Thursday, July 23, 2009

Are Australians really racist towards Indians?

As Resham Singh and his friend waited for the train at Dandenong Station, they were racially abused by two teenagers, who appeared to be drug-affected. "You Indians, we hate you, we will kill you." The two Indians ignored them, but soon they returned with four other men. They punched and kicked Singh, removed his turban and attempted to cut his hair - an unthinkable affront to a practising Sikh. Fortunately their attack was interrupted by the approach of police.

The racist nature of this recent attack is undeniable. But is it typical of the recent spate of attacks on Indians in Australia?

With the recent street violence against Indians in Melbourne and Sydney, and all the hysteria it generated, the spotlight has been placed on the question of race in Australia. Are we a racist country? And more specifically, are we racist against Indians?

Certainly, when the issue of “curry-bashing” began to get more publicity in the media, I was taken by surprise. While there have always been anti-immigrant sentiments among a section of society, I have never heard of any trend of virulent racism directed specifically at South Asians. Certainly, I have heard people mutter some unflattering stereotypes, but nothing that would imply violence as a next step.

The initial reaction of police was to claim the attacks were not racially motivated. Politicians’ response was also to remind us that Australia is not a racist country. While I’m sure that to an extent the police could not find conclusive evidence of racist motivations, part of it seemed to be damage control, not wanting anyone to panic. If so, this tactic didn’t work, and it wasn’t too long before Victoria’s Police Commissioner Simon Overland conceded that racism was clearly an element in some of the attacks.

There is a reason why Indian students didn’t buy into the whole “there’s no racism here” argument, and it is not, as some have argued, due to Indians’ alleged proneness to hysteria.

The reason is that if you are a non-white migrant to this country, you have a different perspective about racism than the police and politicians, one that comes from experience.

It is easy for Simon Overland or Kevin Rudd or Andrew Bolt to talk about how Aussies are not a racist people, and that this is only the work of a few bad apples. White men of privilege are simply not exposed to racism in the same way. But talk to someone from Asia or Africa and you will hear different stories.

Many Indian international students studying in Melbourne have heard verbal racist abuse directed towards them on the street, or at least have heard about it happening to a friend. Many Chinese students also report this. “F*** off back to your own country” and similar phrases are not unfamiliar to many Asian students.

But it is not just the new arrivals who experience this – those born and raised in Australia have their own stories to tell.

Bobby is a doctor of Sri Lankan background who grew up in Australia. He says it is not uncommon for patients to refuse to be treated by South Asian doctors. Must be difficult to be a racist medical patient, since medicine in Australia is so dominated by East and South Asians.

Shanthani is part-Indian, light-skinned and with an Australian accent – not someone who stands out as being a “foreigner”. In the course of her duties as a social worker, a 12-year old boy who came in for assistance refused to be helped by her and asked for someone else. When asked why, he told her colleague: “Because she’s a curry-muncher and a black c***.”


The question about whether or not Australia is a racist country is not one that can be answered with a yes or no answer. Think of Australia’s attitudes to ethnicity as a continuum. (For you lunkheads out there, that basically means a line that transitions from one thing to another.) At one end are Australians who happily enjoy the fruits of a cosmopolitan multiethnic society and embrace diversity. At the other end are those who are intolerant, and perhaps wish a return to "the good old days" before large-scale immigration and multiculturalism. Plenty of folks with racist attitudes come from migrant communities as well. It is a sad irony how some migrants who have faced racism themselves, will happily dish it out to other migrant groups, or to Anglo-Aussies for that matter.

When we talk about organised racist groups (skinheads, KKK, etc), there is very little of this in Australia. What we do have are many people, mostly teenagers and young adults, with generally antisocial attitudes. They have a strong dislike of anyone markedly different to them, be it due to ethnicity, sexuality or appearance. To victimise such people is a way of feeling better about oneself, and proving one's masculinity to other guys in the group.

There is an old saying about people revealing their true personality when they are angry. For a certain segment of the population, this is particularly telling; cut them off in traffic, accidentally hit them in your car, or get into some push-and-shove during a sporting match, and you will see a particularly ugly side to the Australian personality. In these situations, the racist epithets are liable to flow thick and fast.

