The Indian Government cheated my late father of Rs 332,775

Back in 1976. the Indian Government, for whom my father, Ipe Samuel Varghese, worked in Colombo, cheated him of Rs 13,500 – the gratuity that he was supposed to be paid when he was dismissed from the Indian High Commission (the equivalent of the embassy) in Colombo.

That sum, adjusted for inflation, works out to Rs 332,775 in today’s rupees.

But he was not paid this amount because the embassy said he had contravened rules by working at a second job, something which everyone at the embassy was doing, because what people were paid was basically a starvation wage. My father had rubbed against powerful interests in the embassy who were making money by taking bribes from poor Sri Lankan Tamils who were applying for Indian passports to return to India.
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The worst airport in the world? Easy, it’s Los Angeles

The worst airport in the world is in Los Angeles. This is the opinion of one who has passed through airports in Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Dallas, Orlando, Washington DC, Singapore, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Cancun, Colombo, Dubai and London (Heathrow and Gatwick).

I have passed through LA in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Why does LA qualify as the worst? The buildings and facilities are alright but the staff are both incredibly inefficient and rude. They do not seem to give a damn about doing their jobs – which is to ensure that passengers get through the airport as fast as possible and catch their connecting flights or leave for their homes.

It is common to find airport staff — and there are legions of them — lounging around while crowds of passengers try desperately to get through the maze-like rigmarole that passes for immigration. There is no thought given to the fact that there may be passengers who have little time to catch a connection – anyone who wants to seek assistance has to go searching for some majordomo who is in charge, some tinpot dictator who is located at a considerable distance away from the milling crowd.
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Abbott ratchets up the fear factor to boost poll standings

When a prime minister has discovered that only one tactic — ratcheting up the fear factor — helps to boost his poll numbers, and his poll standing is desperately low, what does he do?

Tony Abbott has made a profession of demonising asylum-seekers and Muslims and pretending that the world faces an existential threat from the terrorist Islamic State group.

In recent times Abbott has gone back to similar tactics. First, he engineered a “request” from the US, for Australia to join in air strikes on Syria.
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Coalition dog-whistles as the election countdown continues

THE Liberal-National coalition which forms the opposition in Australia has just confirmed that it is the party of xenophobes by proposing that whenever asylum-seekers are allowed to move into a neighbourhood on bridging visas, the people staying there and the police should be notified.

This is dog-whistle politics of the lowest kind, but the Coalition will do anything to get votes. A federal election is scheduled for September 14.

Should this extend to the asylum-seekers who are granted permanent residence? Or does the granting of such status suddenly make the asylum-seeker a person of good character?
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The migrant problem

AUSTRALIA is a nation of migrants. Apart from the Aborigines, the original inhabitants of this big, brown land, every single resident has come from afar, some on the first convict ships in the 1700s, others more recently.

Migration is thus a central issue in Australian political, social and cultural life. It is easy to get people worked up over issues around migration, and starting from rednecks – who advocate that only white people should migrate here – to the bleeding heart liberals who want all and sundry welcomed, you can find every shade of opinion vented in some forum or the other.

In recent days, people detained at immigration centres in Australia have started protesting, often violently, against being held in these centres. The reason? They feel that their cases are taking too long to resolve. Of course, some of those who are up in arms have had their applications for refugee status rejected and face the prospect of being deported.

Others have a peculiar problem – they are stateless and hence even though their cases have been rejected, they cannot be deported as there is no country that will take them. The problem, as it exists today, is quite serious – detainees burnt down nine buildings at a detention centre in New South Wales. Some of the ringleaders are still up on the roof, refusing to come down.

The protests have spread to other parts of the country and detainees at centres in Victoria and the Northern Territory have also started protesting.

One must bear in mind that it is the poorer class of would-be migrant who comes to Australia in a leaky boat and gets detained. The more affluent come by air and are never part of the public discussion. British backpackers by the thousand overstay here but are never deemed to be part of the problem. They are rarely detained despite being as big, or probably a bigger, drain on the national economy than the detained ones.

