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If It's The Dalits In India, It's The Aborigines In Australia

23/08/2016 1:00 PM IST | Updated 25/08/2016 8:40 AM IST
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On the night of 25 July 2016, ABC TV showed images of horrific violence against Aboriginal children in a detention facility in Northern Territory, Australia. The practices, which appear to be in contravention of both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture, had been going on at that particular detention centre for a long time, thereby leading to questions about official complicity in the matter. In addition, this revelation is reflective of a broader institutional and systematic mistreatment of Aborigines in their own country.

In a country as affluent as Australia, why is there so much racism faced by the Aborigines, 43 years after the White Australia policy was abandoned?

The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a Royal Commission into the matter, leading to a pushback from Aboriginal groups. In the past, the recommendations of Royal Commissions in relation to human rights violations faced by Aborigines have only paid lip-service. And this time around, the Royal Commission is unlikely to lead to criminal charges against the perpetrators or have any impact on reducing racism against the indigenous community.

It is known that Aborigines suffered violence and dispossession in the past due to the colonial project. However, what is not widely known is that prejudice and discrimination against the original people of Australia is still deeply rooted throughout the country. The situation of Aborigines is much like the experience of Dalits in many parts of India. Even today, White people will pass the empty seat next to a dark-skinned Aborigine in a bus and sit elsewhere. Just like even today, some people will not eat food cooked by a Dalit.

What is of serious concern and needs to be addressed immediately (just like incidents such as the four Dalit youths being beaten publically in Gujarat), is that there appears to be heightened racism directed at Aborigines in recent times.

In a country as affluent as Australia, why is there so much racism faced by the Aborigines, 43 years after the White Australia policy was abandoned in 1973?

There are several facts which can throw light on this issue.

Firstly, the Australian Constitution is a racist document, where under Section 51 special laws can and have been enacted in relation to race. For example, the Northern Territory Intervention of 2007, when the military was sent in to take control of Aboriginal communities on the pretext that there was wholescale domestic violence and alcoholism in such communities. The Government of Australia treated the Aborigines like terrorists and stole their assets, thereby disempowering many communities. It is no surprise then that Aboriginal incarceration and suicide rates have gone up so much in a decade. And this is simply because the Constitution legitimizes racism, allowing its poison to seep throughout institutions and society.

The Australian Constitution is a racist document, where under Section 51 special laws can and have been enacted in relation to race.

Secondly, there is no official acknowledgement of the contribution of Aborigines to Australia in the Constitution or any other legislation. This ensures that issues which are paramount to the wellbeing and progress of the Aborigines are always determined and implemented by the Government of Australia, with the officials being mostly White and biased.

Thirdly, Australian politicians pander to the majority vote-bank; in their imagination Australia was settled by the British. So, despite the High Court rejecting the doctrine of terra nullius in Mabo v Queensland (No2), the view prevails that Australia is a country which belongs to the descendants of boat people who came under the British banner in 1779. Naturally, for some people such notions of entitlement lead to fear when demographic changes take place which are not to their liking. This is what is fuelling intolerance, bigotry and White ghettos in Australia.

Where the Australian Constitution is imperfect, the Indian Constitution is a far more enlightened piece of legislation for it is aimed at the development of every Indian citizen and the preservation of their dignity. This is something the Australian Constitution cannot provide to all her citizens.

The Australians surely have their colonial heritage to blame for the racism against the Aborigines. But then what is our excuse for denying Dalits a life of dignity that is their birthright as Indians? The answer is the same that applies in Australia. As in Australia, our politicians either cannot or do not want to understand that when every citizen of the nation is treated equally, the country will be much more prosperous. This lack of vision has ensured that Australia is only a middle-ranking power. Similarly, the discrimination faced by Dalits plays a part in preventing India from being a great power.

Mr Modi stood by the original inhabitants of Australia when the then Australian PM Tony Abbot had deliberately not... Modi now needs to stand by the Dalits.

On 18 November 2014, during his historic speech at the Australian Parliament, Prime Minister Modi acknowledged the Aborigines as the traditional custodians of Australia. It was a proud moment for India, for Mr Modi stood by the original inhabitants of Australia when the then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot had deliberately not in the same gathering.

Prime Minister Modi now needs to stand by the Dalits. The onus falls on him to show leadership and vision on this important issue of violence and harassment of a segment of Indians on the basis of caste. The message is clear as the Dalit protests in Gujarat clearly demonstrate: India needs inclusive development and an end to caste divisions. With already over two years in power at the Centre, this BJP government like other ruling parties in the recent past has disappointed and failed many Indians in this respect. With over three years left in this term, the BJP and Mr Modi still have the opportunity to do the right thing by Dalits, who are being hounded for merely trying to live. However, the danger is that the horse may have already bolted and if so, Mr Modi will find out in 2019 that his good days are already behind him.

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