How Racist is Perth?

It’s a question my friends keeping asking me. On my Facebook Wall. On Google Talk. On Linkedin. Well, you get the picture. It’s almost as if I should be a victim of racism now that I’m an Indian student in Australia. And the answer is…?

Well, to tell the truth, I don’t really know. Indian friends tell me that immigrants from certain countries are more racist than the rest. Watch out for those…they can get nasty. Others seem faintly surprised that one of my best friends is Australian – the white kind. Is it racist if I say ‘white’?

What if I added that I go to a church where I’m the only Indian – I feel quite welcome there and have both African and Australian acquaintances. And what if I told you that I’m the only Indian PhD student I’ve met so far? That none of my housemates is Indian – and they don’t seem to have a problem with it.

And now perhaps I should ask a few questions of my own. Like would a mugging on a Mumbai local made the morning news for a week in India? Would we be racist if we made disparaging remarks about the firang who comes to India looking for the elephant and the snake charmer, and then proceeded to swindle him? What about the fact that a foreigner pays far more than we do to visit a national monument? I pay the same as any other student here in Perth. And don’t give me that line about being a ‘poor country’.

And then, what about the anti-North Indian campaigns by the MNS in Mumbai? The anti-Christian sentiments in Gujarat and Bihar? Casteism? Community bias? Discrimination is both Indian and Australian. Interestingly, though we are quick to see it in others, slow to notice it in our countrymen – I refer to both Indians and Australians here.

I sympathise with the Indian students in Melbourne. Violence is inexcusable. Yes, security could be better. An apology is an empty gesture unless it’s followed up by better policing of the city’s streets. And yes, foreigners are often soft targets. On a more cynical note – with Australia’s reputation as a safe education destination in tatters, it’s not surprising that PM Kevin Rudd himself has been on the phone to New Delhi. The Australian media are rather reticent on this topic, no prizes for guessing why.

The fact is there is crime all over the world. There are racist people all over the world. But not all crimes are racist. In a city like Perth where pedestrians are nonexistent at night, where policemen don’t patrol the pavements, where security cameras are meant to be the eyes on the street, it’s best not to venture out alone at night.

As for the bad press that Australia is getting in India …well, it’s not the first time that’s happened, and it’s not going to be the last. Just wait till the next cricket series!


One response to “How Racist is Perth?

  1. I agree with your friend where he says “that immigrants from certain countries are more racist than the rest.”. It is partly true. We, Indians, are divided in communities which are based on our comfort zones. And yes, there are certain likes and dislikes between communities. For me the lines are drawn when someone has to resort to violence. A mugging is not a hate crime, but some of the incidents makes me wonder. As you said, racist people are everywhere but unless one has experienced it first hand it is hard to believe. It can be as subtle as “no table is available in the restaurant, sir”, taxi driver ignoring you and stopping right ahead for that European tourist or the new delivery manager got the promotion despite the fact that he can not even compose an email. All these are subtle incidents we see in everyday life here in GCC. Some can just take them as one off incident, but it is hard to write them off to one off incidents when you can predict when it will happen again 😉 .

    Charging the tourists more than the nationals is a common practice in every country I have been to, and reason for them is to get tourism money(*though i have not been to Aus*). Cons just don’t scam foreign tourists but also non-local nationals(*ask a non Delhite/Mumbaikar who have been to Delhi/Mumbai*). Snide remarks are made not just for firangs. I remember a couple of Brits pulled over their car next to me while I was out birding and started with the same old cr*p of “Stinky Indian, taking away our jobs. Go back to your country”. I tried ignoring them but in the end I had to get up, take my monopod as a weapon and escort them back to their car. Of course these are personal observations, but they are not uncommon. It does not make all the Brits as racists in my books but it sure makes me realize that these things do happen.

    I hope that the recent attacks were just opportunistic attacks rather than hate crimes and the criminals are punished as per the country’s law.


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