Theres a great deal of hullabaloo going on about the racist attacks in Australia. After the general elections, the Indian media seems to be going whole hog on the latest scoop, which I suppose should give them enough material for at least a week.
Given the so called plight of our dear countrymen in Australia, I cannot help dishing out some of my own experiences in a foreign country (read Russia) for the past six years.
Now, for those who are not aware, Russia and not to mention a good deal of Europe, have their own fair share of racist episodes.
It only seems like yesterday, when I was studying for a debt in Anatomy, my neighbour came running, huffing and puffing to my room and told me that a young Vietnamese student has been killed just a bit of a distance from our hostel. It was around 9 pm at that time, and immediately a good deal of Indians (from my hostel), Africans, Sri Lankans and of course the Vietnamese students rallied together in protest at the lack of security and the so called racial atrocity against the foreign students (the Chinese were conspicuously absent throughout the whole deal).
Did that incident horrify me? Was I appalled, angry, horrified or for that matter scared at the fact that foreigners can be attacked any time at the drop of a hat?
Frankly..not even the least.
All I bothered about was, how am I going to find time to clear my debts in Anatomy.
While I did spend all night on the streets protesting against racist groups, in a gesture of solidarity to our Vietnamese colleagues, the incident by itself was not of any life changing consequence.
Now as far as the Vietnamese boy who was killed is concerned, he belonged to another university, and decided to visit his friends in my hostel for a birthday party.
Afterwards he decided to head back home, and chose to venture through an unlighted dark short cut instead of going through a bright nicely lit road which would have taken 2 minutes more of his walking time.
And, needless to say that's where he was ambushed and killed by Skin heads (a radical anti Semitic Neo Nazi group).
In my opinion, its always easy to fume and grunt when you hear, that some Indians in so and so country have been racially abused or targeted. But one ought to know how such incidents take place and how we foreigners ourselves are responsible when we end up as targets.
In my six years of stay in this country, I have hardly come across racial undertones. The Russians, if you get to know them, are quite a friendly race. And for some strange reason, they really like Indians.Especially the elder generation. The minute they hear, that you're from India, they begin talking about how much they like Indian culture, about Raj Kapoor (the only Indian actor they know) and of the film Awara. Not to mention their weird fascination for the song "Jimmy Jimmy Aja Aja" filmed on Mithun Chakraborty.
Whenever we have visited the patients ward, the Russian grandmas always wished us all the best for our future and asked us to study hard in order to be a good doctor.
Yes there are groups of people (read Skinheads) out to create trouble, and over the past few years, two Indian students have even been killed in Petersburg (strangely neither the Indian media nor the government cared two pence about the incident) .
But in my opinion its about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
When as a foreigner, you decide to visit, or stay in any country, you need to have some knowledge about the place you are about to visit, the nature of the people living in the so called country and a respect for the local cultures and traditions.
I knew about the Skin head problem, even before I came to study here. So frankly it wasn't a rude shock to me. The Indians here on the contrary were the real shock.
All foreign countries carry a risk.
Its up to you to be careful and safe guard you assets when you move about in an unfamiliar surroundings.
Even India isn't that safe.
One keeps hearing of American, German or Russian tourists being swindled, abused and even killed by the locals.
I once met a Russian woman at the Mumbai airport, who couldn't speak English, she obviously didn't know Hindi, and the only currency she had were Roubles. And she didn't know anyone in India either. Fortunately my friend helped her reach a currency exchange and managed to drop her off at a decent hotel.
But just imagine, if she had fallen into the hands of a greedy cab driver. One can very well imagine the consequences.
Its people like these who fall prey to all sorts of hoodlums, because of their own stupidity.
In spite of knowing well about the Skin head situation, in Russia, you have Indian students roaming out alone in the late hours when the streets are deserted, and hitting pubs and discos in unheard of places.
And sometimes I believe they deserve what's coming to them. I have heard of cases of Indians here who act the goat in discos and ogle at the Russian girls as though they have never seen a female in their entire lives. As a consequence they tend to get drunk, misbehave and end up with a black eye, blaming the "racist" Russians.
I an not naive to say that racism does not exist. It very well does. But sometimes, racist "incidents" can be avoided if one is careful enough.
As long as you happen to be a foreigner, one must always be humble, respectful and decent in your mannerisms and behaviour when you are in a foreign country.
This rule applies to even those who visit India. You cannot roam about as if you own the place. You are then bound to attract trouble.
No country is without its share of issues. Even the United States which finally has a Black President, is still plagued by racist attacks in certain areas.
Therefore even though the news of racist incidents are unfortunate, they can at times be avoided.
It finally boils down to the individual to be careful in a foreign country, and be responsible for his/her own safety.
For as we all know, when in Rome....
Image Credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thivierr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mahidoodi, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thivierr.
PS: Since my final Russian State Exams are around the corner, excusez moi from the blogosphere. Hence I shan't be able to post anything new for a while.