The government is reluctant to do anything that could be seen as a throwback to the policies of the Howard government – a coalition of the Liberal and National parties. Additionally, it is dependent on the Greens for its stability so it cannot take steps that are seen as too harsh. Yet something has to be done because the situation as it stands is giving the opposition plenty of ammunition to attack the government.

A part of the problem is down to perception. The Labor party is seen as being soft on migrants – even though the practice of detention was begun by a Labor prime minister, Paul Keating. And though the last Liberal prime minister, John Howard, made lots of near-racist statements about migrants, the level of migration was never higher than under him. He knew well that he had to cater to the business lobby – which supports higher migration quotas – so he quietly increased the numbers while publicly speaking out against migration.

After Labor came to power in 2007, some of harsher policies of the Howard mob were watered down. The offshore processing of migrants was stopped and so was the practice of issuing what are called temporary protection visas.

Since 2007, the numbers coming to Australia in boats to ask for refugee status has increased – but when considered against the total number of refugee applicants worldwide, it is but a drop in the ocean. The immigration department is an inefficient organisation and processing claims takes far too long. The detention centres are run by an inefficient American organisation, Serco, and people in the centres develop mental health problems as they stay longer and longer in crowded centres.

The expressions of frustration are the effects; the cause is an inefficient system. Labor governments are not exactly renowned for their efficiency in anything and the immigration process reflects the government of the day. Not that Howard’s mob did things much better.

The solution? I think Australia should cease being a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Then nobody can rock up to the Australian border and ask for refugee status.

For top-grade racism, you can’t beat the US

THERE have been a few instances in the last three months when racism has reared its head in Australia, via the utterances of sportspeople. One was the case of one of the coaches of the NSW rugby league team, Andrew Johns, who referred to a player from Queensland as a black cunt.

Then there were two former AFL players who made disparaging comments about Aborigines. But when it comes to xenophobia and racism you can’t beat the US of A.

Time magazine columnist Joel Stein recently demonstrated the supremacy of that country in the practice of racism – through the written word. In a column that expressed regret about the fact that Edison, the town in New Jersey which he grew up, was no longer lily white, Stein bettered even many of those who were masters of this art in the old Jim Crow days.

Stein’s beef was with Indians, who have apparently settled in Edison in such large numbers that they have changed the complexion of the town. Restaurants which once served white people’s food now serves curry, theatres which once screened movies fit for the white man now screen Bollywood masala. Stein didn’t miss out on a contemptuous reference to Hindu deities. He had the whole bag.

If all that wasn’t enough, Stein went one step further and threw in a reference to the insult levelled at Indians in Edison – dotheads – evoking memories of the infamous Dot Busters hate group which was responsible for a number of crimes against Indians in the 1980s.

There was more: Stein said he had no problem with Indian engineers migrating to his hometown; he didn’t like it when the lower classes such as merchants came in in numbers. I have never read a column where someone manages to bring in every possible racist angle within such a short stretch. One has to hand it to Stein – if the Ku Klux Klan is looking for a grand vizier, they know where to look.

If the column was about any group of white people and was written in the same vein, Time would never have published it. That’s something one can say with certainty. But people of colour – even the US president Barack Obama – are somehow illegitimate in their own country. There is still a bunch of ignorant, stupid Americans who claim that Obama was born outside the US.

Stein’s open racism – and the pathetic defence he offered – are examples of the fact that people whom one considers civilised are quite often not what they seem. What is inside comes out when people are under pressure and shows their real character. Of course, after the deed is done, we have the pathetic defence: “I never meant to hurt anyone. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

Surprising that people who lay claim to being educated know so little about themselves.

Spreading the message of xenophobia

IN AUSTRALIA, shows like Customs and Border Security are prime time material. There is one reason for this – they cater to the innate sense of xenophobia among the Australian masses.

It is extremely unlikely that one will ever see a white man nabbed for carrying anything illegal on either of these shows. There are countless Thais, Vietnamese, other Asians, Jamaicans, or other black people, caught carrying anything from soft drugs like marijuana to the hard stuff like cocaine.

