Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Playing the Race Card

The watchword for the New Year seems to be ‘racism’! The latest race row involves James Cameron’s blockbuster ‘Avatar’, which is accused of promoting the ‘supremacy of the white-skinned people over the natives’.

Strangely enough, racism was the furthest from my mind when I watched the movie and it was the spectacular special effects and the stunning sets that stayed with me long after I left the theater.

Before this controversy hit the news, the other major headline was the ‘racism’ going on Down Under. Every television news channel worth its name was out to get the ‘racist Aussies’ who were targeting us innocent Indians just because we had the audacity to pursue higher education in their country; or so the media would have us believe!

The media circus was so great that the Australian authorities were forced to caution the Indian media to adopt restraint in the matter. It only added more fuel to the fire.

Interestingly, no one seemed interested in investigating thoroughly and finding out if there was more to the story. For instance, everyone seemed to conveniently gloss over the fact that almost all the Indians targeted were students. No one even stopped to think why only Indian students were being attacked and that too just in one part of Australia.

There are thousands of Indian immigrants in the Australian workforce—doctors, engineers, and other professionals. Many of them have lived there for years.

If the attacks were purely racist then these people would not have remained completely unaffected and for sure, the attacks would have spread like wildfire. Remember how it was in the US soon after 9/11.

Yet none of the news channels covering the story thought of scratching the surface to see what lay beneath! A former diplomat, appearing on one of the news debates, put forth the theory that it was more likely to be the result of some visa scam gone kaput or a faulty immigration and work permit policy that was at the root of the issue.

He pointed out that the victims had similar profiles—they largely hailed from a particular region of India, hailed from poor families, they were pursuing vocational courses rather than studying at universities, and worked part time during odd hours at restaurants or local gas stations.
He suggested that the attacks were a backlash as many of these students were willing to take up low-paying work in exchange for being paid in cash. Obviously this would not sit well with the locals who would lose jobs since employers willing to bend the law would prefer cheap labour over them.

It made perfect sense to me, yet the anchor, with a show of righteous indignation, preferred to swiftly wave away any such possibility and continued to harp on the theme of racism. The sole voice of reason went unheard in the cacophony.

Given that witnesses have claimed that the attackers were accusing the victims of ‘stealing jobs’ and ‘working cheap’, shouldn’t this theory be given more credibility? It is a fact that many Indian students see the Australian government’s immigration policy which lets them work part time as a boon to be cashed in on; especially those who have migrated with the intention of helping out their families back home.

There may even be more than a few visa agencies which are exploiting this loophole to lure people with hopes of a permanent residency in Australia, and lining their pockets in the process.

Maybe a couple of incidents were simply racist. But then who can blame the Aussies when we Indians are no less when it comes to racism. In fact, we are a couple of steps ahead in this matter—we are racists even on a regional level!

The North Indians call the South Indians ‘Madrasis’ and Bollywood makes them the butt of jokes, blissfully ignorant that the southern region of the country comprises more than one city and state! And how can we forget that we are a nation obsessed with fair skin. The dark-skinned are discriminated against more often than you think. The list can go on and on!

With so many biases, we should be the last to jump the gun on such matters. Investigating all possibilities and getting to the root of the problem is the only way such issues can be resolved. Mere speculation and shifting the blame is definitely not the answer!