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Subliminal racism has never disappeared from the Ozzie psyche and raises its very ugly head from time to time; Guru Greg's comments, violence against Indian students, the rise of Pauline Hanson etc.

I have just watched Arnab Goswami moderate a debate on the contents of Greg Chappell’s recently released book, in which he makes disparaging remarks about the Indian culture! To quote verbatim, Chappell is supposed to have remarked: “The (Indian) culture is very different, it’s not a team culture. They lack leaders in the team because they are not trained to be leaders. From an early age, their parents make all the decisions, their schoolteachers make their decisions, their cricket coaches make the decisions.”

Plus. “The culture of India is such that, if you put your head above the parapet someone will shoot it. Knock your head off. So they learn to keep their head down and not take responsibility.”

And as if that was not enough he goes on to say – “The Poms (British) taught them really well to keep their head down. For if someone was deemed to be responsible, they’d get punished. So the Indians have learned to avoid responsibility. So before taking responsibility for any decisions, they prefer not to,”

Understandably there was a sense of outrage amongst the esteemed panelists, and predictably the debate meandered on to the problem of racist violence in Australia, and whether Greg was a hardcore racist who held views inimical to the egalitarian ethos that his employment in India demanded, and whether the Indians were hoodwinked into offering him a position that he did not deserve.

Racism is a sensitive and a serious subject that needs deft handling. Arnab and many of his fellow panelists had no hesitation in declaring Guru Greg a hardcore racist who perhaps would find solace in the ranks of Ku Klux Klan, and it was a disgrace that he was being allowed to make moolah by sensationalizing! In the contemporary context we have graduated to the position that only a lunatic fringe would openly declare themselves to be hardcore racists, and even when confronted with evidence, most attempt rationalization and try to defend the indefensible. Many a well meaning journalist/columnist has been hauled up for libel, and generally there is a tacit reluctance to level this allegation. It was therefore commendable that Arnab did not pull his punches.

But the debate enabled me to recapitulate my own experience in the Antipodes which I am still debating within my own mind whether to qualify as racism.

To contextualize, it is now accepted that every society has its own share of Neanderthals who happen to give primacy to their own sense of perceived identity over principles of fair-play and justice; at times transgressing into ugliness and violence. Our own country is not entirely free from this tendency. Normally they remain on the fringes and have no social acceptability. Barring isolated instances of public disorder and nuisance, they do not pose any real danger to the social fabric and ethos of the country.

The real problems emerge when the ethos of the country is permeated with values that allow discriminatory oppression to persist and in certain cases also be promoted. What I’m suggesting is that the real peril of racism is not from the identified racists, but from those who are part of mainstream and harbour racist values while vehemently denying any racist inclination. Illustrative examples are to be found in UK and France; both the countries have ultra racist political parties and the contrast cannot be more striking. The British National Front despite support in the early 70’s from mainstream politicians like Enoch Powell and Ronald Bell, remains very much on the fringe, while the French National Front is part of the mainstream and is creating havoc in the country, its leaders strongly contesting the charge of racism.

The Australian society in the late 60’s and early 70’s was unapologetically racist and gave succor to politicians like Joh Bjelke Peterson and Bruce Ruxton. Political observers from those days would recall how a legislator had the temerity to state in the Parliament – “Two wogs do not make a white.” And the whole House guffawed! White Australia policy was abandoned not out of any conviction but necessity; Australia needed immigrants to sustain itself, and given the ageing population in Europe, the only countries they could look to were India, Sri Lanka, and perhaps a few other countries in South East Asia!

For a while the country created an illusion that it was tackling the problem of racism head on. On a personal note I might add that it was this illusion that prompted me to relocate to Melbourne in the 80’s after having completed my training in Scotland and having obtained a PhD (DPhil as it is known at Oxford) and a DSc. My mentor, the great Professor Max Hamilton I recall was strongly opposed to my decision, and in his very caustic manner tried to dissuade me in whatever way he could. But the lure of the promises made seemed much too tempting.

Unhesitatingly it was the worst professional decision of my life. I had to contend with the sort of oppression that I believed only belonged to the 19th century. A particular colleague who was looking for professional advancement immediately started making life difficult for me. Propelled by idealism, I resisted only to be confronted with further nightmarish situations. One fine morning this colleague in a farcical manner claimed that I had in a study declared that schizophrenics were only born in June. The situation was so ridiculous that I did not take it seriously; again an error. He asked his PhD supervisor to conduct an ‘independent’ enquiry which I immediately dismissed, resorting to the Medical Board of Victoria the regulatory authority to intervene. How misplaced was my confidence! The President of the Medical Board was a close buddy of the person I was complaining against, and the Secretary of this very Board used an epithet towards me which reflected upon the excessive pigmentation of my dermis and the supposed legality of my parents marriage. Disgusted, I retorted to this Kafkaesque nightmare I found myself in by submitting my resignation and taking the next flight out of Melbourne. I made it a point to report my travails to David White the Health Minister who sent me a terse note stating that he completely rejected any suggestion of racism existing in Australia. The next thing I heard was that a legislator had under parliamentary immunity in the legislative council leveled charges against me – that my PhD could not be confirmed from London (it was from Oxford), and that my DSc was a purchased form a mail order firm in Switzerland; it was as I have mentioned from St. Andrews the second oldest University in the UK. Ironically this was the time when I was professionally felicitated with a syndrome being named after myself – Prasad’s Syndrome.

The reason I felt the need to share my own experiences here is to emphasize that subliminal racism has never disappeared from the Ozzie psyche and raises its very ugly head from time to time; Guru Greg’s comments, violence against Indian students, the rise of Pauline Hanson etc. My main detractor is now the Pro VC of Monash University, and has flourished after my departure. It is for others to infer whether my tribulations were the outcome of a sick racist psyche, as over 20 years I have desisted from making any public statement on the matter. To paraphrase eminent aphorist Mason Cooley – “Victimhood has its own rewards and I want one.” I certainly refuse to see myself as a victim.

Arnab by his frontal attack on the happenings has done a yeoman’s service. I wish him luck.


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