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China turns tables on Australia's Indian racism


RacistMany Australians reacted with displeasure to the accusations of racism directed at us by the Indian media.

Voices (media, government and civil society) emanating from emerging powers such as India and China grow ever more confident and cutting in their criticisms of the old order, as their economic might grows and the sense of inferiority, a by-product of colonisation, ebbs away.

It is important to realise that, like Australia, India does not speak with one voice. Nevertheless, we have been hammered by India's tabloid media, and the treatment has been unfair.

It seems naïve to deny the possibility of racist elements in some or many of the attacks on Indian students, as it does to assume that racist motives are the catalyst for every attack that takes place. The true situation is certainly more complex than either alternative.

Expecting Indians to understand this, however, comes with an obligation, that Australians (public, media and government) should demonstrate greater awareness of the complexity which characterises most of the foreign issues we comment on. This is the lesson Australians must draw from the ongoing row.

Just as many westerners were easily persuaded that we should be fearful of Muslims, post 9/11, the recent association of 'Australia' with 'racism' will ring true to many Indians. With the power of suggestion, it is no great leap to extrapolate from the particular (specific instances where verbal or physical abuse has been racially motivated) to the general (all attacks are racially motivated).

To withhold judgement and apply critical analysis requires effort. Australians are less accustomed to being the victims of such lazy thinking and politically motivated attacks than we are to employing these tools ourselves.

Some China supporters — veteran defenders of China's human rights record, its treatment of Tibetans, Uighurs and so on — will have monitored the development of this issue with interest. They were incandescent with rage when western campaigners took full advantage of the Beijing Olympic Games to promote the Tibet issue.

Now the tables have turned, and some may wonder how Australians feel about the tarnishing of our reputation. Rightly or wrongly, the Chinese in 2008, as Australians have in recent times, felt that reporting of these issues was sensationalist, distorted and unfair.

Among their complaints, activists for China point to inaccuracies in western media reporting. They argue that westerners are forgetful of China's long experience of foreign interference, that we fail to acknowledge China's significant achievements in lifting millions out of poverty, and that the western mindset with regards to China is locked in the Cultural Revolution or Tiananmen Square. They have a point.

The Chinese media certainly took notice when the difficulties experienced by foreign students in Australia came to prominence last year. The multi-billion dollar education industry in Australia 'is under threat by a re-emergence of racist attitudes against international students', wrote Shen Gang for the China Daily.

There is awkwardness in the Australian response to reporting of the attacks on Indians. No one wants to be seen to blame the victims. Regardless, the blanket accusations of racism disseminated by sections of the Indian media should not go unchallenged; it is appropriate to point out that India is hardly a bastion of tolerance.

Comments issued by local Indians have been more nuanced in their analysis of the issue, and they deserve our full attention. The local Indian community has first-hand experience of the abuses that have taken place.

Oversimplification by politicians and media sources only serves to inflame reactions to these issues. However, complexity does not absolve authorities from the responsibility to take action, to identify and address the root causes of the violence and prejudice that is tearing the social fabric of so many of our communities.

In a healthy democracy we have not merely a right but a responsibility to reflect on, debate and speak out on all such issues. Australians can demand a higher standard of critical thinking from our critics but we must practise what we preach. Only then can we hope that advice we offer to countries like China will be treated with at least a modicum of credibility.

Peter HodgePeter Hodge is a teacher and freelance journalist. 

Topic tags: peter hodge, violence, indian students, nitin garg, china, tibet, beijing, media



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Existing comments

To this day so-called australia is illegally occupied by the white christian devil. Until and unless the white christian devil leaves native aboriginal land, they will not be tolerated.

warrior for a FREE ABORIGINAL LAND | 27 January 2010  

Mr Hodge draws a long bow. To compare the unprovoked invasion and occupation of a sovereign country by the Chinese State with random acts of racial violence within Australia is meaningless. The former was, and remains, a systematic attempt to assimilate Tibet into China. It amounts to cultural genocide. If European Australians should 'practice what they preach', they need then to acknowledge their own invasion of a sovereign country, or conglomerate of Aboriginal 'nations'. On this point the Chinese might charge Australia with hypocrisy.

But the xenophobia aimed at Indians by Australian individuals, however shameful and reprehensible, can in no way be compared to the systematic atrocities perpetuated for 60 years by the Chinese in Tibet.

Stuart Braun | 27 January 2010  

Stuart is correct to point out the difference between Chinese annexation of Tibet and attacks on Indian students in Australia.

"Warrior for a free Aboriginal land" is correct to point out the similarities between Chinese annexation of Tibet and English annexation of Australia.

I would argue that attacks on foreign-born students are attributable to the economic (and social) exclusion suffered by a generation of unskilled untrained unemployed Australians, who cannot gain access to the education that would give them an opportunity. These people see overseas students as buying their way in to such opportunities as Australian governments are morally obliged to extend to their own citizens first.

Those obligations have been shirked since the Howard government dreamed up education as a way of getting people to buy their way into Australia.

David Arthur | 27 January 2010  

I am sick and tired of the "Indian student debate"
To start with, in the death that heated up this debate, the person concerned was not a student, he had finished his studies and was working, his job, taxi driving. Taxi driving has its dangers. Remember when Melbourne taxis surrounded the driver with Perspex for protection?

