By Meeta Chatterjee Padmanabhan
By Meeta Chatterjee Padmanabhan
By Sukhmani Khorana
Schooled in the Indian system, I received a good dose of Gandhian philosophy, and official historical accounts of his entwinement in the anti-colonial struggle in the subcontinent. As a ten-year old, I remember being particular struck when I read about his strategy of passive resistance, namely, when someone slaps you, turn your other cheek towards them in a bid to curb their aggression. I know this idea comes from Christian doctrine, but it just happened to come to us via Gandhi first.
I was reminded of this while trying to unpack Waleed Aly’s recent #SendForigivenessViral editorial on Channel Ten’s The Project in response to media celebrity Sonia Kruger’s clearly Islamophobic comments. While I concede the value of ‘having a bigger heart’ in inter-personal conflicts for the sake of one’s own well-being, I am not sure that self-help dogma should be uncritically applied to growing systemic problems like racism. At the same time, I don’t want to entirely dismiss the role of symbolic measures of solidarity such as the Halal Snack Pack offered to Pauline Hanson by Labor Senator of Iranian descent, Sam Dastyari in the wake the One Nation Party founder’s return to senate. Perhaps we need to learn to distinguish between ignorance, insult, and benign attempts to foster community, and respond accordingly.
An example of the above came to light when Pakistani-born NSW Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi posted an image of an inflammatory comment on her public Facebook page that she couldn’t possibly ‘forgive’. While she usually curates these sexist and racist slurs in a satirical album called ‘Love Letters to Mehreen’, there are some that don’t even deserve a joke. If you have ever had an egg thrown at you on the basis of how you dress or look, you probably know what I mean. If you really do manage to call for more eggs under the circumstances, you are either superhuman or have an enormously diminished sense of smell.
What I am suggesting is that violence and passivity are not the only two possible responses to bigotry. Also, anger need not be conflated with aggression when it comes to tackling structural problems produced by decades, if not centuries of oppression. As cultural studies scholar Sara Ahmed argues in her essay on ‘Feminist Killjoys’, ‘Political struggles can takes place over the causes of unhappiness’. Isn’t it far more conducive to channelise one’s natural anger over the discrimination of certain groups to legitimate and non-violent protest, than to forgive individual perpetrators of racism and never address the system that produces them?
In a similar vein, not all manifestations of empathy are vacuous. As researchers, activists, politicians, social workers or politically-minded artists, people often begin with an experience of personal hardship or witness someone else’s, and move from empathy to reason and action in a journey that becomes their career or vocation. My research on the reception of refugee documentaries in Australia constantly comes up with the ‘finding’ that even left-wing identifying individuals prefer asylum seeker narratives that invoke emotions with stories that have a silver lining. Again, what could be productive, going forward, is to understand under what conditions these affective responses turn into catalysts for collective responsibility and action.
And finally, what do we make of symbolic gestures of solidarity with marginalised groups that often seem to coalesce around items of food or food culture? Let’s not put every institutionally-funded Harmony Day on a political pedestal. Still, it is a relief to see grassroots initiatives, both online and offline, that aim to educate, celebrate or merely offer an alternative to the demonisation of Halal-certified food. Besides the now well-known ‘Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society’ on Facebook, there are various food businesses around Australia that train and employ former refugees and offer less patronising possibilities in the discourse of ‘welcoming diversity’. Still, lets not mistake these gestures for a full-blown revolution, or use them as a substitute for socio-political change in the longer term.
So, are there any circumstances under which those of us at the receiving end of racism (implicit or explicit) should offer the other cheek? It would be far better, depending on the nature of the bigotry, to protest with a placard, or educate over a kebab. Having said that, those with privilege have more options.
By Ruchira Talukdar
It’s been two weeks since a close and confusing federal election vote. My electorate of Batman in north-east Melbourne is still decked in large green corflutes with the smiling face of Alex Bhathal, a second generation Sikh Immigrant and a long-running Greens candidate for this seat.
By Nisha Thapliyal
How many different ways are there to tell the story of Indian arranged marriages to an Australian audience? The answer depends on whether you plan to entertain or inform.
By Suneeta Peres da Costa
L., my neighbour, lopes to yoga, her legs much longer than mine; even her husband who is tall says she is a fast walker. She can outpace me pushing a three-wheel pram. When we would walk for exercise last year, I would have liked to ask her to slow down but politeness or embarrassment got in the way.
When I saw Hindi cinema actor Anupam Kher play a jeweler in Hong Kong in the critically acclaimed Ang Lee film Lust, Caution (2007), my interest was piqued. It made sense, I thought, given the British colonial connection. However, I had read or heard little about the Indian diaspora there, especially compared with its presence in neighbouring South-east Asian nations such as Malaysia and Singapore.