In other words, you could argue that in many cases of bashings which included racist abuse, they were not necessarily racist in motivation. In other words, while the attackers' intent was certainly to bash and victimise, the racist words were just part of the general abuse that accompanies such incidents.

Is this the case though? Probably at least some of the time.

Right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt wrote earlier today in the Herald-Sun that "it's time to admit that there's nothing racist in the violence on our streets." Bolt contends that the attacks on Indians is merely part of the greater picture, which is the rampant thuggery in Melbourne's streets and licensed venues. And to a point, he's right.

But Bolt has an agenda. Based on all he's written previously, he is loathe to admit that white Australians might have a problem with racism. You can almost sense the triumphalism as he refers to the two shocking bashings last week in Melbourne, in which the victims were both white and the perpetrators in one case were of Pacific Islander background.

But if we are looking at the wider trend of violence on the streets and in licensed venues, we must consider one factor. Certainly many of these have been unprovoked, but many of these incidents have originated in some kind of confrontation. As an example, Luke Adams, choked and punched in a Hungry Jacks restaurant last week was going to the aid of a friend who had already become involved in a fight. This is not to blame the victim at all, but fights that happen in venues late at night tend to follow a similar pattern - someone bumps another person or looks at him the wrong way, or a drunk person is mouthing off or behaving in a way which provokes a response. These things escalate to brawls.

The attacks against Indians, on the other hand, have been almost entirely unprovoked. In some cases robbery was the motive, but often it has been nothing but sheer malice. So while these attacks and the violence around licensed venues are part of the same wider trend, they are not quite the same thing.

I think the whole “racist or not racist” debate around the attacks on Indians is a little too simplistic. I've visited lots of blogs from overseas (India and the UK) that have covered this issue, and have argued with their contention that this is somehow a reflection of Australia's savage convict origins and history of racism against our indigenous people. In some of these attacks, racism is clear. Other attacks were seemingly pure opportunism. And in many other cases, both these factors are present. I believe in many cases, the attacks would not have been specifically racist in intent, but racism contributed to their virulence and likelihood - meaning that while the thugs responsible would have possibly attacked anyone, someone they identified as "foreign" made a more appealing target.

I also wonder if the media's coverage of "curry-bashing" may have actually resulted in some of these more recent attacks. The teen thugs who attacked Resham Singh were in Dandenong, which is not the nicest neighbourhood by any means, but is in the outer Southeast of Melbourne, quite far from the West where most curry-bashing incidents have occurred. Given that their motivations seemed quite specifically to attack Singh because of his ethnicity (and producing scissors to cut his hair does seem to support this), you have to wonder if they had heard about this phenomenon of "curry-bashing", figured it was something that lots of people are doing, and thought it sounded cool.

Now, I've asked a question in the title of this post about whether Australians are really racist against Indians, and I'm not sure if I've really answered it. Because it is too complicated a question to answer. Most Australians are probably not. A sizeable section of the population are racist, but I don't think it is specifically anti-Indian racism.

But take those racist elements, add the violent culture prevalent among many of Melbourne's young males, and finally add large numbers of Indian students walking home late from train stations by themselves. Where those three factors converge, I suspect, is the genesis of the attacks on Indians.



Like this post? You may like these as well:

"Curry-bashing" on the rise in Melbourne - Indian students targeted

Your guide to the "F*** off we're full" Facebook group

"Always a good day when you can bag a sand nigger"

Random comic genius: Uncle Sameer goes to Frankston

28 comments:

  1. I think we need to also look at what Indians can do to better market themselves to Australians.

    They have a poor history in foreign counties, which does them no favours.

    In Australia we see them working as taxi drivers, but not having the correct training or even licences.

    We have them ringing us all the time from call centres. Unwanted calls where NO is not taken as an answer.

    We have them with an arrogant position towards our society (no doubt because they come from a higher social status back home, where they can be arrogant.)

