Discrimination down under

Last week, a Sikh in New Zealand got on a Qantas flight from Queenstown to Auckland. You can guess what happened next … he got kicked off because the other passengers didn’t want him flying with them.

“People either side of me were saying they don’t want me on here … One of the ladies told another guy ‘I’m not comfortable with him on this plane’,” Mavi says. “She was talking to a whole group. The lady started it and then somebody went and spoke to the captain. The Qantas man requested me and said ‘You’re not allowed to travel in this plane because the passengers are not happy’…” [Link]

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p>I hadn’t realized that commercial flights were like survivor, that the passengers are polled and one unlucky one is voted off. Silly me, I thought you paid, you got checked out by security, and you disembarked at your destination. Things seem to be a bit … different on the other side of the world.

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p>Of course, Qantas has a different account of what happened. They say simply that:

A Qantas Airways spokesman from Sydney [said] … the passenger “displayed behaviour prior to boarding and on board before departure which concerned our staff”. After “careful consideration” a decision was made to offload the passenger. [Link]

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p>What behavior was this? Simple – he went to the bathroom. [He was fixing his turban, but that's irrelevant to the story] Was that threatening? Here’s what another passenger had to say:

A Queenstowner on board recalls the flight attendant knocking on the toilet door “quite loud” and asking Mavi to return to his seat. “I remember thinking it was strange, the attendant’s urgency, when the front door of the plane was still open. He kept knocking. I thought, Give him a chance to pull his pants up,” the passenger says…. “Never did I think for a second that he was a threat.” [Link]

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p>Remind me to eat lots of fiber before I board a flight next time. Sheesh.

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p>An Australian lawyer friend of mine tells me that this was probably an illegal act on Qantas’ part. Here’s my suggestion – the next time a Qantas air host or hostess decides to break the rules, maybe it should be for something like this. As for me, unless I see an abject apology, I’m afraid I’m not going to fly Qantas in the future.

Related posts: Down Under Desis, First Desi Viceroy of Kiwistan, Rage Down Under,

92 thoughts on “Discrimination down under

  1. I’m sure I’ve killed the conversation and have gone completely off topic (and I have a script to write). But if you are interested in the last 2 years of identity upheaval in NZ, MoS, then I recommend you check out Public Address which is an excellent current affairs/OpEd blog and for an Asian political perspective click onto Tse Ming Mok’s blog Yellow Peril on the site

    Yeah, Yellow Peril is a great blog guys, really interesting to read about identity issues even if you’re not a Kiwi.

    Sonal, point taken about the Maori/Polynesian issue. I do feel that the incident got less publicity because it involved a Sikh though, not because NZers are racist but because I think we’re been programmed to think of ‘multicultural’ as bicultural.

    Chachaji, yeah I’m really surprised at people who have a NZ connection! Even though this discussion was precipitated by an ugly act of racism, it’s good to talk about identity issues in NZ rather than Frodo, how little/unimportant we are and the millions of sheep there are around here.

    As for racism in NZ, I just thought of this quote from Chinese-Maori singer Bic Runga, who was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph as calling NZ a country with race issues:

    “No country is without racism, I grew up with it, that was my experience. It has not made me bitter or ashamed. New Zealand is a beautiful and unique place.”

    Thanks for the post, though, Ennis. It’s nice to know that the desi connection over here is recognised :)

  2. There’s a back story – I have family in Oz, some recently moved, some longer term, and some probably arriving there in the next few years. I also have a close white friend down there who taught me a lot about that corner of the world. While none of that is NZ, it means that I pay more attention to Oceania broadly than I used to.

  3. in my personal experience I’ve found that NZ is far more racially tolerant and aware of different cultures than most countries.

    I would agree i find kiwi’s much better than aussies,they are friendlier and cultured . The aussies have an ocker and larrikin way that would make ya feel uncomfortable.

  4. damn, thanks for posting this, hadn’t heard about it. this shit is happening all over the world these days. i’d recommend this great film divided we fall about what’s been happening to sikhs in the us since 9/11.

  5. I’m a little confused. Was this fellow removed from the plane because he was using the toilet while the plane was getting ready to leave (which is probably a legitimate reason to refuse to carry someone) or because the passengers complained about his presence?

    I actually flew Queenstown to Auckland and back a couple of weeks ago, on Air New Zealand rather than Qantas, and all but a handful of us were recognisably travellers from overseas. I imagine the Qantas passenger list would be similar, so racist New Zealanders are unlikely to be the culprits. Sure, you’ll find some racism in New Zealand, but an even bigger problem down here is likely to be complacency, so that even if there are some who might associate turban with muslim with terrorism, the typical reaction would then be “it couldn’t happen here”.

