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.
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).
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.”
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.