Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Going down Down Under


Indians students in Australia have been attacked for the past several months. Long-term Indian residents says that robbery, not racism, is the reason

Photo: Lali Jacob (extreme right) with her family

By Shevlin Sebastian

In a restaurant at Sydney, Bobby John Mana is having dinner with a friend. Most of the patrons are Australians. There are six Indian students who are boisterous and talking loudly in Hindi, no doubt aided by the alcohol they are consuming. And it is becoming annoying. Soon, the waiter brings forth a cake on a trolley.

“So the people understood it is a birthday celebration and they are in a forgiving mood,” says Bobby. “But then the boys proceed to smear cake on each other’s faces. Pieces are falling all over the carpet. This is terrible behaviour.”

Finally, one of the patrons, a big-built Australian, who is having dinner with his wife, loses his patience. He goes up to the group and says, “Excuse me I would appreciate it if you behave because I am having dinner.”

The students become quiet at once. “If they had continued with their boorish behaviour, I am sure the Australian would have given them a good beating,” says Bobby, with a laugh.

Bobby, a film-maker, who has lived 13 years in Australia, has been staying in Kochi for work in the past one year.

Indian students lack an understating of Australian society. Lali Jacob, who works as a manager at the School of Medical Science at Sydney, says, “In Australia everybody says ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Hello, how are you, mate?’ to strangers.”

Lali remembers meeting a family who had migrated a few months ago. “They complained that everybody seems to be saying, ‘How are you?’” says Lali. “They said that they were getting annoyed by this, but I told them this is the way in Australia. For example, if I meet you on the road, I will say, ‘How are you?’ If I meet you again after two hours, I will still say, ‘How are you?’”

She gives another example. If you are in the checkout counter of a supermarket, the staffer, before making out your bill, will say. ‘How are you today?’”

Lali says the majority of Indian students do not respond to the greetings. “As a result, Australians think, ‘Indians are so rude,’” she says.

Bobby says that Indians make other mistakes while navigating through Australian society. They do a lot of odd jobs and then they use the money to buy the best mobile phones, I Pods, laptops and sneakers.

“When they finish work late at night, they will walk through deserted parks, or travel in empty train compartments flashing their latest gadgets,” he says. So, the drug addict, who is hard up for money, thinks, ‘Look at this, an Indian with an expensive mobile phone. He is not Lebanese or a Chinese, who will fight back. This is easy meat!’

Bobby says that Indians are physical cowards. “They will shout ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and throw stones at the police in India,” he says. “But in Australia a white has to just yell at him, and he will throw down the phone or the laptop and run away.”

What adds to the problem is the lack of unity among the Indians. “So, if one Indian student is being attacked, the others will look away. They will not even inform the police. Instead, they will pretend as if nothing has happened,” says Bobby. This is in stark contrast to the Lebanese, who always moves in gangs. If one is attacked, there is an immediate group response.

Meanwhile, Lali is puzzled over the brouhaha in the media over the attacks on Indians. “Mugging incidents occur in every country,” she says. “It happens in New York, Paris, New Delhi, or Mumbai. I fear that all this negative publicity will polarise the Australians and the Indian immigrants.”

So, does that mean these are not racist attacks? “Not at all,” says Bobby. “These are just opportunistic guys robbing vulnerable Indians. There is nothing more to it.”

However, he says, this is not to deny that racism exists in Australian society.

“Every country has an element of racism, but in Australia it has a good-humoured tinge,” says Bobby. “My Australian friends used to call me a ‘curry muncher’, because I am an Indian. But everybody loves curry in Australia and it is quite expensive. So, it is an indirect compliment. I would describe it as a light form of discrimination. I have never experienced brutal in-your-face racism.”

Not like what happened to Bobby’s relative, Chinnu, a doctor, who grew up in London. Once she was spat upon by a white, who shouted, “You Paki, go back!” She spent four months in Australia doing her house surgeoncy. “Chinnu never experienced a single incident of racism,” says Bobby. “She told me Australia is a great country.”

Lali says that she also has never experienced any form of racism in Australia. “It is a country where if you work hard you can go all the way to the top,” she says.

Incidentally, people from more than 50 nationalities live here. They include Italians, Brits, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Greeks, South Africans, Germans, and Malaysians.

And yet, despite this wide variety, in the recent past, Indians have been singled out for attacks. So what is the way out?

“They should take simple precautions like avoiding deserted parks or travel in empty trains late at night,” says Dr Soni Stephens, who works in the Sydney Dental Hospital.

Lali says the Indian High Commission should hold orientations sessions to teach students on how to behave in Australia. She gives an example of mixed signals.

“If you travel on a train, and if an Indian receives a call on the mobile, he tends to talk so loudly that it annoys everybody else in the compartment,” she says. “These are basic manners which are lacking in Indians.”

Bobby says that the new generation Indians should take some advice from their countrymen who have been there for decades.

“The earlier immigrants also had small issues here and there,” says Bobby. “But they knew how to work their way through. The solution is not to go to the media.” Sadly, some politicians and the media on both sides are happy to fish around in these waters, to get the maximum publicity possible.

They fear that if this media blitzkrieg continues, there will be a negative backlash from Australians. “Don’t forget that the tourism industry is already hit,” says Bobby. “The Australians are now wary about coming to India. They prefer to go to Sri Lanka, instead.”

In the end, both Lali and Bobby say, with deep feeling, “Australia is a great country and one of the best places to settle down. This is what we will tell the students: assimilate, and be a part of this wonderful society.”