Their have been times when I could have gladly throttled a taxi driver that had no idea where he was going, including one 20 years ago that wanted to take me from Mascot to Liverpool via the Harbour Bridge. It can be done – at a cost.

I heard one Indian official state that it was the Australian Governments job to protect Indian students. WRONG. It is the Australian Governments responsibility to protect all law abiding people in the country. Full stop.

F H Dunn | 27 January 2010  

The authors of 'Freakanomics' could probably make sense of the recent attacks on young Indians. Suggest the reason they'd give is Indian 'English proficiency' and a naivety about the safety of late night travel rather than racism (though it's morphed into that of late).

There are more Chinese students than Indian students in Australia, yet they don't seem to have been the object of violent attacks. Overseas Chinese students have poorer English skills and so can't work at late night convenience and take-away businesses, therefore don't get attacked. Reports show young Indians are usually attacked on their way to and from these places. Locals understand the hazards of late night travel and take precautions against the opportunistic attacks of thugs.

Young Indians, on student wages, have little support. Problem is the more the issue is raised the more it is inflamed; and those amongst us who are bigots or racists will vent our gripes against the latest group, whoever they are. In the past it's been Micks, Wogs, Lebs, Gooks etc. Now its curry eaters.

Anastasia Joyce | 27 January 2010  

I think it was not the attacks themselves that made the Indian students' grievances but also, rather the main reason was the quality of education they have to take with their billion dollars. I don't think the attacks alone led them think Australia is racist - as it isobviously not.

Pointing out the Chinese failure in respecting human rights is not the original work of the governments but activists - that includes Tibetans, Burmese, etc.

And Australia has to know that both Chinese and Indian education are now at high standards and I feel they want the moneys spent at home rather than abroad.

There were claims that they come here just to get citizenship. If that was true, then it's not education that makes billions for Australia.

AZURE | 29 January 2010  

Very good and unbiased article. One way to eradicate the attacks is perhaps to increase the number of Indians given visas to study and work in Australia. This would create greater awareness in Australia about world cultures and for people of colour.

Such racist attitudes existed in Canada, UK and almost every western country 30 years ago, but with time and increasing immigrant population, more awareness and higher visibility helped the locals understand people of other origins.

Pri Tewari | 29 January 2010  

'Australia - a different light.'

Hey, we get it now.

White Australia, perhaps?

Not fair dinkum, ya reckon?

Ponder this.

Many Australians react with displeasure to the accusations of racism.

A shame that many Australians react with scantly any displeasure to the attacks on Indians.

This only serves to feed the accusation of racism (even if the jury is still not in on that one).

viv | 30 January 2010  

If you do not believe racism is inherent and institutionalised, then have a look at the TV programs and commercials. Do you see any non-white faces (or for that matter non blonde, non blue eyes - feel sorry for the brunettes and carrot tops).

Concerned | 07 February 2010  

Well, Peter and the rest of the Australian populace, I am thoroughly embarrassed by what the Indian media has changed this whole issue to. Unfortunately, 80% of India is still comprised of people living in poverty by international standards. When people from this group move to a developed country for better prospects, there is a huge integration issue. For eg, generally, people are very loud and boisterous in India. People may not be inherently bad, but the huge population and every day struggle has resulted in such social attitudes. When people raised in such a setting mingle with people who are used to a very different standard of civil discipline, outbursts of this type are bound to happen. I sincerely hope that the governments of either countries do something to educate people about social skills before they emigrate.

Vivek Chandra | 08 February 2010  

Where did australian come from? They belong in Europe and Australia is in Asia. Australia have always been racist since many of them degenerate criminals. They are illegal. Aborginies should not feel defeated since the right side of history. Native people of Australia need to stand up to white racist and demand representation and country back from the hands of white barbarian.

Jo | 08 April 2011  

India is hardly a bastion of tolerance??? Do you know of many countries where minorities might hold the positions of President, Prime Minister and Leader of the ruling party ALL at the same time?

The Indian media didn't call all Australians racist. It called your SYSTEM racist. E.g. the police, after an attack on an Indian, advised other Indians to not speak in their native tongues. THIS is systemic racism. And Aussies are okay with it.

surge | 30 April 2011  

Well it's all good commentary! What the Indian media did, could be faulted at a certain point! But; the sort of defensiveness your country showed was remarkable cowardice! Please do justice to those attacks by focusing more on what went wrong that it escalated to 28 attacks on Indian students accompanied with racial overtones! Please understand; we don't have to be right to tell you what's right! China may not have an excellent history on human rights (As if historically, Australia had an 'impeccable' human rights record! The treatment of Aboriginals is downright disgusting! Pitiful Ignorance!); but they certainly do expect Overseas Chinese students to be protected! The Solar System doesn't revolve around Australia!!

Padmanaabh Chatterjee | 06 November 2014  

Australia needs to educate its children by introducing the history, cultures and religions of Asia into its school classes. Only this will lead to more tolerance, respect and understanding of its neighbors. Australians must understand that they live in Asia, this realization can begin by learning the languages of its neighbors languages st school. How helpful is it to learn Italian, or French rather than Hindi or Indonesian to an Australian child? Australian must acknowledge in its classrooms that its conquest of Australia by Europeans was a cruel, barbaric and a very bloody journey that lasted for nearly 200 years. The damage and broken spirit of the aboriginal nations is a testimony to these atrocities. Guchi Shakir

Guchi Shakir | 21 May 2018