Woman of Indian descent subject to racism in NSW Central West

DIVERSITY LESSONS: Shyamla Eswaran was racially abused in Bathurst while in the region to teach cultural acceptance workshops at schools. Photo: JUDE KEOGH: 0405jkshy1
DIVERSITY LESSONS: Shyamla Eswaran was racially abused in Bathurst while in the region to teach cultural acceptance workshops at schools. Photo: JUDE KEOGH: 0405jkshy1

Imagine sitting alone in your car and having a stranger approach you, tapping on the window to get your attention for the soul purpose of insulting you.

This was the experience of Shyamla Eswaran, an Australian born woman of Indian descent on her way to Orange to teach children about the importance of cultural diversity.

No stranger to racism, Ms Eswaran is choosing to speak out against the group of three young adults who told her to “go back to where you came from” while she sat in her car on Hope Street in Bathurst.

Despite her shock at being accosted on the street at midday, Ms Eswaran got out of the car to confront the group, appealing to the female for solidarity.

“She told me to f*** off and eat a f****** curry,” said Ms Eswaran.

This loaded slur hit a nerve for Ms Eswaran who, having experienced similar taunts as a child, uses her workshops to introduce preschool children to spices used in Indian cooking.

Her way of combating ignorance early on.

During her visit to Orange, Ms Eswaran is giving children at Yarrawong Children’s Centre and Trinity Preschool an introduction to Indian culture, music and language.

“I grew up in Sydney’s South Shore and was called ‘cockroach’ by all the other kids from the time I entered school,” she said.

She was abused on her way to teach a hip hop origin workshop at Bathurst High School.

“I teach them about racial justice and the importance of hip hop in resistance and protest.”

Ms Eswaran said since travelling to teach the worst experiences of racism have been in coastal towns.

“I have to admit that I had a preconception of smaller cities and country towns but I’m usually met with warmth and hospitality,” she said.

Thankfully not everyone has had to deal with this type of racism in the Central West.

Rita Narawan is a mother of four and owns an Indian grocery store with her husband Sam Narawan.

She said when the couple moved to Orange in 2002 there was no Indian community, yet she has always felt welcome in the city.

“When we first came to Orange there was one other couple and us, but we didn’t feel any racism,” she said.

Mrs Narawan’s children attend Orange Public School and Orange High School, where she said they are very happy.

“My husband is a teacher and the student’s love him, every day my children are surprised when his students are waving to him in the street.” 

A University of Technology Sydney graduate with a Masters in International Human Rights Law, Ms Eswaran said her experience of racism as a child created a disconnect from her heritage she didn’t reconcile until meeting other ‘brown faces’ at university.

“I grew up never learning my language,” said Ms Eswaran.

“I worked hard to fit in but I am Indian and wearing Roxy wasn’t going to give me the ‘surfer girl’ look.”

Teaching Bollywood-style dance workshops helps Ms Eswaran feel connection to the country her father was born in, so she says despite the racism she experienced she is not deterred from teaching.

In a country with such a complex history of racism, Ms Eswaran said she hopes all parents are vigilant in looking out for changes of behaviour in their children which could indicate racial based bullying.

“I am a single female and a woman of colour travelling by myself, so for them to go out of their way to say that to me – I felt really violated and vulnerable,” she said.

“There was definitely a voice in my head saying ‘these guys could beat you up’ but I made the decision: ‘if I’m going to be beat up for anything it’s going to be this’.”

Ms Eswaran said she’s speaking up in the hope that no child has to go through what she did as a four year old.

“Being Australian doesn’t mean leaving your culture at the door,” said Ms Eswaran.

“People of colour don’t want to be tolerated – we want to be celebrated.”