First it was India’s High Commissioner to Australia, Sujatha Singh; and now it is the UN itself. The need to get to the ‘root cause’ of the attacks on Indians, and the demand for ‘credible answers’ has only increased in the last few weeks. The media din got a shot in the arm when Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith first acknowledged that some attacks on Indians appeared to be “racist in nature”. This followed by his recent statement on his visit to India that attacks have caused “considerable damage to Australia’s reputation among Indian people.”

So far so good. Acknowledging the elephant in the room is often the first step to further action. But hockey diplomacy as a solution to the racial question comes with it’s own set of problems. I am, of course, referring to the ‘Friendship Match’ between Australia and India in the hockey World Cup.

  1. To term a highly competitive, potentially conflictual  game played in high spirits a ‘Friendship Match’ is a gamble. It will do us well to remember the infamous racial episode of Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh, who faced a match ban for his alleged racist slur aimed at Andrew Symonds. Reverse racism isn’t a solution to racism. Further, racism snowballs in public memory: once a racist, always a racist.
  2. Let’s face it — hockey is not the most avidly followed sport in either India or Australia. It is relegated to the peripheries of the sporting culture in both the countries. It doesn’t have the necessary reach to affect a change in public perception of the Indo-Australia relationship.
  3. For those few people who do follow hockey, it wouldn’t have pleased many Indians to know that the Aussies trounced them 5-2. Also, headlines that scream: Australia brings India crashing to earth (The Hindu) or Australia thrash India 5-2 at hockey World Cup (ToI) won’t do any good to the Indian psyche which is already irate at the Australian attacks. Thus, just calling it a ‘Friendship Match’ does little to boost positive sentiments among the citizens of either countries.
All hope is not lost. Victoria has been at the forefront of this major image-makeover exercise of Australia. Following Mr. Smith’s promise to protect Indian students, Victoria has roped in popular Aussie cricketer Shane Warne to foster a sense of security and belongingness among the Indians in Melbourne, Victoria. The cricketer, who is well-loved of Indian cricket fans attended a picnic and dinner with Indian students and made statements like, “I LOVE INDIA!” and “WE’RE MULTICULTURAL!” He is expected to play in the Indian Premier League starting March 12. Using his popularity, many concerns can be allayed as he tours India.
However, Victorian Premier John Brumby might have gone too far with the $1,000 on-the-spot fine for carrying a knife in Victoria. The fine is $2,000 on licensed premises like bars and pubs. The move, he says, is meant to discourage the ‘knife culture’ in Victoria which saw the most number of attacks on Indians, especially in Melbourne. What is further disturbing is the proposed change of law which subverts the basic judicial tenet of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ into ‘guilty until proven innocent’.
What this means is that the casual camper or the father taking his son fishing will not get the benefit of doubt until they prove that the knives they had were for recreational purposes. If passed into effect, this law might backfire. Australians are, as a society, outgoing and social. A good 2/3rds of them are into outdoor activities such as games and sports. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that such a heavy curtailment on them might transpire into resentment for the Indians. Such tough restrictions might give rise to rebellious reactions from certain sections of the society.
Though the decision lies with what Victoria thinks is best for the state, I am inclined to doubt the wisdom of a law that presupposes every knife-wielding Victorian to be a manic racist about to go violent.
____
By Ajinkya Deshmukh – a media student and a freelancer.