Monday, January 18, 2010

One Month And Some Fears

When I shifted to Melbourne, I definitely thought that it would mean better standards of living, cleaner environs and . Friends who have been here a while, were liking the life, and said the kids were happy too. Stories of racial attacks on Indians had been filtering through for a while, but our acquaintances, had never experienced any hostile racism , and that re-assured us, because they seemed more reliable than the media which thrives on sensationalising the reality.

Happily here, and within a fortnight, an Indian student is murdered, followed by the attempted burning of an Indian man, late on a Friday night, very very close to home. I had not been in this city long enough to have an opinion on the city, its culture or people. All I have is a handful of acquaintances, and rented place, I call home. So what do I do? For starters, after the second incident, I was terrified and depressed. I lost my entire weekend fretting over the issue. Wondering if it had been a good decision to come here, went onto realise that safety and security trumps all other considerations in life, and that clean environs, and good roads have no standing when it comes to a choice between them and safety. It was a heavy, depressing weekend, where we considered every possibility available to us, and thought hard and deep about what we needed to do. Had dinner at a friends place Saturday night, and I think I tired out everyone present there, with my questions on their brushes with racism here. Did I conclude anything? No, I don't think so. I was too disturbed to think clearly at that point. It is definitely not comforting, when one is new to a place, and before starting to feel at home, there are incidents of violent attacks on people of similair origins. It is in fact terrifying. The current media trend of sensationalising everything, does not help much either .

After a couple of days, when I had calmed down, I began to think more clearly. Indeed, people were rather polite and nice here. The little bit that I had been around, I did not find anyone being openly hostile or rude to me, people at stores were smiling, when serving me at the counters, and I obviously don't look like them, and have a distinctly different accent to boost. So what did that say to me about racism here, if it existed at all? I realised that the general population did not seem racist. In fact, if you read my previous post, I do feel the people here are quite understanding and helpful. There is respect for the old, pregnant women, women with children, and that is irrespective of the colour of skin or accent. I have not seen much, but from what I had seen so far, things did not seem openly hostile. And for every rude and inconsiderate bus driver, there is also a kind and sweet man to proactively help out. So here I am back at square one with my opinion. And yet I knew that there was something in my mind I could not put into words.

While discussing this with the GP, a few days down the line, I said, there are rotten apples everywhere. Considering that some of the attacks on the Indians were indeed racial, does not make the whole place bad. We should indeed give this place a chance, and since the BB is yet to start formal schooling, we can get a good idea about everything in and around here by then, and reconsider our options if needed. And just a few days after that the GP told me about this article the TOI, and he seemed to have put into exact words what I had in my mind. I don't know at this point if I concur with him on all counts, or if everything he has said is indeed true, because I have not been here long enough(Just completed a month since arriving here, today!) to know, but I do get what he is saying, and he definitely seemed to be coming out in the open about tackling the issues. The headlines by TOI(Australian top cop says there is racism in Melbourne), though does not do justice to the police commissioner Ken Jones' honesty.

Reading newspapers or following the happenings around the world, is just not my thing. I pick it up from people around me talking, or even tweeting these days, an occasional catching of headlines on the telly, and that is about it. But when the GP told me about what he had read, it piqued my interest, so I googled it and found the original interview in The Australian. I know for a fact that the government here is strictly against racism and has very strong laws in place to ensure that. The fact remains that students, coming here to study, live on a strict budget, and end up staying huddled in seedy neighbourhoods, which offer cheaper rents, and the fact also remains that there are bound to be some racist, discriminating elements in the society here, as there are anywhere else. The problem for me now, is, if a boy in a car passing by the road, looks at me and screams something,(yes, it happened, and I don't know what the guys were saying, because they were quite a distance away) do I think of it as racist or just a boisterous kid getting cheap thrills? Do I know if he is in fact a racist or not? The only way I would differentiate this incident happening in India is, that there I would be 100% sure its just eve-teasing, while here it can be either of the things.