  6. I have been a troller and have never engaged in commentary here, but I cannot sit back and swallow this reprehensible incident. Discrimination survives on excuses. But the excuses are not just excuses, they are strange as well. They are excuses because they appeal to false assumptions. They are strange because they refuse to recognize the evidence. Or, in other words, they give credence to their own beliefs more than they ‘should’ to the evidence around them.

    Thanks for bringing the story to our (I am an Indian) attention.

    VT

  7. The only Quantas plane I have ever seen is in “Tintin in Flight 714″. Suffice to say it looked pretty shitty.

    Has any terrorist air bomber ever been seen wearing a turban at an airport? I really hope there is some precedence for this kind of discrimination. cough

  8. Charlie: Ray, all airlines have crashed at one time or another, that doesn’t mean that they are not safe. Raymond: QANTAS. QANTAS never crashed. Charlie: QANTAS? Raymond: Never crashed. Charlie: Oh that’s gonna do me a lot of good because QANTAS doesn’t fly to Los Angeles out of Cincinnati, you have to get to Melbourne! Melbourne, Australia in order to get the plane that flies to Los Angeles! [Link]

  9. “Then again, it could be that I am a lighter shade of brown.”

    If anything…that would probably increase the discrimation…

    The stereotypical terrorist ain’t a dark-skinned Tamil…they’re light-skinned..

    Light-skin only works when your pink-skinned…

  10. This discrimination is sad, but to me it’s inescapable irony that many Sikhs migrated out of India in recent years on mostly false pretexts of discrimination, and are now facing real discrimination. Call it sweet justice, call it karma. I don’t condone the discrimination, simply that the irony is inescapable.

    Re. anti-war: I feel it’s easy to be anti-war, anti-nuclear and what not when you’re hundreds of thousands of miles away from any hostile or troublesome neighbors, and have not much land or anything else of value. For NZ, the closest neighbor is Australia which is unlikely to ever attack. Japan has guaranteed nuclear protection from the US and has the gall to lecture other countries on the goodness of staying nuclear-free; gimme a break. The hypocrisy is what annoys me about self-righteous peaceniks who lecture other countries (like India surrounded by aggressive nutjobs like Pakistan and China) on the goodness of being the way they are.

  11. Call it sweet justice, call it karma. I don’t condone the discrimination, simply that the irony is inescapable.

    If it’s sweet justice, why bother saying you don’t condone it, if it’s so sweet to you that this individual is being discriminated against simply because he is Sikh. Should you ever face a slap in the face and racist discrimination, I bet there’s a whole heap of things that some Hindus have done somewhere (and there’s plenty of it) to shit in your pool of karma and make an inncoent man deserve the ‘sweet justice’ that you will be meted out, you lazy bigot. Not condoning it when it happens to you, but call it sweet karma or whatever. It will be hilarious too.

  12. Post #39 Also, one normally would associate such behavior with Europe or America

    Yeah sikh’s have it so much better in non-white countries. Let not forget what happened in 1984 to sikhs, back in India. Unless I’m mistaken 4000 sikh’s were not killed after 9/11 in the States. In Afghanistan sikhs had to have yellow tags until a few years ago.

    I can recall reading article a few months ago about sikh’s truck driver in Saudi Arabia had to shave there beard or lose there jobs. Yet there was no outrage, yet if this happened in Sweden or Holland, people would be freaking out.

    Everyone in my family that practices religon is a sikh, including 3 of my uncles in California who wears turban. So this one day could happen to my uncle and that does worry me.

  13. This discrimination is sad, but to me it’s inescapable irony that many Sikhs migrated out of India in recent years on mostly false pretexts of discrimination

    Yea it was so much fun living under KPS Gill in Punjab. There was no discrimination whatsoever faced by young male Sikhs. I guess it was so good that the only place it was even better for the Sikhs was in Delhi after Indira Gandhi died.

  14. There are 2 sides to the story when it comes to KPS Gill.

    Many in Punjab credit him for ending the Khalistan power in Punjab in the early 90′s. AMJD did have any family members at that time in Northern India. My mother family left India for California around 1983, but before they left, some of them were harrassed and even threaten for not giving money to the cause. So there are some, like many in my family who give credit to KPS Gill for getting rid of these idiots.

  15. Post #39 Also, one normally would associate such behavior with Europe or America

    Ok, that was me. I was talking about the specific cases of ‘getting booted off a plane’ by the airline responding to ‘passenger complaints’, not other stuff.

