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Immigrants are naturally assumed to gravitate to the political left. However, the marriage equality debate shows that conservatism needs to be questioned in minority cultures as much as everywhere else.
There are many reasons to be happy with the upcoming same-sex marriage vote. I am happy with it as it gives us a window to discuss conservative forces among the ethnic and religious minorities of Australia.
It is naturally assumed that ethnic and religious minorities will always sway left in Australia. After all, it is the Left that stands between them and the Herald Sun/Daily Telegraph hordes. The Left promotes multiculturalism and celebrates diversity, so, what’s there not to support?
However, it is easy for minorities to band together with the Left when the topic under discussion is loosening up the Racial Discrimination Act. It is quite another when it is about loosening up the definition of marriage in the law to make it more inclusive.
According to Andrew Jakubowicz, a professor of Sociology at the University of Technology, the ethnic minorities may be the “secret weapon” in the arsenal of the “No” campaign. According to him, if enough members of ethnic minorities choose to vote no – and submissions made by their spokespeople suggest they might – the “No” campaign might prevail.
As a Hindu and an Indian immigrant to Australia, I am neither surprised nor offended by Professor Jakubowicz’ prognosis. It is common for me to encounter rabid anti-LGBTIQ views in my community. India is a country where homosexuality is still criminalised – if you are caught having sex with a person of the same sex, they will haul you off to jail. It is not just a case of some long-forgotten archaic law that sits in the Indian Penal Code because the English left it behind and we can’t be bothered to change it. It is a living and breathing law, one of the few that Indian law enforcers are quite enthusiastic to enforce.
Like in any other country, there are people who stand for the rights of sexual minorities, and there are those who are rabidly against them. When Indians move to another country, they bring with them those range of views. What needs to be understood is that given how behind India is on the issue of LGBTIQ rights that range is much more extreme than you would find in Australia. While in wider Australian community, we have a general consensus that LGBTIQ people have a right to live with dignity – the debate is more on who can participate in the institution of marriage – no such consensus may exist among the Indian migrant community.
The rights of LGBTIQ communities are only one example of the generally conservative belief systems and practices among the Indian immigrant communities.
There are few reasons why we don’t hear much about it.
There are so many minority communities in Australia, often in such few numbers, that it is difficult to track where each community stands on any given issue. The fulcrum of the majority culture is often evident in mainstream media and culture. There is no such window into the viewpoints of the diverse minority communities.
But equally, the debates are stifled by the general atmosphere where the Far Right can’t wait to demonise the practices and belief systems of minority communities, and the Far Left can’t wait to defend them regardless of their objective value. What is non-existent is any space where members of minority community can critically analyse and debate their own culture. Any criticism put forward will be seen as a betrayal of multiculturalism by the Left and is bound to be misused by the Far Right. Given that all stands taken by the Far Right start with the threat “If you want to live in this country…” , most simply choose to be mollycoddled by the Left than risk being banded with the Far Right.
I have myself bit my tongue often to stop myself from countering Left arguments that oversimplify multiculturalism and its challenges for the risk of losing friends I like and gaining friends I could do without.
And so we end up that conservatism among minority communities never gets constructively discussed and debated.
However, as the same sex marriage vote shows, sooner or later the Left will have to contend with conservatism among minority communities, or risk becoming the preservers and defenders of conservative belief systems themselves.