    We had an Indian visitor who tried to get two receipts from their motel for accommodation, and then tried to claim once from the Australian branch company they were visiting, with the intention of double claiming from the parent company when they got back home.

    We do not hear of any other ethnic group being targetted. Only Indians.

    There must be a basis for this.

    I think it is a shared responsibility to improve relations, but it is certainly not all a one way blame game.

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    1. Racial Discrimination is abundant and it could be blamed at 'cultural differences' for a start but I'm doubtlessly cynical that it would help Australian society prosper - Not that I care! It's almost like blaming Jews for the Holocaust! Nevertheless; Australia has garnered a reputation as a 'Racist Hellhole for Students' and might I say it was built effortlessly!

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  2. Allthings, there is certainly some truth in what you say. There are certainly some Indians out there whose attitude does not endear them to everyone and some need to get to grips with Australian culture a bit better.

    That said, I could say similar things about a number of prominent ethnic groups, who are not being singled out.

    And I get annoyed by Indian telemarketers as the next person - you're not the first person I've heard bringing up this. I agree it probably doesn't help the image of Indians here.

    But ultimately, I have to wonder "so what?" I've met my share of obnoxious white people who've given me the sh**s, but its never occurred to me that I should bash other white people as a consequence.

    All evidence shows that the attacks on Indian students have been completely unprovoked. Even if the attackers were motivated by previous unpleasant encounters with Indians, the fact that they would victimise another Indian because of it, tells you that there is something really sick about our society.

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  3. That said, why then are no other ethic minorities suffering the same?

    My suggestion would be for Indians to make a concerted effort to improve their image here. I know from listening to discussions in recent weeks that people who are normally very laid back and forgiving currently have no time for Indians.

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  4. Actually I think there is evidence of Chinese and other East Asians being targeted. Certainly the Chinese and Malaysian students I've spoken to have experienced unprovoked verbal abuse on the streets.
    A big difference here is that the East Asian students are less frequently out at night in the higher-risk areas, due to monetary and other factors.

    A Somali guy I spoke to once told me that when his community first moved into Heidelberg in the early 90s, they were met with hostility and violence by some residents. So what I'm saying is Indians are only the latest to bear the brunt of this treatment.

    The other factor in my opinion is that Indians are not seen as particularly badass or likely to take revenge. Indian kids in this country tend to be well-behaved and non-threatening - you'll almost never hear about them involved in street crime and gang activity. Thugs might fancy their chances taking on an Indian, whereas a Sudanese, Maori or Lebanese guy might carry a different reputation.

    Regarding the Indian community's image, people often see what they want to see. Your friends who "currently have no time for Indians", do they feel the same way about Mukesh Haikerwal, Indira Naidoo and Guy Sebastian, or the many thousands of well-assimilated Indians quietly going about their business? Or do they only notice Indians when they do negative things?

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  5. "They have a poor history in foreign counties, which does them no favours."

    Indians make up some of the most highly educated and productive minorities all over the world. Take America for example, where Indian Americans have the highest educational qualifications of all national origin groups in the country. Or how about Britain, where the richest man in the country (Lakshmi Mittal) is of Indian descent - not to mention the fact that they have the lowest poverty rate of any minority. Indians in the United Arab Emirates and other gulf countries practically drive their economies.

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  6. @ Longshanks:

    What you say is true. I don't have any stats on this, but if we consider the children of Indian background who are born and raised in Australia, I'd wager they outperform almost any other ethnicity in financial and academic achievement, as well as low crime rate.

    That said, we shouldn't pretend that there are no tensions or integration problems at all. The first generation of Indian migrants are not always popular with some as they are still learning Australian values. But even so, these migrants are a well-behaved and well-performing section of society.

