The root of racism

The root of racism

By Sudhanshu Ranjan

After much hullabaloo, one Australian has been convicted for racially abusing and assaulting an Indian cab driver. The conviction came within 24 hours of the incident as the accused himself pleaded guilty in the court though Australian authorities are taking credit for the expeditious conviction.
Crimes against Indians in Australia are going on continually for months, rather years together unabated but Australian authorities always maintained that these were random acts of violence common in other countries as well.
Further, whether these crimes are racially motivated or just ordinary criminal acts of muggers, the fact remains that Indians are being targeted mercilessly, and it is difficult to understand why the majority of victims are Indians only. It has also been argued that when there was a surge of racist ‘curry bashings’ in the western suburbs of Sydney in 2009, it was not white Australians who were the culprits, but Australians of West Asian (primarily Lebanese) background.
Australia suffers from an identity crisis. It always considered itself part of the West and wanted to be called a second America which could never happen. It was the last to be discovered after India and South East Asia and till the 18th century the land was virtually ignored.

After the industrial revolution, England started sending its convicts to Australia, something like ‘kaala paani.’ After the rise of Japan, Britain thought of setting up a colony there and organising its administration efficiently. As Australian aborigines were neither armed nor advanced, there was hardly any resistance when the British population started settling there.

In America there was some resistance and migrants killed indigenous people in large numbers. After becoming a full-fledged nation in 1901, the first law Australia made was ‘White Australia Policy’. Due to it, there was a sharp decline in the population of blacks and by 1930 Europeans constituted 98 per cent of the population. This law was in force till 1973 when the government adopted the policy of multi-culturalism and enacted the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and Racial Hatred Amendment Act (1995) which outlawed discrimination on the ground of race.

However, this journey from ‘only white’ to ‘multi-culturalism’ was not smooth and the new laws could not extirpate the germs of racism from the Australian psyche and its leaders did continue to encourage it. In 1988, John Howard, gave the slogan of ‘One Australia Policy’ and called for end of multi-culturalism and stay on the migration of the Asians. Raving about racism, he became prime minister in 1996 and remained in his chair till 2007.

England and France are the two countries which expanded their colonies, but their approaches to the indigenous people were different. While the British associated the indigenous people in administration, they did not keep any social interaction with them whereas the French accepted integration with the local population (perhaps because the slogan of equality and fraternity reverberated the French Revolution) they did not allow them to partake in the governance.

Slavery has been the most notorious example of racism by the West. Racism is the firm belief that abilities and characteristics of a person are attributable to his colour. Black Africans were enslaved on the ground that they are less human than white Europeans and their descendants.

History testifies to the fact that Africans were not inferior. When Portuguese sailors first explored Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries, they were astounded to find cities and empires as advanced as their own, and so saw in them a serious rival. However, over time, the Africans failed to make technological strides on a par with Europe.
Now, racism has been abolished in principle internationally. The definition of racial discrimination is contained in Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to which Australia is a party: “The term ‘racial discrimination’ shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

However, it is yet to be observed in spirit. The International Day for the Elimination of racial Discrimination is observed annually on  March 21. It was on this day in 1960, in Sharpville in South Africa, that the police shot dead 69 demonstrators and injured 180. Most of those killed had been shot from behind. Seven thousand people had assembled to rally against apartheid and its ‘pass laws’ which required all Africans to carry a pass book enabling the South African government to restrict and monitor their whereabouts.
The UN held a conference to discuss racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance from August 31 to Sept 7, 2001. While every nation criticised others, no one tolerated its own criticism. The USA and Europe were against effective discussion on slavery reparation, Israel and the USA were against discussion whether Zionism is racist against Palestinians and they also walked out in protest, India opposed any discussion on caste-based discrimination and some Arab countries were against discussions on oppression of Kurds or Arab slave trade. Racism in whatever form has to be exterminated and the comity of nations must come forward to ensure that it is done at the earliest.