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Lost and at sea: the asylum-seeker debate in Australia August 14, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

Electoral politics have swamped the debate on irregular migrants, the ‘boat-people’ that is, in Australia. There is no change of consequence in the contents of the debate, however. Rudd, Abbott, the Greens and letters to the editors of major newspapers continue to present many of the old shibboleths and oversimplifications that have skewed discussions of this issue for years. The motifs that appear again and again in most quarters also suffer from misinformation, exaggeration and fabrication, and ideological blinkers.

A self-evident fact is often glossed over: migration in modern times, whether legal, humanitarian or irregular, is a complex phenomenon. Given the diverse lands from which migrants have departed  for Australia, it follows that one must attend to regional differentiation in speaking about this topic. Yet sweeping generalizations are continuously voiced – not only by politicians and human rights lawyers, but also by concerned citizens of compassionate heart and, on the other side, by instranigent opponents to ‘illegal immigrants’.


Sri Lanka: Colombo orders Islamist clerics to leave February 2, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jahnu Russell, Future Directions International Associate

Reprinted from Future Directions International, Strategic Weekly Analysis, 1 February 2012. Read the full story.

The move by the Sri Lankan Government to order a group of 161 foreign Islamic clerics to leave the country by 31 January highlights the role of a global Islamic group that is challenging the more moderate indigenous form of Sufi Islam in Sri Lanka.

According to the Controller of Immigration and Emigration, Chulananda Perera, the clerics belonged to the Tablighi Jamaat group. They had entered the country on tourism visas in small batches, without officially applying for permission to preach. The clandestine nature of their arrival brings to light the activities of the largest Muslim proselytising organisation in the world. It is estimated to have between 80-150 million followers.

FEATURE ARTICLE: Anglo-Indians as part of the Indian diaspora: making a home in Australia May 11, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

A different kind of Indian in Australia?

Besides the Afghan cameleers and the Sikhs in the nineteenth century, one of the earliest communities to migrate from India to Australia was the Anglo-Indians. Anglo-Indians comprise one of the largest communities of mixed descent in the world and are most likely the largest single cultural group of Indians in Australia. In this note, I want to show that on the transnational scale, as part of an Indian diaspora, the changing generational needs and changing policy environments can create new longings for the home that has been left behind and in the process give rise to a new politics of identity. My focus is on the diasporic Anglo-Indians in Australia, who, like other diasporic communities, form transnational links, forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that connect them to the country of origin and those of their residence. As part of the Indian community in Australia, the Anglo-Indians enrich Australian society as much as any other ethnic Indian group and, above all, they bring new sensibilities of mixed race and culture and a historicity into the diasporic policy debate. My hope is that this note would lead to the recognition of huge diversity inherent amongst immigrant Indians. Intellectually, such recognition would lead to a rethinking of Indian-ness in Australia. In terms of policy, understanding the historically formed cultural diversity would allow us specific policy needs that smaller groupings within a broad group might have, within India as well as in Australia. Ien Ang and Jon Stratton have pointed out that Australian multicultural discourse is shaped by the national origins of the migrants who are then given an ethnic identity, not a racial one. People migrating from Indonesia, for example, would all be articulated as Indonesians, without a differentiation between the Dutch and the Indonesians. Such a removal of race from public debate implicitly reaffirms assimilationist ideology and a strong belief in the existence of a mainstream Australian culture. Thus, one policy outcome could be a greater attention to the diversities within the migrant groups.

Who is an Anglo-Indian? The Census of India of 1911 described the Anglo-Indians as a ‘domiciled community’ of mixed descent, who were also described as Eurasians, ‘country-born’ or ‘half-caste’. Indo-Briton was perhaps the first ever generally accepted designation of the community. Subsequently, terms such as Indo-European, east-Indian, Eurasian were used, but they were seen as ambivalent because of their failure in reflecting the British lineage. Disparaging terms were not uncommon and some of them – half-whites, eight-annas, blacky-whites – were widely used in popular parlance. Not only are the two names derogatory, they also indicate the wider resistance towards this community in India. Such racial and cultural prejudice, as noted earlier, arose primarily from political reasons and the social segregation of lives in colonial India. The 1935 Government of India Act defines Anglo-Indians in terms of their paternal ancestry and domicile: ‘An Anglo-Indian is a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is a native of India.’


Work permits for Bangladeshi immigrants in India March 8, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Bangladesh is not only one of the most densely populated countries but also among the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters. Gautam Ghosh’s award winning movie Padma Nadir Majhi (The Boatman of River Padma, 1993) beautifully captures the dilemma of people locked in a grim existential struggle against nature. The movie opens with the birth of a child and a chunk of river bank falling into water and ends with people compelled to go to a tiger and reptile-infested island. Ghosh’s characters cannot be stopped by any manmade boundary. They would also be prepared to work at unbelievably low wages, which ensures a steady demand for their labour in neighbouring India. In the foreseeable future, climate change is likely to accentuate their existential crisis and by implication, the problem of “illegal” Bangladeshis in India. Hidden in the midst of this sea of humanity are drug-traffickers, arms smugglers, and Islamic terrorists. The Indian government obviously finds it impossible to screen the immigrants.

To address this problem, the Indian government has already fenced as much as half of the 4053 km long Indo-Bangladesh border. However, complete fencing will be hampered by riverine landscape and incomplete demarcation of the international boundary. Also, even if it is feasible, complete fencing will block the easiest escape route for the targets of Islamic extremism including not only non-Muslims but also syncretic Muslim Bauls, Ahmediyas, etc. People such as Taslima Nasreen are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The share of minority religions in Bangladesh’s population has, in fact, halved since its independence. The struggle for scarce resources is routinely, and conveniently, provided a communal cover, which allows Islamic extremists to fish in a troubled delta. A major atrocity against fenced-out minorities of Bangladesh will translate into greater support for Hindu majoritarian parties in India, which will endanger Indian minorities as well as existing Bangladeshi immigrants and provide an ex-post justification for attacks on minorities in Bangladesh. So, complete fencing will strengthen religious extremists on both sides of the border. Faith-based screening of immigrants at designated points along a completely fenced border will permit the vulnerable to escape. But it will allow the Islamic extremists to portray India as a Hindu majoritarian country with which Bangladesh cannot be friendly. In any case, faith-based screening will be struck down by the Supreme Court as repugnant to the basic structure of the Indian constitution. It will also be opposed by Indian politicians who depend on immigrant votes or have links with human traffickers.