Last week, India’s Mail Today published a questionable cartoon, depicting Australia’s Victorian police as members of the Ku Klux Klan. The cartoon has been the cause of much uproar in Australia, a nation which prides itself on its multiculturalism and tolerance.
The cartoon refers to the murder of Nitin Garg, a 21 year old Indian man studying in Australia. Many Indians see Garg’s murder as just one of a series of attacks on South Asians.
Is Garg’s murder part of a rising racist tendency in Australia? As an Australian, I’d like to say no. As an Indian, I find myself thinking, “probably”. Beneath Australia’s carefully cultivated overseas-tourist image lie remnants of a very real, very racist history. To list just a few of the highlights:
1803-1830 - the extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines, or Palawa, much of which is attributed to violence
1901-1973 - the White Australia Policy is introduced, restricting the immigration of non-white persons
1966 - Aborigines are upgraded from cattle to human in census records
1997-2003 - the formation and rise of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party, a nationalist party seeking to prevent the “Asianisation of Australia”. The party viewed multiculturalism as a “threat to the very basis of the Australian culture, identity, and shared values.”
My personal experiences in Australia were not particularly brutal, though, in retrospect, many of the girls at my school had “racist leanings”. Many of my classmates supported One Nation and Hanson’s policies, several of them saying my situation was different “because your parents have lived here so long” and, as small business owners, were not “cashing in on the dole”.
And, to be honest, my situation was--is--different. My mother’s family were Ten Pound Poms, immigrating to Australia on assisted passage--part of the White Australia Policy. Were it not for trembling white men afraid of Asians, Blacks, and anyone with an accent, my mother probably wouldn’t have met my father, a Fiji Indian who moved to Australia for university.
Which, of course, leaves me torn between two realities. Furors such as this leave me wondering if, somewhere inside, my indentured servitude Fiji Indian blood is warring with my colonial overload blood.
To make matters worse, Victoria State Police are responding to the criticism with bad grace.
Greg Davies, secretary of Victoria’s Police Association, “Cartoons in Australia are normally done by people who are either clever or witty and this one's neither.” He also described the cartoon as “a kick in the guts” for the Victorian police.
Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, cartoon unseen, called the implications in the cartoon, “deeply offensive”.
The idea of using art to cause offense, to create new thought, and to argue against old thought, is certainly not new. Many of Australia’s newspapers publish questionable cartoons, particularly during election years. And is the cartoon more or less offensive than the Muhammad cartoons published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005?
When asked about the work, artist R. Prasad said it was a response to "the injustice underlying the refusal of the Australian authorities and the police to accept the murder of Nitin Garg, the Indian youth, as a race attack. How best to conceptualise this injustice than stamping the badge of authority on the worst possible image of global racism?"
But while I’m the first to admit Australia’s not as multiculturally friendly as her PR people seem to think, the claim that Garg’s murder was racially motivated is, at present, fatuous--assuming the crime was racially motivated potentially limits its investigators. Should Victorian police simply round up every Victorian guilty of racist comments? Moreover, should they exclude Indians from the suspect pool?
And then there’s the bigger picture. The past few of months have seen an increase in violent crime all over Australia, an issue some claim is a result of the current heat wave. Are they all racially motivated? Are Indians focusing only on Indian-centric attacks?
I think, as with many things, the answer lies in the gray areas. Some attacks have been opportunistic. Some attacks have been--will be--racially motivated, and Indians are right to call Australia out, to say “this is not okay”. Of course, the greater issue is not what motivates violent crime, but rather how to eliminate it.