australians who go clubbing and can't drive because they are absolutely sloshed.
Imagine if this happens in Pune. If you get into a rickshaw and the driver has no clue where you want to go and you have no clue either! If he plays loud Ganesh festival music while you are trying to have a conversation with your friend sitting next to you. Worst still, if they charge you Rs.1oo for a journey you know for sure should not cost more than Rs.25! Even if you are absolutely sober, you would pick up a fight with him.
I accept that not all "Indian cabbies" have these ways just the way I say that all of Australia is not racist. But the ones who get attacked and the ones who attack them both fall into the same minority!
Whether in Mumbai, or in Brisbane, the problem should be "unprofessional taxi drivers" instead of "Bihari (non-marathi)" or "Indian taxi drivers".
We should all condemn the attacks, in India as well as Australia. But we should not close our eyes to the reasons that cause them.
All of us know that it is unfair to attack people just because they come from a different country or claim our jobs but hey! this is globalization for you. This has been happening and will happen until the world becomes one color from mixing. Until the time when every person in the world cannot correctly trace their origins to a single ethnicity. Just the way Indian media and politicians make a big hype about "Indians" in Australia, with all sincerity and gratefulness, I would request them to do something about the intra-country racism that exists blatantly within India itself. This is an underlying reality about every nation. Whether it is visa procedures made more "stringent" for only certain passports or cabbies being abused openly and attacked in a faraway land. Just like the fear of unpredictable terrorism, everyone who is not white lives under a subconscious fear of being pointed out at! It is a choice that people living outside their country make very consciously. The only precaution you can take is to abide by the laws of the land and make sure you are not found helpless at wrong times.
Above this murky, angry and sensational reality lies another one too! Where Australia, India, China, UK, Poland, Jamaica and Fiji meet for beer in a pub after work on a Friday night. :)