Of course, if programs like these did show white couriers and drug smugglers, the number of viewers would drop like a stone. These shows are just a means to drive up the fear factor and pull in white people who think they are superior to brown- and black-skinned people.

There is an inherent message in shows like this: brown and black people are bad, we white people are good. It is a necessary message at a time when the Western world is rapidly losing its economic superiority which, for long, enabled it to dictate things to the rest of the world.

Western commentators are quick to admit the hold that China has, in economic terms, over the rest of the world, but boy, does it leave a sour taste in their mouth!

Indian deaths in Melbourne continue unabated

A TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD Indian student was stabbed to death in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray a few days back. He is just the latest statistic in a grim tale that has gone for the last 18 months or thereabouts, with one Indian victim after another being attacked.

The police in Melbourne still refuse to accept that there could be a racial angle to the string of attacks and are yet to catch anyone responsible. Australian politicians are keen to try and use spin to convince people that the senseless violence is due to anything but an underbelly of racism in Melbourne.

There are some plain truths which people just refuse to understand. More and more countries are becoming heterogenous in terms of populations; as more and more people join a population, it is obvious that everyone will not like everything which the others do. Hence, a sense of restraint develops, a sense of being willing to let the other do his thing, as long as he lets you do yours.

If it were not for this pattern of behaviour, there would be pitched battles on the streets of every major city every single day. We would all be out there fighting like dogs over scraps of meat.

Much as each of us claims to be his own man or woman, the things which we learn to abhor, the things which we come to acknowledge as being harmful to social cohesion are defined solely by our leaders, those in authority and those who can influence public policy – politicians, religious leaders, social leaders, academics, the media, police, the army and so on.

A simple example: two decades ago, it was dangerous for gays or lesbians to even hold hands in public. Gay-bashing was not frowned upon and homosexuals were treated as though they were social pariahs. That kind of sentiment has largely gone away – due to public utterances by those in authority and a constant driving home of the message that they should be accepted as people with an alternate lifestyle.

In the case of the violence against Indians, we need educated people to stand up and condemn the racism that is fuelling these incidents. Instead, the politicians and police are in denial. They just refuse to say it out loud. Nobody has been arrested for any incident. The police must be about the most incompetent in the world, considering that they always say they are investigating the hundreds of cases that have piled up over the last year and a half.

And the irony is that right here in Victoria we have a sterling example of how some plain speaking can quell racist rhetoric and drive it underground. In the late 1990s, a woman by the name of Pauline Hanson started spouting hateful racist drivel against Asians. Her ravings were not criticised by the Liberal prime minister of the time, John Winston Howard. Instead, he chose to treat her utterances as some kind of view held by a section of society.

The Victorian premier of the time, Jeff Kennett, a Liberal too, took the right stand. He condemned Hanson’s statements in no uncertain terms, calling her a danger to society and a loony case who needed to be driven underground. He said her attitudes had no place in a modern society like that in Victoria and that they would damage business and the economy.

At every opportunity, he spoke out and did not mince his words. In large part due to his efforts, Hanson disappeared from public life after a few years. He had the balls and the conviction to call it as he saw it and he was right.

If he was still in politics and leading the Liberals, I would even go so far as to vote for the party in the state elections which are to be held later this year. Labor, which is in power, is the party of spin and media management. The situation will get worse if they come back to power but one has to see what the Libs offer before deciding to back them.

Meanwhile, more Indians will continue to suffer in Melbourne.

Apologies in Australia – what good timing!

THE prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, has apologised to 500,000 Australians who grew up in institutions, orphanages and foster care in the last century.

He has also said sorry to the 7000-odd children who were brought over to this country from Britain in the early part of last century, in the mistaken belief that their parents had died.

Many of the children were horrifically abused in a number of institutions.

The opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, made it a bipartisan affair. And there is news that the British prime minister Gordon Brown will be adding his voice to the chorus as well sometime early next year, apologising to the child migrants.

No doubt it is a morally uplifting moment for many, a time when people will keep quiet about the obvious – that the flood of apologies comes at a time when all three politicians could well do with a bit of softening of the old image.

