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Humanity, Equality and Destiny? (2010)

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The following opinion pieces have been published by the President and Commissioners. Reproduction of the opinion pieces must include reference to where the opinion piece was originally published.

Humanity, Equality and Destiny?

Author: By Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Race Discrimination Commissioner

Published in ABC The Drum, 15 October 2010

Now that the Delhi Commonwealth Games have come to a close, it is an opportune time to ponder, not how the Games reflected on India, but how they reflected on us.  

The Games threw an international spotlight on the way we understand, represent and interact with other cultures. And the way we deal with these issues on an international stage inevitably reflects the way we approach culture and cultural differences within our own country. How do we respond to the diversity, the nuances and complexities of an ancient but modern nation like India? Are we one dimensional in our thinking and approach? Is there a connection between our attitudes about the Delhi Games and our treatment, say, of our own Indian Australian community or our Indian international student population?

How do we stack up against the Commonwealth Games motto of humanity, equality and destiny?

Well - we can reasonably describe ‘humanity’ as including a right to dignity. We can also view it as involving the exercise of compassion, humility, and perception in our relationships with all peoples. It reminds us that, as a ‘first world country’, we don’t know it all - that there is much to learn and appreciate from the cultures of others. ‘Humanity’ also implies a keen sensitivity to the obvious fact that we don’t all enjoy the same high standard of living – we don’t all enjoy the same standards of economic security, human development and access to our social and cultural rights.

This is particularly true of the 54 voluntary and diverse members of the ‘Commonwealth Family’, who are large, small, rich, poor or, like India, in a state of rapid economic transition. In 2009, Commonwealth membership included 16 of the world’s least developed countries and 19 states in sub-Saharan Africa. Records also show that two thirds of worldwide maternal deaths occur in Commonwealth Countries.

As a country that has economically benefitted and profited from the historic Colonial legacy of the Commonwealth, we should, at the very least, have a comprehension that we didn’t get our gold medal standard of living by accident, but very much by design. We should be humble to that very real historical fact when we next think it is okay to start publicly whinging about the weather, stray dogs, dengue fever and the state of wash basins in the Athlete’s Village.

And that brings us to ‘equality’. New Zealand television anchor Paul Henry was publicly and proudly racist when he deliberately and offensively mispronounced the name of Delhi’s Chief Minister during an interview. He has since, rightly resigned. But immediately prior to the Delhi Games, the western media banged on and on about event preparedness and Organising Committee crisis talks. Then, over the ten days of the Games themselves, they continued to commentate about toilet blockages, poor water quality, gastric complaints, insects and a lack of reliable transport for athletes.

The sub-text is always the same - India is still backwards.

But the fact is, India is predicted to soon be the second biggest economy in the world.

It makes you wonder who benefits from continuing to put such a country and its people down? Whose insecurity is out on display for everyone to see?

If we look at our recent past, we might just sense a pattern. Recall the denial by our country’s powerbrokers that violence committed against Indian international students in Australia had anything to do with racism. Yet, in denying the existence of racism in our own country, aren’t we just revealing our own insecurity about our own position and status in our own – changing – society.

There can be no ‘equality’ without respect. The days of the ‘Colonial’ Commonwealth are over. The world and its landscape of influence are changing. The days when those with the fattest wallets got to decide who would get respect and who would not are over. During the Games, India said as much when it responded to these petty criticisms.

It is vital to understand this.

Humanity, equality and destiny? As the Commonwealth motto reminds us, our ‘destiny’ is a shared destiny of a common humanity – of fraternity. Equality is the foundation for this – it is something that is not just expected, but is required of us all. Not just when we are in other people’s countries, but right here within our own diverse country - because one cannot occur without the other. This is perhaps the greatest lesson we can take away from the experience of the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

It is important to take note of indicators like the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, the 2010 edition of which shows that in the eyes of Indian people, in terms of the world’s most welcoming countries , Australia has slipped from 5th place in 2008 to 49th place in 2010. We have also slipped in the eyes of Brazil, China, Italy, Japan and South Korea. Quite a scorecard!

So, as we sit back and proudly eye our towering medal tally, it pays for us all to remember that all that glitters isn’t gold. Winning is not an end in itself. It is how you win. How you play the game. As a nation, we need to play fair and respect the rules on and off the field. Because the rules of life and the rules of the global community are far more important and have far greater repercussions.

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