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Even before the Siraj-Bumrah scandal at Sydney’s Pink Test had been fully investigated by authorities, the nature of the discourse was clear for those watching the larger India-Oz equation. How is this going to be reported in the Indian media, and what repercussions will it have on the broader relationship?
It was not that long ago, only ten years in fact, when the two nations stared at a stalemate following the international student fiasco. Headlines of a racist Australia screamed across the front pages of Indian media. Australia then spent time and money in reinforcing its multicultural acceptance of India and Indians.
Some states did it well. Victoria successfully created this goodwill and has benefitted with larger inflows of Indian students and tourists. NSW did take up the challenge but sadly, has lost interest in this area. The Festival of Art and Culture, Parramasala which was initiated for the Indian community after the 2009 student riots, is now a mish mash of all things multicultural with no standout features for which the original Festival was established.
India and Australia are both aware that a smooth relationship is mutually beneficial. It’s now understood at a deeper level, given strategic defence and geopolitical elements have been thrown into the mix in 2021. The newly appointed Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan is desperately looking at new markets after China has shut down major Australian exports. The nature of China’s aggression in this part of the world has also forced India and Australia in closer defence cooperation.
And yet, it is lamented, a sporting spat can put a spanner in the works and so easily destroy years of soft power diplomacy between the two countries. The jury’s still out on whether the spectators’ behaviour was racist or just lads knocking back a few beers. Either way, it was disrespectful. And unpardonable.
In what should be considered ‘another day in the office’ for the players as they step onto the field, this kind of bullying or disgraceful behaviour from the crowds can amplify personal demons. Consider Siraj, who lost his father while on tour here and could not make it back for the funeral due to COVID restrictions. His tears at the Indian national anthem prior to the start of the Test took social media by storm.
What a moment this was, Md Siraj tearing up during the national anthem this morning. 🇮🇳
— Mangalam Maloo (@blitzkreigm) January 7, 2021
Perhaps even more reprehensible was the spat out in the middle, as two of Australia’s most respected and admiration-worthy stars let a tough day get the better of them, for all to hear (and see) thanks to stump-mics and stump-cams. Both Australian captain Tim Paine and senior member Steve Smith need to lead by example and not allow their frustrations to take over instinct.
As regards the crowd behaviour, what we need is education on casual racism – meaningful discussions on how words can hurt. Otherwise, Siraj’s stance midfield, pointing to the crowds in the very same manner as AFL legend Adam Goodes when an audience member called him an ‘ape’, will become a more common occurrence – as it rightly should, because such behaviour needs to be called out loud and clear.
As far as repercussions go, perhaps Paine and Smith will feel the brunt more severely than the broader bilateral relationship.