Danielle Rajendram is a Lowy Institute research associate. Her work focuses on Indian foreign and domestic policy, India-China relations and Asian security.
The location was significant in itself. Gurgaon is a thriving metropolis located just outside New Delhi. Referred to as ‘Millennium City’, it is viewed as a symbol of a rising, aspirational India. The number of young faces in the audience was also a heartening reflection of the immense potential of India’s burgeoning youth population.
Entitled India: More than Bollywood and Batsmen, the show began with a question on how to overcome stereotypes in the Australia-India bilateral relationship in order to work towards a respectful and mutually beneficial partnership.
Curiously, the conversation for the next 30 minutes — more than half the duration of the show — fixated on these very stereotypes. From Australian racism to attacks upon India students and, of course, cricket, the discussion on Q&A last night painted a bleak picture for the prospects of deepening mutual understanding between Australia and India. To cap all off it off, following an in-depth discussion on the link between Bollywood’s sexualisation of women and rape earlier in the program, India: More than Bollywood and Batsmen finished with a glittering Bollywood dance number.
Many of the reactions on Twitter, including from some prominent Australia-India watchers, were critical. But the discussion was largely reflective of the problems of the bilateral relationship itself. After all, the conversation on Q&A is driven by the questions that we, the public, deem relevant. In this way, despite a commitment to move beyond shallow and stereotypical issues in the bilateral relationship, the absence of a deeper understanding of Australia and India in each country remains an impediment to more effective engagement.
The Lowy Institute’s India-Australia Poll shows that cricket and perceptions of Australian racism do matter. 61% of Indians agree that crimes against Indian students were mostly driven by racism, and three-quarters agree that cricket helps Australia and India grow closer to each other.
But Australia and India won’t be able to deepen their ties until we can move beyond the endless rehashing of these issues to a substantive understanding of the real future challenges in the bilateral relationship.
This is where the conversation needs to begin.