Hando: What'd you run into me for?
Tiger: I didn't mean it, mate, that guy pushed me.
Hando: What'd you run into me for? What are you doing here? *What* are you doing here? [grabs Tiger by the shoulder]
Hando: I'm gonna tell you something. I want you to listen to me now, OK? This... is... not... your... country. [proceeds to beat him up]
-‘Romper Stomper’ (1992) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0L1qutYEF0&feature=related)
According to recent reports, Australia is not the promised land of barbeques, sardonic wit and running with glee from poisonous things. It’s a place where foreigners, including Indians, get beaten up. With thousands of ex-pats leaving Mumbai, Bangalore, Trivandrum etc. behind each year to work or study in Oz, there has understandably been quite a vocal response in Australia and here in India to the spate of attacks Indian residents endured in Sydney and Melbourne recently. I’ll not go into the particulars too deeply, but if you wish to inform yourself, have a look at what was in the news a few months ago:
Indian student bashings on the rise in Sydney: community leader (http://www.smh.com.au/national/indian-student-bashings-on-the-rise-in-sydney-community-leader-20090529-bpxy.html)
Australia isn’t racist: Rudd tells India (http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/australia-isnt-racist-rudd-tells-india-20090601-bsm1.html)
Thousands rally against racism in Melbourne (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS/World/Indians-Abroad/Thousands-rally-against-racism-in-Melbourne/articleshow/4599752.cms)
The quote at the top of the article comes from ‘Romper Stomper’, a seminal Australian film starring Russell Crowe about a group of neo-Nazi skinheads. That was nearly 20 years ago; how far has Australia’s multicultural society progressed since then? As the phrase ‘curry bashing’ enters the Aussie vernacular in 2009, Hando’s brutal intolerance in Geoffrey Wright’s film is clearly still relevant. What, then, is the problem Down Under?
My first response on hearing about these attacks was to cast my mind back to when I was mugged in south Auckland in my teens. It was stupid, really; myself and two friends were attending a posh boarding school in a poor area and, having stocked up on McDonald’s and lad mags, decided to walk back to school through a quiet park – always a risky proposition. Halfway through, a group of youths attacked us and took our wallets, and I took blows to the head and kidneys before they bolted.
While there were suspicions from our families that the attack may have been in part racially motivated – they were black and we were white/Asian, after all – it was evident pretty quickly that this was an opportunist thing. The only racist involvement was the notion that we, as defenceless 14-year-old whites in a Pacific-Island-dominated neighbourhood, would be an easy hit. And we were. These kids were, in their words, ‘drunk and out of control’ and I still absolutely believe that – they would’ve attacked anyone going through that park that today, provided they thought they could take their opponent down. We just made it easy for them.
I suspected this was the case with these events in Australia. A foreigner will nearly always be an easier target than a local as they’re not so familiar with the patterns of thought and understanding in a culture, not to mention the best ways to stay out of harm’s way; and on the attacker’s side, foreigners are ‘outside’ the culture and are easier to not care about. After midnight, that vulnerability takes on enormous proportions. People walking alone, at night, lacking the self-confidence that comes from being in a familiar environment.
Sadly, I was wrong: it isn’t that simple. Petrol bombs have been thrown through the windows of Indians’ houses; unprovoked beatings have been carried out without even the excuse of robbery. As mentioned earlier, there’s even a new phrase for kids to use to look cool in the eyes of their peers. The topic is blown wide open: no longer explained away by the rituals of the opportunist criminal, an entire society is called into question as it has produced individuals capable of hating on, or at least doing violence to, another person plainly because they look and act different.
Everyone, everywhere deserves the right to walk through a suburban neighbourhood at any time of day or night without being ‘curry bashed’, and people are absolutely right to fight for that. However, the reality is that cultures like Australia’s (and New Zealand’s) were built on a foundation of colonial violence and racism, a powerful perception that the invading race was superior, and such ways of thinking may never completely die out. It’s a brave immigrant that will stand up to that history and its remnants – such as these discriminatory attacks – in modern society, but in the interests of self-preservation, most limit their activities to a degree. Dr Yadu Singh, a prominent Sydney NRI, hints at a happy medium when discussing Indian immigrants: "They don't walk with the confidence we do. You have to merge with the general persona of Australian confidence, you should have a spring of confidence in your step."
Ultimately, it was Hando who was out of date in ’92 telling immigrants it was ‘not your country’. He represented the worst of a supremacist minority left far behind by an increasingly liberal, foreigner-friendly government. Out of date, yes, but thanks to an overwhelming desire to use violence to prove his point, absolutely relevant. And he remains so in ’09. Because it is a tiny, tiny minority who would actually physically attack a foreigner for being foreign, but they give a tangible, physical voice to the little parts of racist prejudice that dwell inside an overwhelming majority, born of over a hundred years of never properly atoning for how the land was won in the first place. It happens in every culture where foreigners are ‘accepted’ into the fabric of society; Australia happens to be where it’s most prominent now, with Indians on the receiving end.
I suppose all that remains is how to get out of such a mentality. Beyond embracing peace, love and understanding, I’m pretty much stumped. I’ll leave it to you: prayer in schools? More juvenile detention centres? Compulsory reading of the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Koran?