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India makes monkey of racism row

Peter Lalor, Mumbai | October 18, 2007

SILLY us, here we were thinking Indian crowds making monkey gestures to Andrew Symonds was something that fell under the International Cricket Council's anti-racism code.

Lord Hanuman

Hindu devotees dressed as Lord Hanuman, a Hindu Monkey god. Picture: Reuters/Ravi S. Sahani

It has now been explained as a cultural misunderstanding. The crowds at Vadodara and Nagpur weren't being racist, they were worshipping the monkey god, Hanuman. Symonds wasn't vilified, the local police commissioner says, he just happened to wander down to the boundary as the crowd at Vadodara indulged in some impromptu prayer.

As you do midway through a one-day match.

Symonds mistakenly thought they might have been abusing him because he has black skin and had been at the centre of a number of disputes with the Indian players early in the series.

Indian denials of the racist incident contain a number of lines of thought that range from ridiculous to ignorant. The level of debate continually degenerates to "well, look at them, they're worse to us". But claims yesterday by the Vadodra police commissioner CP Thakur that the punters were praying to the monkey-featured Hanuman take the banana.

"Symonds mistook their chanting for racial abuse because he couldn't understand what they're saying. Obviously, he can't understand Gujarati and Hindi languages," Thakur said.

Indian cricket board secretary Niranjan Shah made a similar bid for the defence in The Australian yesterday. A number of Indians have suggested the same.

Praying to Hanuman at the cricket is not an isolated thing. How else do you explain sightings of a man leading a section of the crowd in the next game in a tragi-comic display of monkey gestures and noises? This incident was revealed in The Australian last week. There is film footage of it.

Indians claim that monkey chanting is unknown as a racist slur in this country. But it's commonly used in Europe and even Australia, where black English bowler Gladstone Small was once thrown a banana.

Soccer crowds are notorious for monkey chants to black players. Last year, Leipzig's Nigerian midfielder Adebowale Ogungbure was called nigger and ape and subjected to monkey noises in Germany. It happened in April in Slovakia. It happens in Spain, Scotland, everywhere, apparently, but India. Rich and even lower middle-class Indians would know this. English soccer is a staple on television here.

In 2002, the West Indies suffered racial abuse from ignorant crowds and one player privately admitted it was the worst he had received in the world. The Indian board and the Indian media want this issue to go away and so does everybody else, but it won't go away until the locals accept it is a serious issue and something that needs to be dealt with.

Yesterday, some Indian papers leapt with glee on a Human Rights and Equal Opportunities report into racism in Australian sport. The existence of an Australian government-backed report is the critical point here and that's what many don't understand. Rather than denying or making ridiculous excuses, there is an attempt to acknowledge the problem and address it.

Racism will never be eliminated, but it should never be excused. If this could be acknowledged, everybody could get on with the cricket.

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