The cry could not have been shriller! "You are racist!" was the message loud and clear, as thousands of Indians (mainly students) gathered in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday, 31st May, to protest the wave of attacks on Indian students in various parts of Australia. The protest was legitimate. The growing feeling of insecurity was palpable and the genuine desire to live in a peaceful and integrated manner, in a multi-cultural society, can be denied by none.
At home, the media is definitely up in arms repeatedly highlighting the plight of Indian students in Australia. There are heart rending visuals of those brutally bashed up. The media are on the offensive and for good measure, yet another reality is made very emotive.
Xenophobia, racism, segregation, apartheid, discrimination, in any form is non acceptable. Civil society, all over the world needs to take a bold stand on this malaise and to nip it in the bud whenever its ugly head rears itself. A case in point, is the way Raj Thackeray and his MNS have decided that those from UP and Bihar do not "belong" to Bombay.
In Gujarat, the lines of division are even more pronounced where the Muslims are concerned. In several parts of the State, there are huge billboards erected which loudly proclaim a "Hindu Rashtra". In several cities and villages, across the State, Muslims have been confined to ghettoes or have to live in the peripheral areas. Juhapura, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad is home to over four hundred thousand Muslims, which makes it one of the biggest Muslim ghettoes in the country. Inspite of the people's demands, there are hardly any public facilities and utilities for the citizens there. Muslims in Gujarat are still treated as second class citizens with little or no access to quality education and employment opportunities.
Christians too in many parts of Gujarat are subject to the same fate. However, in the latter case, the intimidations and harassments are in more subtle forms. Dalits in Gujarat still continue to live in a very marginalized situation. It is an open secret that the practice of untouchability has become an accepted norm in several sections of society today.
What is happening in Australia has to be condemned in no uncertain terms! However, what we desperately need at this juncture are louder voices and shriller protests at home to set our own house in order. We have to protest when our rights are trampled upon when we are abroad; however we have a greater responsibility to protest when our own fellow-citizens are denied the rights and freedom which are legitimately theirs!
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of "Prashant", the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
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