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India: Australia's reputation suffers

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COMMENTS

12 January 2010 09:03

Australia's reputation in India — and worldwide — has suffered greatly in the past week. The storm of outrage in the Indian media over the safety of Indian students in Australia has gone global.

The catalyst for this furore has been the murder in Melbourne of a young Indian-born graduate. This was a brutal crime, but there is no proof yet of a racist motive. This has not stopped some Indian media organisations, driven by a mix of commercial sensationalism and heightened national pride, from leaping to conclusions and fanning fear in the Indian diaspora. The young man's cremation in India on Sunday provided another focus  for grief and anger, with the nationalist BJP trying to make political mileage.

And just when the Australian and Indian governments seemed to be making some progress in moderating the bad press — with the Indian Foreign Ministry urging its country's media to show some restraint – two more stories of grievous misadventure involving Indians in Australia seized the headlines.

What should we make of all this? Certainly, Australia has a real problem, and there is no point insisting that no racism exists in this country. As I argue in this opinion piece in the Indian press, it was a mistake by the Federal and Victorian authorities not to get on the front foot and concede the obvious point that of course some racism continues to exist in Australia and Melbourne, as in every society.

Even if most of the violence against Indian students has been opportunistic street crime, some of it no doubt has had a racial edge. And if any of the latest attacks on Indians in Australia are proven to involve motives of ethnic prejudice, the governments in Canberra and – especially — Melbourne will need seriously to question their policy settings and statements.

It is difficult to explain to Indian friends that Australians typically are very cautious in the way that they talk about race and crime, for the very reason that we are proud of how far this country has come in recent decades in building ethnic harmony and equality. But this multiculturalism-induced silence is being interpreted in India as denial or obfuscation. 

As for particular cases, we need to withhold judgment until more is known. Meanwhile, all the stories of danger and fear make initiatives of welcome and harmony – like a forthcoming Sydney concert by the Mozart of Bollywood, A R Rahman — all the more important.

Photo by Flickr user m4r00n3d, used under a Creative Commons license.

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