Last week this column discussed the manner in which nationalism highjacks humanist causes that rise above the petty and parochial politics of nationalism. Sometime between that column and this one, there was another incident that seemed custom-made for highjack by nationalism. Some of the many responses to the incident demonstrate however the manner in which we can respond to the human element by building larger solidarities and side-stepping the seduction of nationalism.
On October 18, two boys attacked a 12 year old school boy of Goan origin at their school in Melbourne, Australia. This boy was so brutally beaten up that he has reportedly had to have a titanium plate inserted under his eye, and may possibly loose sight in that eye. Some of the reporting on the incident sought to colour the incident as yet another racial attack on ‘Indians’ in the continent. However rather than go down that road, some of the responses to the incident have had a warm, familial, concerned response that seem better suited to the trauma that the family has been expressing.
Responding to the incident, a Goan resident in Goa felt that there was a need to reach out to the family, writing, ‘when a father feels that there is no future in remaining in Australia anymore (due to this incident), it becomes a defeat of the dreams one nursed for the future of his children having giving up everything one had in one's own land for a future for one's off-springs.’ This letter placed concern very appropriately in the interests of a family that had already possibly sacrificed much to get to Australia. To go down the ‘Indians being attacked’ road would have possibly gotten international and governmental attention, but would such concern for the individual family necessarily have received attention? More importantly, would it have received such fraternal solidarity from individuals, unrelated by blood?
At a more systemic level, where one needs to make sure that such incidents do not get repeated, other Goans pointed out that there are high levels of violence in some schools, and that these need to be tackled at the level of the school. These observations did not rule out that there is a possible racial element to the attack, but seemed to refuse to get trapped in the ‘racist attacks on Indians’ formula. It seems to have helped that this particular Goan was particularly critical of the failings within India. To raise slogans against Australia, he felt, would only be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Touché!
Yet another Goan pointed out that while he was raising the issue and not denying the possibility of a racist element to the attack, he also agreed that there needed to be a larger response to the incident. The Indian Government uses these incidents to boost its own international visibility, attempting to act like its role model, the U.S. State that reassures its citizens even when they are abroad. Rather than pull in the Indian state, perhaps one could reach out to existing organizations in Melbourne that seek to work against racial stereotyping and addressing the social problems that emerge in multi-racial and immigrant neighbourhoods like Noble Park where the school is located.
Speaking at the much maligned conference on Azaadi at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi a couple of days ago, Arundhati Roy made a powerful observation that we would do well to apply here. Kashmiri’s who want Azaadi for Kashmir, she said, would do well to forge solidarity with other movements for justice within India. Similarly, if we as Goans are concerned for the fate of this boy and his family’s continued residence in Australia, we would do well to work towards fostering bonds with groups that work on social harmony. The answer to the Indo-Pakistan conflict, some believe lies in person-to-person contact. There is no reason why we cannot manage such a contact, rather than engage in nationalist sloganeering.
Seeking alternatives to nationalism is imperative if we are to resolve a number of the problems we face. Very often nationalist thinking is so ingrained in our thoughts that we fail to see alternative ways of thinking. The responses to this Goan boy’s sad plight however shows the multiple levels at which we can respond to the issue.
(A version of this post was first published in the Gomantak Times 3 Nov 2010)