The travel ban is something that Indian-born migrants face regularly in this country: marginalisation and abject racism.



In the past five years, the number of overseas-born migrants from India grew more than any other group in Australia, increasing from 449,000 to 721,000. Indian residents leapfrogged New Zealand-born and China-born migrants in the 2020 government figures to rank second in the country, behind only those from England.

Despite their increasing numbers and growing political voice, it appears those of Indian origin still do not matter enough in the mainstream Australian public sphere.

This is most apparent in the recent travel ban imposed by the federal government on flights from COVID-ravaged India. Not only are Australian citizens prohibited from entering their own country, they also risk fines of up to $66,000 or five years’ jail time if they attempt to do so.

This has left stranded 9,000 Australians who have signalled an interest in returning home, including 650 classified as “vulnerable”. Critics have decried the punitive nature of the travel ban as racist.

As The Guardian noted overnight, “The Morrison government is battling a significant backlash within its own ranks over the controversial decision to criminalise returning to Australia from Covid-ravaged India, with Coalition MPs characterising the move as ‘extreme’ and ‘heavy-handed’. The Liberal MP Dave Sharma also raised concerns. ‘There is little doubt this is an extreme measure and that it is causing significant hardship to the Australian Indian community.’ he said.”


People of Indian descent have long experienced discrimination and racism in Australia.

In 2009–10, a series of savage attacks on Indian students in Melbourne shook the community and resulted in widespread protests, blanket coverage in the Indian media and plummeting student enrolment numbers.

The racially motivated attacks were significant enough to force the Australian government to apologise and compel then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to mend diplomatic relations by making a visit to India and setting up the Australia India Institute.

It was widely thought at the time that Rudd did so to rescue the Australian higher education industry, which had become increasingly reliant on international students from India.

In 2013, my colleagues and I organised the first conference of the Indian diaspora in Australia. This was in response to an Australia India Institute report in the wake of the student attacks, which found the Indian-Australian community was not politically active and “flying under the radar”.

My research on the attacks showed the Indian-Australian community had in fact transformed from being “de-wogged migrants” to “rabble rousers”. This means that due to India’s greater economic strength on the global stage, those migrating to other countries have higher levels of pride in their home country. This, in turn, makes them more likely to speak up against perceived discrimination in Australia.

The current crisis over Australian residents being stranded in India has not elicited a similar reaction from the government.

Even though the nation’s chief medical officer has warned Australians could die during the travel ban — and doctors, human rights groups and the Indian-Australian community have forcefully criticised the move — Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stood firm.

How can such a decision be explained? Some commentators have said the government is trying to deflect attention from the failures of its own quarantine system by introducing such a punitive measure on health grounds.

The real question is why those flying from India are being singled out. Such drastic steps were not in place when the US, the UK and Europe were going through similarly deadly and infectious COVID outbreaks in the past year.

One possible explanation is the Indian community in Australia is simply an easy target, especially when India is in an unprecedented crisis. Indian officials and media are likely to be preoccupied with more pressing domestic matters and may not complain about the treatment of Indian-Australians the way they did during the student attacks a decade ago.

And despite the Indian-Australian community growing in size in Australia and being increasingly represented in the media and politics, it appears those of Indian origin are still largely perceived as an “other” or a “model minority”.

Indian-Australians and their allies have more platforms than ever to express their legitimate anger over the travel ban, but that doesn’t mean those in power are listening.




Sukhmani Khorana, Senior Research Fellow, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




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