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  7. hey man, just wanted to drop you a line to say i appreciate this blog entry a ton. there really isn't enough backing for Indian people out there, and your points you've made in the comments section against allthings really show a major issue i have with people trying to say "indians need to improve their image."

    fact is, indians have a great image around the world, but its racist, jealous folks who want to negate the limelight. your point about how indians are non-confrontational is so true...there is an extreme minority of indians who join gangs, are thugs, or harm people deliberately (hell even undeliberately). its because of this, they are an easy target...its as simple as the "nice guy finishes last" scenario. indians get abused by everyone including the brits, but have never asked for reparations, they just go about quietly handling their business and working hard.

    sorry for the long ramble, but again great post.

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  9. @ Unlearn: thanks. The Indian community has both its positive and negative elements, like any other community. And as I said previously, people see what they want to see.

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  10. For me, I get annoyed about behaviour of some Indians I observe on public transport. This may include any people from that region of Asia. What's the issue? Loud, continuous conversations oblivious to everyone around them - sometimes in Hindi. The same applies to their use of mobile phones! There seems to be an implicit arrogance with this , maybe that's my mistake tho. Silence seems to be hard for them. I avoid Indian students now when possible, actually I've told one or two to shut up, they do not understand .

    I suppose an attack in the Carnegie area may be more likely because the concentration of Indian students at Monash, nearby.
    It is true that generally, these people are well dressed and otherwise not offensive. Wonder if other Aussies know how I feel?

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  11. @ Gez - look, I find loud conversations (on mobile phones or otherwise) on public transport annoying as well.

    Is this restricted to Indians though? I've certainly observed Indians do it (perhaps it is a holdover from living in a loud, busy and overpopulated country), but others certainly do it too. Particularly teenagers of all ethnicities.

    I sat next to an Aussie guy in a suit who had a loud mobile phone conversation with his girlfriend all the way from the CBD to Nunawading, after which I seemed to know everything about their relationship, including his repeated assertions that he thought she needed to lose weight and that some of her friends were a pack of c**ts.

    One of the points that I frequently bring up on this blog is that "ethnic" Australians always come under more scrutiny than "Aussies" do, even when they do the same thing. If white people are talking loudly on a train, other white Australians might think "Those people are really annoying." If Indians do the same thing, the reaction is "Those INDIANS are really annoying."

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  12. Lets get one thing straight first before i start.....u ppl call yourselves Australian....are u really...Europeans who moved into a country destroying its ppl and culture.... And then branding themselves as Australian,,,that's just great...

    Now gettin into the serious topic...about Indians.... We are a group of ppl that mind our own business and try avoiding all troubles...(yes there are a few anti social elements...but how many....too few,,,are they not....u Ppl can take legal action against them..)we try to be part of the nation that we migrate to, drive their growth. And not cause problems....
    Our nation was once the most richest in the world.. Before the British and other European powers came in to our country and colonized it...when we finally got our independence,,,our ppl we left starving and dyin...the whole industrialization of the west was done using our resources... We were looted... Our national resources depleted... In shatters...so we had to leave the country to find a better livelihood....is it mistake.. For gods sake, even the diamond stunned into the queens crown belongs to us Indians...
    Its time everyone accepted that India does have a place in this world. Learn to live with it....

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    1. I agree with Renji George. Destroying a powerful country and leaving their people starving is very sad. Now some of you people have the nerve to racially abuse this group of people? Wow. For those of you who did abuse Indians I would like to see how you would feel if someone did that to you.

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  13. To Renji:

    Its unfair to blame India's problems on the looting of the then colonial masters. That is a gross over simplification of complicated problem. The reason India is where it is today ( think poverty etc etc) is primarily due to their loose political structure, where corruption is rampant. I can write a whole essay on this, but this is not my point. I can take you on regarding this some other time.

    I will be studying in Unimelb soon. Not too worried about racism there. But i willl say this. The effects of globalization are there for all. No one will be excused from this. You cannot hide. Like it or not, people from "outside" will come.

    To the "outsiders". There is a saying, when in rome, do what the romans do. You do not need to forget your identity. Just be a little more aware of the home culture. Being sensitive to that helps quite abit i feel

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  14. I think that India and Australia should work together.

    A lot of people love Australia for its beauty but get put off because of the stories of racial attacks.

    Everyone gets annoying phone calls from call centres but at the end of the day they are doing their jobs even though it is rather annoying.