    Clueless, I find you often make very good points in discussions here at SM – it helps the rest of us keep it real – you bring in very useful perspectives that sometimes get forgotten or remain under-appreciated. I just wanted to acknowledge that very directly – your posts have been thought-provoking and eye-opening. Thanks.

  16. There are 2 sides to the story when it comes to KPS Gill.

    Even if they were two sides to this story in the sense that KPS Gill did both good and bad, it would still exonerate the Sikhs who left Punjab of the allegation of leaving India on false pretextes as laid out by Arjun above.

    So chalk up the duality of KPS Gill to circumstances, but the fact remains that for an average young male Sikh living in Punjab in that period, things were not a bed of roses.

  17. AMJD some people took advantage of the Problems in the early 80′s in Punjab to gain refugee status in places like Canada. When they get to there now homes they able to set up Khalistan movements.

    Let not forget the Air India bombing on June 23, 1985 when 329 people died over 300 of them desi’s. Alot of the people behind were Khalistan refugee who took advantage of Canada easy refugee system.

  18. Let not forget the Air India bombing on June 23, 1985 when 329 people died over 300 of them desi’s.

    Let’s also not forget that many of the desis who died in that horrible bombing were also Sikhs. This often gets forgotten in discussions of the event. In fact, the captain of the ill-fated aicraft was himself a Sikh. His son is now a commercial airline pilot, and his daughter is married to one.

    Sikhs are very well-represented, both in civil and in military aviation. Which is why the incidents of discrimination against them, such as with Mavi here, are doubly and triply painful to hear about.

  19. In Canada and England sikh’s communties are large and sikh’s are well known. But in most other western countries sikh’s are much smaller % of the population. So not everyone in those countries know or have any idea what a sikh is.

    The sad thing is when many people see the turban that 1st thing that comes to mind is Osama Bin Laden, and it’s gonna take along time to get rid of that image.

  20. when many people see the turban that 1st thing that comes to mind is Osama Bin Laden

    This may be true, but most of the people that have gotten booted from airlines because ‘passengers get uncomfortable’ – were not wearing turbans. So the problem is deeper – one of prejudice, racism, lookism, majoritarianism.

  21. Ruby:

    Should you ever face a slap in the face and racist discrimination, I bet there’s a w hole heap of things that some Hindus have done somewhere (and there’s plenty of it) to shit in your pool of karma and make an inncoent man deserve the ‘sweet justice’ that you will be meted out, you lazy bigot. Not condoning it when it happens to you, but call it sweet karma or whatever.

    Now, now, calling me a ‘bigot’ is just incorrect, because I’m not one.

    I just found this particular turn of events ironical as I described. I won’t assume the person in question is “innocent” of bigotry or not since I don’t know, but I do condemn this kind of targetting.

    Yes, Hindus have discriminated too (which group hasn’t?). And were a Western country to put some sort of racist caste system in place, I’d be unhappy and do everything to prevent it, but that wouldn’t mean I wouldn’t find it ironical. I admit that “sweet justice” wasn’t the right phrase to use rereading it in hindsight.

  22. That is old white folks repeating the old slave age acts, I think the best way is to make this issue a public issue by printing in various media forms in USA and other European Countries. One day I was wondering if it was some brown guy as the Coach of Pakistan cricket team and if something were to happen to the coach the BBC would have not mentioned it more than once, watch how BBC is covering death of bob wilmer, ex coach of Pakistan. Its all about your skin color brothers, if u r white u r right.

  23. The funny thing about the law of karma is that we don’t always pay for our wrong (or right) doings in the same life that we do them. That’s why transmigration of the soul is a theory that fits in hand in hand with karma.

    I always thought it would make more sense for a rapist to get raped himself in the same life, or for a theif to get stolen from in the same life, or for someone to get kicked off a plane who kicked someone else off in the same life — that way the person knows they are getting a karmic reaction from their own activities and can connect the two and learn a lesson from it. But alas — the karmic lessons span over several lifetimes and thus the jiva ends up in confusion as to why “bad things happen to good people”.

  24. The funny thing about the law of karma is that we don’t always pay for our wrong (or right) doings in the same life that we do them. That’s why transmigration of the soul is a theory that fits in hand in hand with karma. I always thought it would make more sense for a rapist to get raped himself in the same life, or for a theif to get stolen from in the same life, or for someone to get kicked off a plane who kicked someone else off in the same life — that way the person knows they are getting a karmic reaction from their own activities and can connect the two and learn a lesson from it. But alas — the karmic lessons span over several lifetimes and thus the jiva ends up in confusion as to why “bad things happen to good people”.

