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28/04/16 Arts & Culture , Australia , Diaspora & Travel , Society & Politics # , ,

Yoga Diary

Yoga Diary

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.

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12/04/16 Diaspora & Travel , Society & Politics # , , , ,

First Impressions of South Asian Minorities in Hong Kong: When my intersectionality axis went for a spin

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.

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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.

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27/03/16 Arts & Culture , Australia , Diaspora & Travel , Society & Politics # , , , , , , ,

The malestream, translation, and women’s publishing in India: An interview with Urvashi Butalia and Shruti Nargundkar

The malestream, translation, and women’s publishing in India: An interview with Urvashi Butalia and Shruti Nargundkar

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.

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19/03/16 Arts & Culture , Australia , Diaspora & Travel , Society & Politics # , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vital literary genealogies

Vital literary genealogies

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.

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29/02/16 Arts & Culture , Australia , Diaspora & Travel , Society & Politics # , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In solidarity with the dissenting student community in India: A statement from Australia

In solidarity with the dissenting student community in India: A statement from Australia

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).

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30/01/16 Australia , Society & Politics # , , , , , , , , ,

How to stop a juggernaut

How to stop a juggernaut

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”.

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26/01/16 Arts & Culture , Australia , Society & Politics # , , , , , ,

In Solidarity on Survival Day

In Solidarity on Survival Day

As a collective of writers, artists, and academics of South Asian heritage, we acknowledge Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders who are the world’s oldest continuing civilisation, and the First Peoples of this country, Australia. We remember the dispossession, the massacres, the stolen children, the colonisation, the suffering and pain this has caused and continues to cause them. As immigrants to this great southern land, we acknowledge our debt to them, and celebrate their survival. On January 26, 2016, we stand in solidarity with them.

Below we repost parts of a post previously published on this site, Are We Legit, by Roanna Gonsalves

 

“We are not the perpetrators, the ones who wielded the guns in the forgotten wars between invading white settlers and Indigenous Peoples. We are not the victims. However, as mainly economic migrants from South Asia (we acknowledge the many South Asian refugees from the conflict zones of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka), we are not absolved of complicity.”

“We are beneficiaries of the genocide of Aboriginal people, the dispossession of their land, the loss of their homes, their families, their cultural values, their tongues, their songs. It is such soil that we step on when we first step into Australia, soaked not just with the promise of a ‘first world lifestyle’, but squelchy with the memory of massacre.”

“Today we are living in cities and towns, building our homes, our offices, our restaurants, our shelters, our futures, putting down roots into what once were and continue to be the hunting grounds, the camping places, the sacred sites, the repositories of knowledge of the Indigenous people of Australia. We are the beneficiaries of their dispossession, and we acknowledge their loss. As immigrants from South Asia, we understand about the loss of home, family and cultural values, and we would like to express our deep sorrow to all Indigenous Australians for their suffering and offer our support for genuine reconciliation, for self-determination.”

 

 

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10/11/15 Arts & Culture , Australia , Society & Politics # , , , , , , , , ,

The Trudeau Effect – Diversifying Australian Arts and Culture

The Trudeau Effect – Diversifying Australian Arts and Culture

If you are anything like me, your social media feed for the past couple of weeks has probably been a Justin Trudeau fest. The video of his recent swearing-in ceremony, with the most diverse cabinet in Canadian history, has been re-posted so many times that I am beginning to wonder if any of my Facebook friends really voted for Tony Abbott (or Stephen Harper, or Narendra Modi). Then there is that charming YouTube video of Trudeau performing Bhangra at what appears to be an Indian community event in Montreal, which already has over a million views.

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05/11/15 Diaspora & Travel , Society & Politics # , , , , , , , ,

What’s my beef? I’ll tell you…

What’s my beef? I’ll tell you…

by Meeta Chatterjee Padmanabhan

One of our friends told us this joke a decade or so ago: ‘Two Indian friends went to a restaurant and ordered steak. One friend asked the other, “So you are eating your mother today?” The friend promptly responded, “No, I am not. I am eating your mother”.’ It was one of those jokes that generated uneasy laughter and led to the suppression of unfunny questions. Were both of them Hindus? Which restaurant was this? The joke links two taboo topics into one: the embargo against eating beef; and cannibalism. Not to mention that eating anyone’s mother in any culture or country would be very bad manners.

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27/10/15 Arts & Culture , Australia , Diaspora & Travel , Society & Politics # , , , ,

The Left Who Cried Wolf

The Left Who Cried Wolf

By Gary Paramanathan

The other day I happened to be having a conversation with a colleague of mine. Much to my surprise, and a pleasant surprise at that, she said she no longer uses the term “Left Wing”, and has switched to “Progressive”. Now this is someone I look up to, someone who has a fairly strong sense of ethics and values that I ascribe to. Here I was, totally blown away that she was also contemplating abandoning the “Left”, at least semantically. I thought, when those of us who are clever with words, start abandoning certain words, it’s usually like the canary in the coal mine. A sign of changes to come.

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