Monday, March 8, 2010

Danny Nalliah speaks out on Indian-bashing; apparently the Indians are bashing themselves

Perhaps it's due to our general lack of enthusiasm for causes in general, but it's a testament to Australian society that divisive, fire-and-brimstone preachers have never really taken off in these parts. Yet some continue to try, and Pastor Danny Nalliah of the Melbourne-based Catch the Fire Ministries is an example. Nalliah, you may recall, was the guy who decided the devastating bushfires of 2009 were God's punishment for the Victorian government relaxing its abortion laws (you can read about that here).

Nalliah is a strange character, who has previously faced charges for vilification of Muslims, and whose other pronouncements have included how multiculturalism is a step towards race war, and calling for "Satan's strongholds" (brothels, gambling places, temples and mosques) to be pulled down. A Sri Lankan Tamil who migrated to Melbourne in 1997, his non-whiteness seems to allow him to get away with spouting racially insensitive diatribes against other brown people. Were a white preacher to say some of the things Nalliah has, he would likely be branded a racist fool; Nalliah seems to get away with just being called a fool.

His latest media release on offers his helpful theory that the furore about attacks on Indians in Australia has been caused by Sikhs attacking other Sikhs:

The debate over whether Australia is a racist country has been renewed in the wake of the murdered three year old Indian boy in Melbourne overnight with Catch the Fire ministries president Pastor Daniel Nalliah suggesting the slayings perpetrated against the Sikh community might come from fellow countrymen from their country of origin.
As police in Melbourne hunt for the killer of three-year-old Gurshan Sing Channa, Pastor Daniel Nalliah, who is darker skinned and hails from Sri Lanka, said many would see Australia as a racist country with ‘yet another tragic death of an Indian in Australia’.
“I think we need to take a good look at the recent spate of attacks on mainly Indians from a Sikh background. The whole world seems to believe Australia is rampant with racism. Darker skinned people are even scared to travel to Australia,” Pastor Daniel said.
“My question is, if the attacks are from Whites against blacks, then we all will be possibly on the receiving end but how come the attacks are so clearly on one group of people - the Sikhs from India?”
Pastor Daniel argues that people from within the same coloured group are much more likely to recognise their own coloured people faster since they would be familiar with their accents, nuances in the language, etc.
“One needs to ask the question, Why is it that most attacks are on mainly Indians from the Sikh community and not on everyone who has the same coloured skin?”
“Is the Media helping solve the problem or are they giving the wrong message and blowing it out of proportion since some media reports would make some people think it’s a case of Racism from white people against black. At least that’s the message being conveyed locally and globally.
Pastor Nalliah, who has travelled to many nations and ministered to thousands of people as a Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, said he has “certainly never faced racism in Australia over the past 13 years I have lived here and I have darker skin too” he said.
“Why then are most of the attacks on one particular group only, the Sikhs? We need to understand that a non Asian will not know the difference between, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Singaporean or Malaysian until they really get to know them personally as a friend.
“Likewise those from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh all look very much alike, in a similar vein to people from New Zealand, Australia or England.
“I believe these attacks should not be looked at as necessarily white against black, but rather it could very well be a group of people from within the same countries of origin where the victims came from who are carrying out these attacks.
We pray that these senseless attacks and killings will stop and the culprits be brought to justice.

Now this is a load of tosh and I'm going to tell you why. But first, let me get something out of the way. The man charged with manslaughter in the case of toddler Gurshan Singh is indeed Indian and a Sikh; Gursewak Dhillon was a fellow tenant at the same house as the boy and his parents. But this case was never likely to fit the same mould of the recent violence against Indians in Australia, which has mostly consisted of attacks in the street by strangers. In cases involving small children, the perpetrator is far more often than not someone known to the victim. Likewise, there have been a couple of violent incidents involving Indians, which created a storm in the Indian media, in which the perpetrators did turn out to be Indians who were known to the victims. But a handful of isolated cases does not constitute a trend, despite the intense desire amongst right-wing columnists to believe so.

It does seem that Sikhs have been disproportionally targeted, judging by the prevalence of surnames such as "Singh" in news reports of bashings. But why? There are two clear reasons. Firstly, contrary to Nalliah's idea that a non-brown person would not be able to distinguish different types of brown person, Sikhs ARE easily identifiable. Devout practicing Sikhs wear beards and turbans, which is a screamingly obvious identifier of "otherness" to an attacker, which increases the chances of being targeted. And indeed, a number of incidents of anti-Indian violence specifically mention perpetrators attempting to remove the victim's turban, or making derogatory comments about it.

But of course, not all Sikhs wear those visible markers of their religion. But of the recent waves of students and migrants coming to Australia from India, people from the Sikh heartland of Punjab make up a particularly large proportion (around 40% according to one source I've seen). But even if Punjabis are particularly represented amongst all the South Asian people who have been bashed in seemingly unprovoked attacks in Australia in the last couple of years, that list also includes South Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Indian Muslims, and Malaysian Indians. Indeed, Nalliah made this statement just days after a 60-year-old Sri Lankan man and his Indian wife were terrorised by 25 thugs in their home, just a suburb away from Nalliah's church. Perhaps Nalliah just hasn't noticed them because it doesn't fit whatever narrative he is trying to compose in his head.

Nalliah's statement that “ [I have] certainly never faced racism in Australia over the past 13 years I have lived here and I have darker skin too” is quite funny. I can't question his own experience, except to say that they are exactly that - HIS experiences. What about the experiences of those who have faced racism? A sweeping statement on society, that is based solely on the experience of one man, carries little weight. It is as silly as some Indians I have heard who, having suffered a couple of racist incidents, thereby conclude that ALL Australians are evil racists. Talk to a number of different people, and you'll hear a wide range of opinions.

And finally, the most obvious counter to Nalliah's strange claim that "it's the Indians wot done it" is the fact that most reports of the attacks give some kind of racial description of the attackers. And only one out of around 75 I have examined has mentioned a perpetrator who was Indian (part of the multi-ethnic gang that bashed Sourabh Sharma on a train).

So why would Nalliah think to make such a statement - not just an offhand observation but a media release?

Because it's an opportunity to deride a rival religion, perhaps? Of course. But I'm guessing there's more.

I wonder if, consciously or subconsciously, Nalliah feels the need to sell out his fellow desis in order to prove himself to white people. Perhaps growing up as a religious minority in a region dominated by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs has made him overcompensate - by casting aspersions on other South Asians and simultaneously reassuring his flock that white people are still awesome and non-racist. Does he need to prove himself to the white people in his adopted country that he is better than the pagan rabble back in the subcontinent?

I don't think that solidarity along racial lines is always good thing, but Nalliah's complete lack of it worries me. When a brown person repeatedly tries to publicly put down other brown people for the benefit of white majority, I'm reminded of Malcolm X's description of the "house negro".

More like this:

Addressing the myths and misconceptions about anti-Indian violence in Australia

How Australians love Bangladeshi conjoined twins, hate Tamil refugees, and bash Indians

Are Australians really racist towards Indians?

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, thanks for commenting on my LJ post about this issue - I've left a reply there, at