    Sir Bedevere MoS: And that, my liege, is how we now know the Earth to be banana-shaped. King Arthur No von Mises: This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere MoS! Explain again how sheep’s bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes…

  25. No von Mises – Karma and transmigration of the soul are basic foundational understandings of how life works in Hinduism and other religions.

    I’m explaining according to that.

  26. I understand sir. I was just itching to use my favorite command, the strikeout. Apologies.

    MoS = Ministry of _____ (Sound)?

  27. Mistress of Spices.

    Foregoing the love and comforts of home, a bold young woman sets sail for a new land where she will soothe the people from their angst and frustrations with her relaxing Balm of Tiger mixed with a hint Gotukola.

    Yet when she finds herself in the throes of a mortal love will she abandon her vows to her Guru and the powers that come with if for an ordinary life of simple pleasures?

    Will she submit to the charms of a local stranger or simply give him two tablespoons of asafoetida and send him on his way?

  28. I was just itching to use my favorite command, the strikeout

    overstrike!

    Hey, NvM, did you, like, ever write for Monty Python?

    Link OT, but check the desi angle below!

    Arthur: It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle of Camelot. King of the Britons, Defeater of the Saxons, Sovereign of all England! Guard: Pull the other one! Arthur: I am. And this is my trusty servant Patsy. We have ridden the length and breadth of the land in search of Knights who will join me in my court at Camelot. I must speak with your lord and master. Guard: What, ridden on a horse? Arthur: Yes. Guard: You’re using coconuts! (note desi angle and double entendre…)

  29. Why isn;t anybody posting new stories?? I need new desi stories. Please somebody

    P.S Is Pakistan part of the middle east or part of south Asia?

  30. Pakistan is definitely part of South Asia (being in the south of asia..duh!) and also a part of Central Asia (as are Afghanistan, Kajakistan etc). That’s a geography lesson. Culture and religion wise, Pakistan tends to look towards the Middle East (or at least it says so)than its other South Asian neibhors for comradarie and direction. That does not change its location though. That would be like saying Russia is in Europe because it has a christian population (that only makes its culture/demographics European)

  31. Weeell, let’s just say Pakistan is geographically in South Asia and aspirationally in the Middle-East, shall we?

    Chill, people.

  32. I’m not in anyway defending the views and actions of the critical passengers (I personally find them abhorrent), but after relating the story to a work-colleague whose husband is a pilot it appears that using aircraft toilets while they’re on the ground is completely against the rules. In my experience, the doors are always locked while boarding and the crew generally unlock them after take-off. I would hope that the attendant banging on the doors was saying that regulations meant he couldn’t use the loo before take-off.

  33. Poor Qantas. A million hours of flawless air-time, mostly great service, no fatal accidents and yet all it takes is a bunch of whinging americans to single out a single incident that’s happened a handful of times in this part of the world as opposed to the almost everyday occurrences there to taint already ignorant minds.

    I feel for you, I really do. And no, I’m not a kiwi or an aussie.

  34. Qantas has been flying into Mumbai for ove 30 years on a multi weekly basis..it has been a genuine international carrier for almost a century..it is inconceivable that this incident is as simple as most correspondents have accepted!

  35. it is inconceivable that this incident is as simple as most correspondents have accepted!

    I’ve been following the news – Qantas has offered nothing else in their defense that I have seen. Remember that Qantas crews flying to Bombay are probably very different from those flying “local” routes within NZ.

    Poor Qantas. A million hours of flawless air-time, mostly great service, no fatal accidents and yet all it takes is a bunch of whinging americans to single out a single incident that’s happened a handful of times in this part of the world as opposed to the almost everyday occurrences there to taint already ignorant minds.

    Boo hoo. Poor Qantas. Would you feel the same way if it had happened to you? More to the point, not only did this happen, but it was dealt with poorly. I would have a wee bit of sympathy for Qantas if they had admitted their mistake and apologized. Instead they’ve acted defensively. That’s very poor form, it continues and compounds the offense. The first bit might have been a mistake, but the defense of the action of the crew is a choice.

  36. it appears that using aircraft toilets while they’re on the ground is completely against the rules

    Even if that is true, (BTW, how are peoples’ toilet emergencies then handled if it’s a blanket ban?) it can’t be an “offloading offence”. Plus, he was not using the toilet in the conventional sense, he was adjusting his dastaar. That seems to me to be just the kind of reasonable accomodation any airline – or other org – should have to make.

  37. it appears that using aircraft toilets while they’re on the ground is completely against the rules

    I’ve never heard that in the USA, although it may be true elsewhere.

  38. It is well know saying in Oz that when anyone goes to the shakey isles, the level of intelligence in that person’s country of origin and NZ goes up1 So what do you expect?