October 21, 2020
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India, Australia

What Is The Difference?

Try to look as poor as you can, the Victorian police chief advises Indian immigrants to Australia. Australian cricketers will not be allowed to participate in IPL, thunders Thackeray...

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What Is The Difference?

The Victorian police chief, Simon Overland, has finally found the answer to the attacks that Indians have been subjected to down under.

“Try to look as poor as you can,” he advises Indian immigrants to Australia: “don’t display your iPods, valuable watch, valuable jewellery.”

The implication here is explicit: if you don’t flaunt, you will not tempt.

Thus, the onus that the state and law-enforcement ought to bear is neatly transferred to the victim on a principle of the call of “nature,” if you will. To wit, men will be sinners; so the best course is to seduce as little as possible.

The Indian community has characterized this approach to crime as “ridiculous”—with justice.

I have no doubt we shall soon have fiercely outraged debates on Mr Overland’s take on crime here on Indian TV channels.

But do ask yourself: how is Mr Overland’s advice here any very different from what Indian women are routinely advised by our own custodians of morality? Or custodians of morality in large parts of the world?

If you flaunt, you invite rape—and on the same principle of “nature” that informs Overland’s counsel to Indians down under. Thus, bigots of all hue argue that it is not the rapist and the molester who is out of order but the women who are thus raped or molested.

Which is why young Indian women are customarily beaten and bashed by lumpen right-wing vigilantes, and told to keep off pubs, valentine celebrations, public parks, and suchlike, and Muslim women reminded that their bodies bode no good for the peace and quiet of the community, or the world at large.

And lest we think that Mr Overland is a peculiar sort of police chief, do remember that when Indian women are thus often chased and chastised by self-appointed custodians of the right and proper, they do so in the sound knowledge that the Indian police more than shares their take on what women should or should not wear, do, or say.

Perish the thought, but imagine for a moment that some Australian woman tourist in Goa suffers these sorts of ignominies (as German, Russian and other women recently have), and the local police chief is heard to say that Australian women must learn to dress with modesty, or else. How might Mr Overland and sundry other Australian authorities respond to such an eventuality?

Indeed, this readiness on behalf of state agencies to bypass the state and put trust in other forms of authority, besides personal rectitude in public display, is on offer today in Indian newspapers. And, coincidentally, again involving Australians.

You may be aware that the redoubtable patriarch of the Shiv Sena, the right formidable Bal Thackeray (made formidable precisely because of the withering of the state in Mumbai) has let it be known that Australian cricketers will not be allowed to participate in the forthcoming Indian Premier League of Cricket.

The Sena of course has a record in this matter, having more than once dug up cricket pitches on the sly to prevent Pakistani cricket teams from playing in India.

So what does the Indian state do? Even as the Indian home minister declares that the state shall provide full protection to whoever comes to play in the IPL, the President of the Mumbai Cricket Association, Sharad Pawar, one of the senior-most members of the cabinet, expressing rather scant trust in the home minister’s official assurance, goes and visits the Shiv Sena godfather to plead that the latter permit the Australians to play in India.

And the godfather graciously promises to consider the “request.” 

Lest you think this is the nadir of the state’s collapse in the matter, “Thackeray has asked for a detailed presentation on the issue which we will be providing in couple of days and thereafter he would consider our request.”

Thus it is that the godfather’s authority—entirely extra-constitutional and hooliganist—is accorded the privilege to override the onus and the assurance of the state. And neither the minister nor the head of the BCCI (the Indian Board of Cricket) feels the least shame in the matter. Just as Mr Overland in Victorian feels not the least shame in passing on the onus of the Australian law-enforcement agencies to the Indians down under. 

Were some Australian player indeed to be roughed up by Indian goons during the course of the tournament, I doubt me that Mr Overland would not hold Indian law-enforcement responsible. And rightly.

Remarkably, India and Australia are both Constitutional democracies, founded on the principle that certain rights are fundamental, and that the right to life includes the right to liberty in dress, demeanour, speech and other forms of expression, in matters of faith, without regard to gender, denomination or colour of skin. Unless of course the exercise of such fundamental rights impinges on the fundamental rights of other citizens.

In that context, one would think that it is not the Indians down under who offend but those who overreach the law to impinge on their right to wear or flaunt what they wish to without causing any sort of bodily harm to others, however vulgar such display might seem to many.

After all, consider that worldwide if there are those who are offended by the burqa worn by some Muslim women, there are others who are likewise offended to see women in skimpy attire.

A democratic state can be democratic only if it allows the liberty to both to dress as they think fit, and if it is prepared to quell unlawful mayhem on behalf of others who may think such liberty cause enough to set the state aside and take matters into their own hands.

It would seem from recent events that India and Australia have equally to ponder these issues in diverse spheres of contestation. Much better do that than unleash disingenuous blame games or threaten retaliation. 

And a sentiently self-critical media in either country here seems greatly the need of the hour.


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