Have you heard of a coloured person being accused of racial practice? If the answer is yes, we are confronted with a situation of an oxymoron, the same way as we could be talking about a legal murder or a wise fool. A racial slur could be hurled by only a person that is socially depicted as superior against a person perceived as inferior. A black man cannot indulge in racist remark by calling a white man as white, while a white man would be accused of racial innuendo if he refers to a black man by his colour. To accuse an Indian, such as Harbhajan Singh as having indulged in a racial remark against Symonds, an Australian is ex facie untenable. It is obvious that the Australians have a racial mindset because they do not see Symonds as belonging to their own race and see him only as a descendent of the aborigines of their country. It is an irony that a South African, Mike Proctor, who till yesterday was practicing apartheid in his country delivered the verdict and sentenced Bhajji to a three test ban.
Australians are known to be the worst practitioners of racism. Their country had a declared ‘all whites policy’ for their immigration laws till very recently. Just the other day, Dean Jones called Hashim Amla a terrorist his cricket commentary and later said the he forgot to turn the mike off and it was after all no more than a silly statement. There have been terrible on field misdemeanors by Australians that Gavaskar walked out at Melbourne in 1980; Javed Miandad raised his bat against Dennis Lillee, showing finally that enough was enough. R.G. Griffiths, Associate Professor in History at Flinders University of South Australia and author of Contemporary Australia acknowledges that whereas New Zealand took every opportunity to apologize about the discriminatory and abominable treatments against natives , Australia flew in the face of public opinion. At a specially staged reconciliation meeting with Aboriginals in Melbourne, their Prime Minister, Howard said only that he was sorry for the hurt and trauma many continued to experience as a consequence of past practices and that he himself felt a deep sorrow for those of his fellow Australians who suffered injustice under the practices of past generations toward indigenous people. Howard insisted, however, that "in facing the realities of the past we must not join those who would portray Australia's history since 1788 as little more than a disgraceful record of imperialism, exploitation, and racism."
The courts of Australia have however done remarkably to redeem to the aborigines what was due to them by remarkable judgments. Until 1992 Australia had been regarded by an 18th-century legal concept as an empty continent where the indigenous inhabitants had no rights to ownership. But a ruling of Full Court of 5 judges of the High Court of Australia in Eddie Mabo and ors v The State of Queensland (1992 Aust Highct Lexis 86) overturned two centuries of legal practice by deciding that Eddie Mabo and other residents of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait, who brought a case against the commonwealth, owned customary title to their land. This sensational and unexpected judgment, known as the Mabo decision, established that Aboriginals had the right to claim title to traditional lands. When Prime Minister Paul Keating's Australian Labor Party passed the act of Parliament in 1993 and turned the High Court ruling into law, however, the government excluded pastoral leases (very large tracts of land leased to farmers and ranchers) from native claims. The legislation led to a crisis of confidence in the mining and resource industries. Uncertain about the ownership of land, investors were inhibited in their prospecting and exploitation of minerals, oil, and gas. The Queensland premier, Rob Borbidge, called for an emergency premiers' conference; the National Farmers Federation asked for action to overrule the decision; and many Australians believed that every backyard in Australia was under threat from an Aboriginal land claim.
R.G. Griffiths further chronicles that Keating's Labor government fell in 1996, and the new conservative administration under Prime Minister John Howard set out to rewrite the statute book as far as Aboriginal land rights were concerned. Howard moved quickly as soon as the High Court had ruled on a second landmark case brought by the Wik people. The High Court ruled in the Wik Peoples v The State of Queensland and ors; the Thayorre People v The State of Queensland and ors (1996 Aust Highct Lexis 76) that pastoral leases and native title could coexist. Howard was aghast to find that potentially 78% of Australia's land was claimable by Aboriginals under the Wik judgment. The National Party (the junior partner in the government) led the chorus of outrage against the High Court judgment. Howard made devised a 10-point plan that eliminated many of the Keating reforms. Claims dealing with water and offshore resources were to be wiped out, as were claims in which government infrastructure was involved. Aboriginals would be able to enter land to hold ceremonies, visit sacred sites, obtain water, and gather food, but they would not be permitted to interfere with crops, livestock, pastures, or fences. The complex new legislation, 400 pages long, contained, according to the jubilant deputy prime minister, Tim Fischer, "bucket loads of extinguishment." Native title was to be abolished on pastoral leases when it would interfere with the rights of the pastoralist. The Aboriginals had nothing left except "bucket loads of litigation". To get back to Bhajji episode:
A sikh in India suffers more ridicules on any other person by reference to his religion, his physical appearances through turban, beard and what lies beneath his turban and manifested through his intellect or lack of it. They are however an admirable lot. You may make reference to the clichéd bara baje joke to a Sardarji, who will laugh with you at the very mention of the particular time and not take any offence. They are great sports persons, excelling in hockey, wrestling and kabbadi. They are singers and dancers. Who will deny the rightful place of bhangra dance as representing the quintessential cultural exposition of the very best of India? They are fun loving, enjoy their evening drinks and revel in every thing that reminds them of the smooth contours of the wine glass! You do not even go to the old history of Guru Tej Bahadur and his martyrdom or the life history of Guru Gobind Singh that gave birth to the Sikhism to recount the great sacrifices made by the community and the sheer grit and valor they exhibited against national enemies. They suffered ineffably during the partition and again suffered heavy casualities, post Indira Gandhi’s assassination, as a measure of reprisal for the stupid acts of some misguided handful of Sikhs.
While it could be said that Bhajji could not have simply indulged in a racial face-off, it is important to recognize that there cannot be any experience more hurtful than racial abuse or what happens more often in the Indian context through casteist slurs. And great men of law have set their poignant times through heart wrenching memoirs. Have you read Clarence Thomas or Ambedkar? More about what they have written later…