Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Racist? In Australia? Of Indian Racism and International Ambitions

The Indian electronic media it appears, is doing its best to convince its audiences that ‘Indians’ in Australia are becoming the target of ‘racist attacks’. In this attempt, it has been highlighting episodes, a number from the city of Melbourne to justify this argument. While there can be no doubt that a number of persons of Indian nationality have been the target of physical assault, especially in the tragic case of Nitin Garg, these incidents do not necessarily add up to a case of ‘racist attacks on Indians’. On the contrary, if we read closely, what we see is evidence of an Indian racism, and its desire to be a globally recognized super power.

Go beyond the hype that prevents a rational analysis of the events and one realizes that the ‘racist attacks’ in Australia are a result of dishonest and partial representation of facts by the Indian media. Indian audiences have not been presented details of the larger crime levels and patterns involved in the cases where Indians have been attacked. If one reads the attacks on Indians within this larger framework, one realizes that the Indians are merely a part of a much larger collection of crime statistics. Further, in many of these cases, the attackers have invariably not been identified, especially in the case of Nitin Garg who died after being stabbed repeatedly. Read closely, and from within Indian reporting itself, and one sees that the possible explanations for his death include revenge killing, either for loans not repaid, or for not supporting this crazy campaign of racist attacks.

When one does not know the identity (racial or otherwise) or motivations of these attackers, or the larger context within which these attacks occur, it seems a little premature to brand these attacks racist. However, if one knows the psyche of Indian nationalists, one begins to gain a glimmer into what exactly is going on.

Let us preface this attempt to figure out what is going on by referring to an observation of the rather noted postcolonial theorist Dipesh Chakrabarthy. Chakarbarthy observes that, “Within India, …racism is thought of as something that the white people do to us”. With this observation before us we begin to see the various components of the equation. There are two actors in this equation, the white person, and the Indian. Read history into this equation and more is revealed. The Indian obsession with the white person and their racist behaviour towards ‘us’ stems from the colonial experience when the British-Indian elite desperately desired (as they were entitled to) Imperial citizen status. Unfortunately for them, this status was denied them, reducing them to equality with other Imperial subjects like the black African. Realizing at some point that they would never achieve this coveted status, they began the demand for independence. As should be clear for any keen observer of international affairs however, this desire for recognition by the ‘white’ person did not go away with Independence, it persists. The Indian elite are persistent with their demand for equal status with the ‘white man’. It is not a mere coincidence that the country we today call India bears this name. India was the creation of the British Raj, and each segment that resulted from its liberation gained different names, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bharat (that is India). The name India was retained for Bharat (a distasteful Hindu rightwing name in any case) so as to appear to the world as the successor state to the British Raj. The imperial and global desires of India’s elite should be clear from this choice.

Even in the reporting on the Australian incidents, what is interesting to note is that all of the episodes involve Indian nationals or those with Indian origin. What of the others with South Asian origins in Australia? Are they being attacked too? If not, then the implication is that there is a hunt-down-and-destroy Indians operation on in Australia. Since this is clearly too bizarre a possibility to be believed, we would have to fall back to the proposition being suggested here, that the incidents are the product of Indian racism and the international ambitions of its elite.

To cast the Australian episodes as racist attacks on Indians reduces Australia to a country with two racial players, the ‘Indian’ and the ‘white’. This equation erases the various other actors from multiple ‘racial’ types that could attack ‘Indians’. The equation also constructs Indian nationals as being of the Indian race, and it erases other South Asians in Australia, who if the reporting is true, are also being attacked but are not being given any coverage. This erasure is typical of the elite Indian world-view, obsessed with gaining the respect of the white man. However there is another angle to this, which is the continuation of imperial ambitions by the elite Indian.

By casting the Australian episodes as ‘racist attacks’ on Indians, and through their shrill reporting and demands, the electronic media is forcing the Indian government to react and respond. While it is only natural that a Government should be concerned if its nationals are the butt of attacks in a foreign country, the media seems to be demanding more than this. They are demanding action. This form of action is one that has been made familiar by superpowers, notably America, and popularized by Hollywood. These are the marks of a globally recognized superpower, an international player, and this is exactly what the Indian state is being maneuvered to doing.

One could perhaps justify action and response by a State if its nationals are being attacked, but what the media is demanding and laying the groundwork for goes beyond this. With this creation of the Indian ‘race’, and some sort of legal framework for this, though the constitution of the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status, and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI), what is being prepared is for an Indian state response whenever the interests from this racial category are threatened or challenged. This kind of global leadership based on championing an essentially racially based, and exclusive cause, seems terribly regressive, if not downright scary!

The ‘Indian’ seems congenitally blinded to its own racism and the Australian episodes are a perfect example of this racism. This is not to suggest that Australia is not a highly racialized society. It is, but that should not blind us from seeing the racism that continually operates within Indian minds, and that seems to be at the basis, or is a tool at any rate, for its elites’ international ambitions.

(Scheduled for publication in the Gomantak Times, 27 Jan 2010)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I thought this was a very lucid and intelligent analysis. The whole idea of Person of Indian Origin and Overseas Citizenship of India got me thinking. Isn't there a historical precedent for these developments? One of the first actions of the newly created Indian Union in 1947 was to speak up on behalf of "Indians" in what was then the Union of South Africa, a sovereign dominion in the British Empire. In a way, this was fully justified since "Indians" -- and many others -- did suffer from all types of discrimination. The problem is that these "Indians" were not subjects of the Indian Union but (second-class) citizens of South Africa. At the time most South Africans saw this as an act of blatant interference in the internal affairs of another country and they were quite angry about it. (Aside: With hindsight we see that these actions by Indian Union were actually counter-productive because they did much to discredit the government of General Smuts in the eyes of his electorate. The elections in the following year were won by the National Party, which introduced the policy of apartheid -- with all its terrible and tragic consequences. This is just one of those nasty ironies of history.)