The year of citizen activism

The community, with its active online presence, raised a collective voice against perceived offences and effected action too. It should unite for other social issues too

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Activism.Indian Link
Graphic: Lena Yang/The Cord

Observing and reporting on the moods in our community, perhaps one of the most striking – and surprising – trends we’ve perceived this year has been collective action, as regular folk stepped up to ‘right’ what they saw as ‘wrongs’ committed by others.
Taking stock of the events in Australia’s Indian community this year, we’re concluding that 2017 was a year when citizen activism came to the fore.
Three issues got the community working together this year. These included the instance of an event promoter bringing in Pakistani artistes who had been vocal about their criticism of India over its role in Kashmir, the furore over the incorrect depiction by SBS of the map of India in the Kashmir region, and MLA’s lamb ad which portrayed the Hindu god Ganesha in a derogatory manner.
IFFAA.Indian Link
All three of these issues irked the community – or some claiming to represent the community – to no end. Invoking more than your average rant at the dinner-table, these events saw the community rally together and put pressure on the organisers and perpetrators of these activities to review their stance and, over time, have them withdraw or change or apologise for their action.
SBS new map.Indian Link
SBS had to modify its version of Kashmir’s map

Citizen journalism allowed the exposure of these issues; and the community – adept at the use of social media and mobile technology – found easy ways to connect over these matters, a particular favourite being WhatsApp groups. These were more than enough to ensure that the rage was maintained.
The collective activity sought to effect change, and met with success on more than one occasion.
The very active online community has also been successful in coming together to help out when someone has been in an emergency and asked for help. Through funds, advice and simple acts of generosity, the community has shown that it can make a real difference in the real world.
MLA’s ad featuring Hindu deity Ganesha received many complaints

In recent months, we’ve also seen a smaller subsection of our community protest against the alleged torture and ill-treatment of one of their own in India, even making inroads into political circles here and having the issue raised in parliament.
It is true that sitting quiet will not help improve society, and that we should encourage such engagement, but such activism comes with its own problems, especially in our community. To keep the activity focussed and sustained can sometimes be an issue, leading to the question of the level of commitment that existed in the first place. It is easy for the groups to turn into relay points for current affairs programs from Indian TV on unrelated issues, or of jokes, or of endless festival greetings, even as requests and reprimands go out to stay on-point.
Yet, there’s no doubt that having tasted success through such platforms, these can be used again to fight the real battles: against family violence, or for seniors’ rights for instance, or, the dropping of the pledge to reform NSW’s racial vilification laws.
In coming time, one hopes these are the issues that the community takes up, harnessing people power for social change.
Looking forward to a 2018 with even greater citizen engagement. Meanwhile, we hope you have a rejuvenating holiday season.

Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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