Rudd has been trying to sort out the problem created by a group of Tamil asylum-seekers who were picked up by an Australian Customs vessel in Indonesian waters and then refused to get off the boat unless they were brought to Australia.

In the course of trying to tackle this mess, Rudd has often had to make statements that have led to others in his own Labor Party rebuking him; Labor has a somewhat more humane police towards immigrants than does the Liberal/National coalition.

The apology makes Rudd look a bit more human.

Turnbull must be welcoming the chance to say sorry even more. The man has had to resort to the base immigration politics practised by his predecessor, Honest John Howard, to try and get some traction in the opinion polls.

Gordon Brown will be the happiest of the lot; he is staring at possible electoral defeat when the polls next come around so any chance to look a bit better will be more than welcome.

The Australian parliament’s upper house, the Senate, unanimously recommended in inquiries held in 2001, 2004 and again this year that a formal apology be made.

As to why it has been done in the last session of parliamentary sittings for 2009 and at a time when both Rudd and Turnbull are sorely in need of looking human is unknown.

Liberals doing what they know best – beating up on asylum-seekers

THE Australian Liberal Party and its National Party allies were known for using the tactic of dog-whistling during their 11 years — 1996 to 2007 — in power, with any section of society the target as long as the opinion poll numbers improved.

It looks like nothing much has changed with the coalition in opposition – having gained little traction in the opinion polls against a dominant Labor Party over the last two years, the leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, has finally picked on the vulnerable to try and boost his ratings.

The former Liberal leader, John Howard, was a mealy-mouthed individual who knew how to appeal to the lowest common denominator in Australia. Turnbull, despite his professed interest in the arts and a republic, appears to be no different.

Seventy-eight Sri Lankans are all it has taken to turn Turnbull into what one might call Howard Lite. The Sri Lankans were picked up by an Australian Customs ship when they were in trouble on the high seas. They are now in Indonesian waters and refusing to get off the ship.

The Indonesian government does not want them on its hands – and, not being a signatory to the international convention on refugees, is not obligated to let them enter its territory. Australia, being a signatory, has to allow anyone who rocks up through land, sea of air to apply for asylum and then judge the applicant on his or her merits.

Twenty-two of the 78 have now agreed to get off and be processed in Indonesia after Australia provided some assurances of a fast-track in processing. The remainder are still holding up and there are reports that Indonesia wants Australia to settle the issue within the next two weeks.

If one were to rationally analyse the arguments put forward by Turnbull, the whole thing is a joke. Countries like Pakistan face a problem with millions on their borders; Australia gets a few hundred and starts shouting about border protection.

There is some mythical queue which is often referred to when it comes to asylum-seekers. That no such thing exists is never pointed out.

People who come looking for asylum in Australia are referred to as illegal arrivals. It is never pointed out that once a country has signed up to the international convention on refugees, any son or daughter of a sea gherkin can come to the borders – air, land or sea – of that country and ask for asylum. It is the responsibility of the country concerned to assess the claims and either allow the person in or send them back.

There is nothing like an illegal arrival once a country has signed up to this convention. None.

But one needs a modicum of intelligence to understand that. It should be explained in clear terms to the masses. Neither major political grouping is prepared to do that. Both have their eyes on the next general election which is a year away.

It is easy to prey on differences — of caste or creed or colour — in any country. Politicians who do this deserve to be treated with contempt. Unfortunately, as a politician in Israel, an extreme right-wing type once said, “I am only saying what deep inside you believe.”

Australia had harsh laws in place to deal with would-be migrants during the 11 years of coalition rule. The laws have become somewhat more humane after Labor came to power. The ugliness is coming back again as Turnbull attempts to capitalise on divisions in a country which is made up more or less exclusively of migrants. The only people who are native to this dry, harsh land are the Aborigines – everyone else is a migrant.

But Turnbull is an ambitious man and known for either crashing through or else simply crashing. He wants to be prime minister and if he gets there on the back of a few Tamil asylum-seekers it really wouldn’t prevent him from sleeping peacefully at night.

At times like this, I am ashamed to be an Australian citizen.