During my recent trip to the island for the Hong Kong Film Festival, I stayed in Tsim Sha Tsui, a district with a high concentration of businessmen and traders of South Asian origin. This in itself in not surprising, and I have previously encountered ‘ethnic enclaves’ during many a visit to ‘multicultural’ cities of the Global North, such as London, Paris and Toronto. What I was unprepared to see or experience, though, was the racial hierarchy that South Asians seem to deal with despite being long-term residents of Hong Kong.
It also so happens that my Hong Kong-based friend and colleague, Lisa Leung, has written a book with John Erni on the history and contemporary conditions of South Asian minorities on the isle. According to them, it took a decade of campaigning before Hong Kong’s first anti-discrimination legislation, known as the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO), was passed in 2008. Given this is a recent legislation, perhaps it is not surprising that there are many more battles to be won in the spheres of education, employment, social well-being, and everyday conviviality.
Almost two weeks after my visit, I am still swinging between outrage and intellectual curiosity with regards to how non-Chinese minorities (constituting six per cent of the population) in general are treated in Hong Kong. This is not because I was the subject of any personal slights, or faced any overt discrimination in the course of my social and economic exchanges as a tourist. Yet, as I walked down Nathan Road and passed South Asian tailors and their sales reps beckoning Anglo tourists, my intersectionality axis was going for a bit of a spin. I wondered why the brown man had to dress in an impeccable suit to look respectable, while the white male traveller could traverse the streets of a rather fashionable class-conscious society in thongs and shorts. Of course it helps to dress well when you own a tailoring business, but pre-determined assumptions about class and race were getting entangled here before a conversation had even begun. Perhaps Macaulay, famous for his ‘Minute Upon Indian Education’ that was responsible for the introduction of the English language and curriculum in British India, would be slyly smiling in his grave at the sight of such postcolonial mimicry.
On a closer examination though, this is more than mere mimicry. Several generations of South Asians in Hong Kong have been engaged in the same businesses as their forefathers, and this varies from the employment patterns of Indian and South Asian diasporic groups in comparable countries (including Australia). Leung and Erni’s research shows that ethnic businesses in Hong Kong have come to reflect a minoritization of ethnic minorities from the mainstream. At the same time, at the height of the city’s ‘umbrella revolution’ in 2014, some coverage suggested that Hong Kong’s ethnic minority youth also took to the streets in the name of democracy. However, segregation in schools on the basis of ethno-linguistic origin continues, and impacts not only future economic opportunities, but also feelings of belonging.
As I have a chat with my AirBnB host, also a descendant of Indian migrants on the last day of my visit, I am struck by how much he is in awe of Australia. He recalls his days as a hospitality student in the Blue Mountains with such wistfulness that it momentarily makes me forget our own problems with racialization of Indigenous and migrant communities. His reverie is nonetheless useful in helping me think about the contextualised meanings of non-whiteness.
While whiteness may have becomes a universal signifier of sorts, especially when travelling in the Global South, can we say the same about brownness, blackness, or even yellowness? In my case, especially when travelling on my own, questions about my ethnicity and how it is perceived vary greatly and often depend on the dominant culture’s discourse. While this discourse may be inflected by whiteness and/or colonial hierarchies, as is the case in Hong Kong, it is also a locally-bred phenomenon. Given this, we need to find a language to critique the racism of any dominant culture without subjecting the members of that culture who happen to be minorities in other contexts to the same racialised discourse. This would entail developing a practice-based understanding of intersectionality that universalizes and particularizes experiences and identities with care.
We may be inevitably South Asian by descent, but this should not be a barrier to belonging in an affective and political sense to other places where we live, study, work, and socialize. In other words, we can be more by consent, and this is a right sometimes implicitly withheld.
By Jasmeet Kaur Sahi
In July last year, noted Indian feminist publisher, writer and activist Urvashi Butalia was in Melbourne for the launch of A Rag Doll After My Heart, a poetic novella translated from the original Marathi into English by Melbourne-based writer and educator Shruti Nargundkar. The launch was held at the Australia India Institute in Melbourne.
By Anupama Pilbrow
When I was ten years old, my godsister’s Indian mother and non-Indian father gave me a children’s novel called Neela: Victory Song by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I devoured it. It was about a girl my age living through India’s Partition. Neela was the first book by an Indian author that I ever read to myself.
As academics, students, writers, artists and activists from Australia, we condemn the use of oppressive power by the Indian state, its police, and Hindu fundamentalist groups to shut down voices of dissent emerging from within public universities in India.
We join the international community in extending our support to the students, faculty and staff at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and many other public universities, who have been courageously protesting the overreach of state power and brutal stifling of dissent, carried out in the guise of majoritarian Hindu nationalism (Hindutva).
By Ruchira Talukdar
The Adani Group’s Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland has been in the news largely for the wrong reasons.
As the largest proposed Australian coal mine, as well as one of the world’s largest, the Carmichael mine first made major headlines in July 2014 when the Abbott-led federal government approved the mine with “strict environmental conditions”.