" Mere Desh Ki Dharti...."
I have been in Australia for ten days....it has been glorious, but it's definitely time to come home. I am in withdrawal and in need of an instant Mumbai fix. Writing this from Melbourne is turning out to be an eye opener for more than just the bad press generated by those dastardly student attacks over the past couple of months. As is always the case, there are two versions and several stories, depending on which person you hear them from. I got here from Sydney where I met and talked to several desi students, most of whom moonlight as taxi drivers. The young man from Chandigarh who drove me from Rosebay to the hotel overlooking one of the world's most iconic structures, the magnificent Opera House, was in a chatty mood on a glorious, sunny afternoon. He'd done his MBA from the Australian Catholic College and is now driving a taxi since the job market is not terribly good for MBA degree holders or even IT professionals. Sunny told me India offers better salaries - more than 25% higher. That was surprise number one. So, why doesn't Sunny pack his bags and come home? Why is he driving a taxi on a 12 hour shift (3a.m.to 3 p.m.), to make a lousy hundred bucks a day ( below the minimum wages guaranteed by law )? He grinned and said simply, " I like it here." I asked him whether he wasn't afraid of being attacked on the streets - was it worth the risk? His response was surprise number two : " The media has played up the attacks so much that young, jobless Aussie men are taking bets with each other and saying, ' Watch me on the telly, mates. I'm going to bash those Indians and become famous'." According to Sunny, it is all about rising frustration levels, especially since desis work really hard, are generally better educated and get superior jobs at higher salaries.
That was one story. The other was provided by a student\cabbie on the Gold Coast. He was from Jullunder and happy to be here. So happy, in fact, he was calling his parents over for the second time in three years rather than taking an annual break back home. He said his folks loved it Down Under, too. And no, they did not worry about their beta getting bashed up. Howcome? " Because I mind my own business, study hard and work hard. I don't annoy my neighbours." All this was sounding too good to be true. There had to be another version. I asked the genial and erudite Mr.Amit Dasgupta, our Consul General in Sydney, for his take and he provided yet another perspective. He has dealt with the crisis and mediated smoothly without talking about it or making tall claims. He believes the worst is probably over and is appalled by the senseless brutality of some of the attacks. But he also pointed out that the manner in which India, particularly Manmohan Singh, responded was firm, tough and appropriate at a time when the Aussies were trying to brush it off and make light of the alarming situation..Another source mentioned that most of the cheating cases the students complained about once they got to Australia, had to do with other Indians!! People running fake schools and universities, duping gullible candidates from India, making them work for lower than low wages, often keeping them as unpaid domestics in their own homes, these were not locals tricking desis, but desis duping desis ! How shameful.
The other side of the coin had to do with intense rivalry between Indians and the Lebanese, to reclaim business turf and protect their commercial interests\ territories in congested areas shared by both. Mr. Dasgupta has taken to meeting Lebanese elders at a Lebanese cafe (strictly no body guards) and keeping communication lines open, just to send out the right signals and set up a meaningful dialogue. Funnily enough, he said our boys always approached him with just one request - they wanted to meet and date Lebanese kuddis! Since there is an acute shortage of young girls in the Indian community, the guys were dying to hang with the lovely Lebanese girls - but the elders would have none of it. Poor Mr. Dasgupta has a really tough job ahead of him!! Perhaps even tougher than dealing with student attacks.
I met a few middle -aged Sikh drivers who have been in Australia for decades and never faced a single racial issue. But they had to acknowledge things had changed ever since the recession, with rising joblessness and a cost index to match. Most of these older taxiwallas have children in colleges across Australia. Of course, they are worried and concerned about their safety, but they shrugged and said philosophically, " What is happening here could also happen in India. My son could be mugged or killed back home as well."
The next few months are key. Both the governments should work together more cohesively, and the Australians in particular must reassure the community that the safety of students is of paramount importance to them. Our student numbers contribute a sizeable chunk to the Aussie economy. Their lives must be protected and their status respected. On our part, desi students cannot treat the host country as their filthy backyard and abuse local customs. One thing I did discover during this trip - from a distance, what appears to be a calamity spinning out of control, is in reality a case of random, freak attacks by disgruntled anti -social elements. They need to be dealt with severely and punished for their assaults. Till that happens, and the Aussie government's tepid response to Indian outrage changes to a more responsive one, our students will remain soft targets.Not on, mates!