(The New Indian Express, Chennai)


  1. Anonymous3:14 PM

    This is one of the most juvenile and deplorable pieces I have read in regard to the troubles of Indian students in Australia. And the two people featured in your article Lali Jacob and Bobby John are typical of the Malayalis who move abroad and affect odd airs and graces. On the one hand they try hard to portray what they believe is western sophistication -which to Lali’s mind clearly is all about How do you dos and hello’s to passersby. On the other hand they join every Malayali association and raid the Indian shops for their daily dose of dosa and sambar and can’t wait to see the latest Indian films. The same people who laud the polite ways of the Aussie will I could bet my bottom dollar create havoc if their daughter/son comes home with a white boyfriend/girlfriend and will waste no time advertising for Indian brides/grooms for their sons/daughters. Yet when they arrive in India they will talk ill of fellow Indians with no compunction and glorify the west.

    Both these people show an appalling lack of understanding of the issue in question – the racist attacks on Indian students in Melbourne. And even more disgraceful is their justification of the attacks because they reckon the students in question and Indians in Australia in general lack the social graces that the two of them apparently are blessed with in abundance. Since when has it become OK to bash people if you don’t like their language, or they talk too loudly or carry an IPhone or laptop? Since when did it become funny to watch a boisterous but harmless group of young Indians enjoying a birthday party albeit too loudly being asked by a white man to keep quiet? Sounds to me like Bobby would’ve enjoyed it more if the white man had just laid into the youngsters and given them a good beating. Have Lali and Bobby ever come across a group of ‘high spirited’ local youngsters at a non-Indian restaurant? Have they ever travelled on the city rail? I have. I commute to the city every day. Unless they are blinkered Lali and Bobby would see that the loudest youngsters are the locals discussing everything from the next lecture to their sex lives in graphic details, often making out right there on the train with loud gay abandon, their every second word a swear word. Would these two advocate that these locals be bashed too? Or do they like it because gross sounds issue out of the mouths of whites? Bobby may think being called a ‘curry-muncher’ is a sign of acceptance – newsflash for Bobby, your friends must think you are a wanker when you let them get away with it.

    The Indian students coming here may have many issues which needed to be sorted out – they may be unsophisticated but no civilised person will argue that all of these attributes be beaten out of them. The irony is the Australian education sector depends on these Indian students for its success. Their contribution to the economy is huge. Which is why, every university worth its salt is begging the government and Victorian police to get their heads out of the sand and see the racism for what it is and deal with it. It’s the universities dollars that are on the line here. Lali who allegedly works for a leading university, ought to know this. The powers that be at her university would be horrified if they knew one of their managers has given such an interview.

    Australia has a serious race problem. To this day the Australian Aboriginals live in third world conditions in this first world country and they were second class citizens without the right to vote until the 1960’s. Until just three decades ago Australia had a white Australia policy. Not all Australia is racist. It is a wonderful country to live in but that doesn’t mean you deny the underlying thread of racism in some pockets nor should it be excused under any circumstance.

    Clearly Lali and Bobby need an education on reality down under. Maybe Bobby’s next film should be Lali and Bobby Down Under – A comedy of manners.

    Elizabeth Joseph

  2. I accidentally came to this page while searching for stories on Indian students in Australia. I was shocked to read the quotes by the so called Indian Australians. I agree fully with Elizabeth who wrote the comment ,excellent and deserving comment.

    The people featured in this article are not fit live in any modern society and in my opinion they do more harm to Australia than the racist guys.

    The guy who claims to be a film maker (Never heard of him) sound like a slave in Australia, and if Australia is such a good place what is he doing in India? The university manager is so naive with a very low IQ

    I can’t believe the writer Shevlin is an experienced journalist because if he was he wouldn’t interview such idiots for a serious subject and put it out there for people to laugh at these clowns.

  3. Mohan,
    Good to see you accidentally read this article.

    Anyway lets have a man-to-man talk.

    1) Why only Indian students getting attacked and not Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Srilankans? All look same rt.

    2) How come no Indian women got attacked?

    3) How come this so called racist attack started recently?

    4) Don’t you think Asians and Lebanese faced more problem than us all this time and now all tide is on Indians?

    It’s easy to write comments to real problems behind your walls. People like you just making this small issue worse.

    5) What do u think about Shivasena? How is poor Tamil laborers treated in Kerala? How about kaveri issue? Hindu Muslim issues?

    Those issues will come and go but we should learn how to deal with this Virus.

    Do you think all this cries going to help these students?

    # What I believe is we should be smart enough to look after by similar precautions we take just like we do in India. If you want to know more about this I will take you to a Gentleman (IPS) first Indian who got Doctorate in criminology from Scotland Yard.

    # If you read the whole article ie ours + Jayne Keane +Peter Varghese + Jeffrey Smart , its simple message. Just like when Hindu Muslim riot happens. We keep it low, in media etc. By crying out this racism thing we are really helping those cowards for easy targets.

    # Please contact me on BobbyMana@gmail.com or on +91 9947025015 and I will be glad to explain in detail about this matter.

    # I am spending all this time just to make sure my Indian brothers will all have safe and happy life in Australia. How many foreign tourists get attacked in India, does that mean we are racist?

    # Looking forward to hear from you soon brother.

  4. I studied in Australia and I find this article offensive. Three people featured in this article have no idea what they are talking about. The guy who says he think it is a joke calling someone a curry muncher must be living in Australia on the dole (Government Hand out) to take such racism from his friends.He says he is in India on work I wonder why? Next time please get someone who knows what they are talking about before conducting an interview.. not idiots like the ones featured in this article

  5. Is it ok to bash someone because you dont like the way they talk or behave? How could people talk like this. The people who featured in this article are .... I cant find the word to use because it will be too much to publish.