    I would one day love to visit australia but these stories put me off....

    I know everyone is not the same but it is still scary.

    Racial attacks happen all over the world and we should all work together to help it stop. I dont know how but racial attacks should not happen.

    Just cause our skin colour is different, doesnt mean that we are not the same inside. We are humans and have the right to live.

    We as people need to understand our actions.

    Would you like what your doing to someone to happen to you? no? then dont do it.

    its simple we all need to try and be nice.

    Yes indians talk loud sometimes but they dont mean to harm anyone. If the on the phone and talking loud it might be because line is not clear or something. or have you thought that the person they are talking to might not be able to hear?

    Australia is a lovely place...ive been doing a lot of research of the places i want to visit and i will not let this put me off. One day i will visit the place i have dreamt of.

    PLEASE STOP RACISM. IT IS NOT NEEDED.

    THINK IF THAT HAPPEN TO YOU! ITS NOT VERY NICE!

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  15. i hate australia

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  16. I agree. I am glad that Eurasian sensation that you have not put down Indians. However, Australians think Indians do not have a right to even live. I have had many bad experiences as an Indian. My accent is that of Australia as I have been brought up in this country. The only thing that identifies me is my dark skin. Australia is a corrupt country. Australians smoke, rape and swear. Indians do not do these things, or atleast not to such a large scale. Australians are not even well educated, but they think they can walk around like they own everything. I got sworn at once for being a 'F****** indian' as they called me, just as i was walking down the street. Indians have no control over such situations. Because of this racism, as soon as i am able to get a job, i am going to leave this country. I have previously visited singapore and no one was racist. Asians are much more well mannered and decent than those of white descent. Australians were originally europeans who slaughtered Aboriginals to have land. They originated from britain and the ancestors of australians were convicts. i would feel a lot better if someone indian/srilankan could relate to my story of being called 'chocolate', or sworn at by indecent australians.

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    1. @ Anon:
      I don't wish to deny or undermine your experiences - having people racially abuse you is obviously an extremely unpleasant thing to undergo.
      However... I also think it's important to retain some perspective. Some of your statements are extremely debatable.

      "Australia is a corrupt country."

      Really? It has corruption, sure, but what do you mean? It's far less corrupt than almost any country in Asia.

      "Australians smoke, rape and swear. Indians do not do these things, or at least not to such a large scale."

      Australians swear a lot, no argument there.
      A greater percentage of Indian men smoke than do Australian men. Indian women smoke far less than Australian women.
      As for rape... put it this way, any female tourist would feel far safer in Australia than India.

      "Australians are not even well educated, but they think they can walk around like they own everything."

      Not even well educated as opposed to who? Which Australians are you talking about? I'm an Australian and I have two university degrees.

      Asians are much more well mannered and decent than those of white descent.
      Try talking to an Indian from Malaysia or Hong Kong. They might disagree.


      I'm not trying to deny anything that you've experienced, but you've clearly not experienced the whole Australia. I know many Indians here who have never gone through anything like that. It depends on which area you live in, and sometimes just good or bad luck.
      Having spent a lot of time in Asia, I can assure you that Australia is far safer and probably no more racist.

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    2. thankyou. i would really like to experience the kindness that i believe australians have.

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    3. I am a Proud Indian Christian living in India, to all Australians if you are educated have some kind of integrity and are God fearing Christian people. you wouldn't racially abuse an individual because of race, color, ethic background etc WHY because every human being is made in the image and likeness of god himself so if you racially abuse a person you are abusing god's unique creation. And when an individual abuses the almighty Jesus, then they are doomed for a bitter end. SO DO NOT ABUSE GOD'S CREATION AND GOD OR YOU WILL BE SORRY FOR YOUR ACTIONS SOONER OR LATER. AMEN

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  17. There is this racist family living down our street. They are always outside and whenever i walk past their house, they yell innappropriate things across the street to me (I am Indian). I have considered bringing this matter into concern, but people dealing with such situations are australians and would only scorn me more, probably because of my skin colour.

