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Experiences of Indian–Australian Women

Minority Struggles and Quiet Activism

The challenges that “minority” women encounter in Australia play a crucial role in expanding the language of feminism. From the author’s position as a diasporic Australian woman of Anglo-Indian Christian heritage, she explores the emotional struggle to challenge institutional racism in a country where whiteness provides symbolic and material privileges. This struggle has its roots in everyday acts of “quiet” activism that unfolded in Kolkata, India, where she was born. She had failed to see these as performances of feminism, however, because it veered away from the Brahminism of the feminist movement. The event of migration and racialisation as “ethnic,” “NESB” and “Indian” was a visceral experience that opened her eyes to the possibilities for more hopeful futures in Australian cities.

The city is a site of potentiality when routine everyday practices embedded within institutions like the police, the criminal justice system, the state, and the media embody commitments to difference, empowerment, and social justice. In societies with white majority cultures, such as the United States (US) and Australia, however, the increased securitisation of national borders, counterterrorism laws, militarisation of immigration control, police brutality, inhuman asylum seeker policies, and heightened policing of everyday life make these ordinary practices of justice challenging and difficult. The presence of the hypervisible, or sometimes invisible, body of the ethnic-minority migrant, the Muslim, the refugee, and the asylum seeker circulates fear as well as anxiety and emerges as suspect or “out of place.” This otherness in city spaces, which is a visceral condition of racialisation, stigmatisation, marginalisation, and exclusion felt as anger, hurt, and humiliation by bodies who fail to inhabit the norms of a white majority culture, escapes attention.

Like white settler societies such as the US, Australia is a country with a rich indigenous history founded on the fallacy of terra nullius (land that belongs to no one) where whiteness continues to provide privilege on the basis of skin colour, but is also much more than that (Hage 1998, 2017; Shaw 2007). Contemporary research suggests that whiteness is a historically and socially constructed normative position of power, a set of cultural practices, and an “Anglo inspired cultural orientation” (Anderson 2011; Hage 2012: 2; Kobayashi et al 2011). The effects of such power and privilege take ethnic-minority migrant newcomers (including refugees and asylum seekers) in Australian cities by surprise: it shocks, angers, hurts, and humiliates bodies that are fixed or misrecognised as “ethnics,” “NESBs” (persons with non-English-speaking backgrounds), “dole bludgers” (social welfare recipients), and “potential terrorists.” I have experienced the relational nature of these emotions as a migrant newcomer of Indian heritage living in Dandenong, a working-class suburban area in south-eastern Melbourne.

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Updated On : 26th Apr, 2019

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