Tag Archives: news

Freedom of Entry

“Do we have to pay?” asks my mother. We are trundling across McCallum Park, headed towards the Sunday farmers’ market.

“No, it’s free,” I answer absently, as I contemplate the perils of pushing a stroller past the stalls that have cropped up across the green. Freedom of entry, I realise somewhat wryly, is dictated by where my son’s stroller is able to go. However, the grassy expanse is dotted with other Baby Joggers and Steelkrafts. What is it about being a parent that makes you notice other babies and the brand of pram they are in? I decide the going will be fine.

We pass stalls selling fresh produce and colourful craftwork. No, I explain to my mother who is visiting from India, if it’s fresh and organic it probably costs more. Yes, Coles is probably cheaper. Even a dollar makes a huge difference, especially when you are mentally converting your gold coins into rupees.

We pass the community library. I have recently become a member, as has my six-month-old son.

“Can I go in there any time, if I want to read a book?” my mum asks.

“Yes, of course.” I reply. “You can borrow books on my card, if you like. Everyone is welcome. Entry is free.”

The words remind me of the military parade I had seen in Perth’s Forrest Place a few weeks earlier. I was impressed by the marching band in its the desert-hued uniforms and slouch hats with their characteristic upturned brims.

“It’s the Freedom of Entry parade,” explained one officer. Was the city not free to enter then? It was, I learned, an old English tradition, a granting of permission for the army to enter the city, and an assurance of their protection for the citizens. The battalions were standing at ease, being welcomed by the Mayor.

How were the first British regiments in Western Australia greeted by the Native Australians, I wonder. I do not say this out aloud, of course. No one speaks of these things. Centuries ago others arrived, also by ship and boat. They had freedom of entry but then they infringed on many native freedoms. Today, many choose to enter freely by boat. They are not free to stay.

Freedom of entry is very much in the Australian media and on Australian minds. A recent issue of The Monthly discusses Australia’s refugee policies, particularly concerning the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar who are being smuggled across the Andaman Sea eventually headed for Australian waters on fishing boats ill-fitted for the journey. Were we suitably concerned for their plight? The Abbott government’s determination to turn back boats suggests not.

Nevertheless, Australian is not entirely unsympathetic to those fleeing from conflict. At church this same Sunday morning, we listened as our minister applauded the government’s move to welcome twelve thousand Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, the editorial pages of The Age call for “a reality check.” What of the plight of those who have crossed the border only to languish in detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru, it asks.

Whether those who arrive at Australian borders should be viewed as refugees or as illegal immigrants is a question that has no simple answer. Do we tacitly support discriminatory regimes when we shelter the peoples they wish to eject from their country but do little to stop the discrimination or conflict? No nation wishes to make foreign troubles its own and every government is reluctant to send troops abroad to fight others’ battles. As Obama notes in one speech on the Syrian crisis, a nation cannot embroil itself in someone else’s civil war. Furthermore, it is very difficult for one nation to prevent another’s genocide or maltreatment of minority ethnic groups without threatening the latter’s sovereignty. As Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka have shown us, the law is punitive rather than preventive.

We are crossing a parking lot now, passing others on their way to the shops – Middle Easterners, Caucasians, Africans. I reflect on what it is to live in multicultural Australia. This is a country that has freely given a home to others like myself. Despite the many criticisms for the present government, I am happy that I was free to enter as a student and later as a professional. Freely, I have chosen to stay.

The Hardest Word

I’ve been reading about Kevin Rudd’s visit to India. Apparently people waited with bated breath to see if he’d apologise for the ‘racist’ attacks on Indian students earlier this year. People are probably going blue in the face, because the Aussie PM stopped short of saying sorry, but accepted responsibility for law and order Down Under…or words to that effect.

I’m not trying to say that Australians are not the apologetic type. In fact, I admire the way they are quick to say they’re sorry if they think your feelings have been hurt, or they’ve done wrong. Earlier this year the Jackson Five were spoofed by a group of singers with black-painted faces on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. It was Australian humour (still a mystery to me), and people probably found it funny. Harry Connick Jr., the guest judge, was not amused. The incident made the morning news, and probably made Connick Jr. famous for the first time in Oz. The presenter apologized at once, of course.

The PM himself has, in fact, been making formal apologies this month to the Forgotten Australians, the former inmates of Fairbridge Farm School. Years ago, a large number of under-privileged children were brought over to Australia from the UK, with the promise of a better life and a brighter future. Unhappily for the kids, many of them were abused, put to work, and in short had a childhood that left them traumatised. Many completely lost contact with their families when Australia ‘adopted’ them. It was something of a legalized almost-kidnapping. A sorry tale, well deserving a prime ministerial apology.

Last year Rudd apologized for Australia’s mistreatment of the Aborigines. There is a whole ‘Stolen Generation’ of Australian Aborigines who were taken away from their families as children. Hmm…I begin to see a theme here. What is it with the Australian government and children?

Still, while begging their pardon is a public acknowledgement, I’m not sure what purpose is served. I’m reminded of those Indians who want the Queen to apologize for British colonization. Would that wipe out two hundred years of British heritage, the Indian railways, and English education? I’m not going down that road…. Suffice to say that with Australians, sorry only seems to be the hardest word.

I should point out that Indians and Australians have a history of apologies though. It just takes a few cricket matches and Harbhajan Singh… need I say more?

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!