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  18. please ignore the above comment. i was just upset. i really didnt mean any of it. please do not comment on it.

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  19. Hello Eurasian Sensation, I(Yash) am an Indian, living in Mumbai.

    I read all the comments above and like that you observed the problems related to Indians in Australia, the violence towards them and the habits of Indians which Aussies find annoying, in a very unbiased way and tried to find the root cause for them.

    Understanding like this is what required for two people of different countries to live together.

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  20. Someone commented about other Asian countries which may not be Racist towards Indians. You have to either stay or ask someone who has stayed in those countries. They will say how racists these countries are. So better avoid Aus or other Asian racist countries.
    They are full of uneducated fools.

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  21. A frustrated AussieAugust 9, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    I am a white Australian, and my experience reading through these comments is one of frustration. There is an abundance of fallacious reasoning on both sides of the divide it seems, born in both cases from irritation/anger and the inclination to "other" those different. I'm seeing white Australians make stupid statements implying, intentionally or not, that the minor frustrations that come of cultural and personality clashes (etiquette, etc) somehow justify the racism Indians receive. Racism is always wrong, and always evidence of simplistic thinking. But I'm also seeing Indians talking about "all" Australians; about how corrupt, foolish, uneducated, and so forth we all (or mostly all) are. Racism from those upset about racism. And so it goes, on and on, few on either "side" willing to see temper their indignation with fairness and reason. The very unwillingness that contributes to the racial tension we ALL later bemoan...

    With that said; Eurasian Sensation I salute you. You've shown exactly the kind of even-handed, fair-minded, intellectually responsible manner we should all aspire to.

    Good luck to you and your lovely site.

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    1. Flattery will get you everywhere.

      This issue is complicated, as are many things in life. But most people don't wish to think about things beyond what seems obvious to them, which is why we have idiocy on both sides.

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  22. Tony(<>\/<>)September 30, 2012 at 12:19 AM

    Hi There everybody! i see a lot of emotions and opinions flowing. I am an Indian living in Australia and feel Australian. I have to confess people of both origins are Xenophobic or is it being different? or is it how i rationalize?
    I have experienced racial slurrs and its not pleasant at all. Most people (immigrants)do try to assimililate but is it been facilitated ? is question i can't answer or struggle to find an answer.
    well India was colonized for 400yrs and biggest price was our confidence was taken away much more than our riches/wealth. Peace is one wealth and 2nd hard work which we still hold on to and strife for recognition, appreciation and acceptance.....i can talk for myself. Yes Indian r timid that was the helplessness caused by centuries of slavery which as almost ingrained into genes, but we don't give up or whinge or go to violence or hatered to deal with it.We work hard and stats speak for itself. we work any job, most of the times we are not well informed about standards and taken for a drive
    Denial of no racism or silence about it is more dangerous than having a yarn about it and do something about it. An anglo-australian cannot experience it to understand it. Every society is imperfect and has its flaws, racial clash is reality of global village and multi-cultural society, tolerance and effort to accept needs to come from host society. As much of blame that "Indian" don't do much to improve their figure? Indian's try hard to understand but do Australian make an effort to understand others.

    People hate Others but majority of goods are "made in China " is lazieness or greed for cheaper stuff?

    Indian call centers are not autonomous they are driven mostly by greedy Australian Entrepreneurs.Because the labour is cheap, most technical support we call is also provided by Indian Call Centers. IT technical support from them has not been bad.

    i don't think all Australian's are racist but it does exist.
    indian are also racist pigs (sorry about my french) not only towards other races but also to Indian's.

    Where is the love? I would love people to see deeper than skin or acsent in to a beautiful individual who lies beneath. there is need for more crosscultural interaction to sync and intergrate.

    Sorry if it has been offensive, did not mean to generalise.

    End of the day - my best friends are Australian!

    Australia has not been discriminative but some Australian are.....but majority are not, but alot of them are more politically correct, hope we see more genuine correctness oneday.
    I still love India and Australia. But honestly living here for last 8-9 years, I love Australia more and consider it my home.

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