Coming back to the interview, I am in absolute agreement to Ken Jones' approach and what he has said.

"Part of that is being absolutely upfront about every society having racism and racists," he said. "We have got murderers and rapists, but for a developed country, less than our share. We've got less than our share of racists, but we have got them.

"The more we can be accurate in our discussion . . . the more likely we are to be able to focus on that small element of society and prosecute it.

"The more scattergun our commentary and approach is, we are offending an awful lot of people unnecessarily."

It is a fact that turning a blind eye and saying there is absolutely no racism here, is like going to a huge flower garden and saying, there are absolutely no dry flowers here. Only when we accept that a problem exists can it be solved. Blowing it out of proportion, or completely denying its existence, are both detrimental to actually solving the problem. The Indian media is doing the former, while some government agencies in Australia are doing the latter. The simple example being, the title given for the same interview by TOI(Australian top cop says there is racism in Melbourne) and The Australian(Melbourne not racist, top cop says). And when in reality he has said the exact opposite of both of these things. He said it precisely, with the statement

But Indians should not be blamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he said. "The fact we have got morons out there waiting to attack people who happen to be wandering through a park late at night is a problem for us all."

In fact, the approach should be to control crime, of any kind at all, and improve safety and security of all inhabitants of this place.

Having just arrived, I don't know enough people here, to have a distinct opinion on the issue of racism in Melbourne, but I do like the approach taken by the police commissioner. For now, I am watching out, and trying to find out how this place really works, friends who have lived here for ages, assure me that it is a nice place to be in, but those two incidents one after the other, followed by a couple of minor ones, have indeed rattled me, and I am going about carefully and testily, trying to know the place myself. The only thing if any, is that I am going to be more alert and careful about everything I do.


Sraboney said...


As you so rightly said, there are rotten apples everywhere...If Indians are so worried about being attacked, they should stay in better areas or not come at all...Recession also brings out the worst in people...

Also, Indians have this clannish attitude...They should remember the old adage 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'...They don't mix with locals, speak in their own language in front of people who don't speak that language, are loud etc. ...This bothers the locals...

These attacks should be first looked at as crimes and the police should be focussed on solving them as such...

Shrutzz said...

I would exactly feel the same, if I were to be in your place....You are still new to the place and such incidents try to easily create an impression..I suggest, you be careful but still give the place a chnage...

My friend studies there and is very happy about the place. He is scared these days, but says those incidents are most of the times cos some Indian students are not in their limits while talking or how they are behaving..Most of the time they try to take vengeance for all they have assumed.

According to him, its a nice place to Live and people are very friendly.

Trish said...

Ohh GM,
I wish I could tell you something to make you feel comfortable..but unfortunately,I don't have any such words of wisdom..Except that I like the way you are thinking..and being aware and watchful of our surroundings should be a good way to start,towards being safe..Freaks are not going away..we can just be more careful!

Rakesh said...

Yeah, I guess Take your time and then form your opinion. I agree the guy's interview makes a lot of sense. It is indeed comforting when you hear such wise words from the guy who is responsible for your safety.

Aneela Z said...

had blogged about this a long long time ago. some of the issues still stand

indianhomemaker said...

I can imagine how this must have worried you, but there are good and bad people everywhere, and they do sound keen to control the situation. Give the place a chance, but do also be alert and careful.

Passionate Goof said...

Sraboney - The fact is, i agree with all that you say. But that still does not justify killing, esp if it has been done with a racist motive.

Shrutzz - I have heard the same too, so am hoping this all turns out to be something not racially motivated.

Trish - Careful is something we should always be isn't it?

Rakesh - Yes, it is very reassuring indeed.

Aneela - Lovely post that one Aneela.

IHM - Exactly what I am doing right now.

Reflections said...

I was wondering when u were going to blog about it:-).
Have to agree with the others here....every place has its share of anti-social elements.
We have to keep our eyes peeled and take care not to wander around in deserted areas after dark....we also do our best and not invite trouble especially when we know there is soemthing wrong.