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Indians in Taiwan saddened by online racism

Indians contribute immensely to Taiwan, but incident shows need for greater understanding of Indian society, culture

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Indian migrant workers in Kashmir, 2021. (Reuters photo)

Indian migrant workers in Kashmir, 2021. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Indians in Taiwan have expressed shock and sadness after racism surfaced online in response to a government proposal that would allow for more Indian migrant workers in Taiwan.

Taiwan and India were expected to sign an agreement by the end of the year on Indian migrant workers, according to the Ministry of Labor (MOL). However, after unverified reports claimed that 100,000 Indian migrant workers would enter Taiwan, racism erupted on social media, with some even organizing a march in early December to protest the decision.

Taiwanese netizens on Dcard, a platform popular among young people, argued that Indian men would endanger society and put women’s safety at risk. They invoked stereotypes, such as Indians being “dangerous” and “dirty,” and cited “crimes against women in India."

Taiwan News spoke to Indians living in Taiwan, who shared that the Indian community was “extremely saddened” and in “disbelief” by the recent online racism.

Priya Lalwani Purswaney, an Indian interpreter working in Taiwan for over 30 years, described it as a feeling of “betrayal.” “How could Taiwanese people say such things? This is not the Taiwanese people we have known,” she said.

Indians in Taiwan saddened by online racismIndia Taipei Association (ITA) celebrates Diwali with food vendors, 2023. (CNA photo)

She acknowledged that these views do not represent the majority in Taiwan. The MOL has blamed pro-China media for fueling racism online.

Fang Hsiao-chien (Tracy), a Taiwanese professional Odissi dancer who has had close interactions with Taiwan’s Indian community, said the fear comes from “misunderstanding” and “the infinite amplification of negative news about India.” “The stereotypes have been formed for a long time and cannot be completely eradicated all at once,” she said.

“In addition, there are many videos and texts produced in Chinese on the internet, which seem to introduce Indian culture but are actually demeaning and vilifying,” Fang said. “People who have not been in contact with India and see this information can easily be misled,” she said.

“These people who discriminate, hate, and say that India is dangerous are almost all people who have never been to India or have any contact with India,” Fang added.

Priya explained, “India is a huge country. It is 91 times the size of Taiwan. It has the biggest population in the world. If every country has 1% of the population that’s bad, in Taiwan that may not be a big number, but in India, that’s a big number, and that is what gets carried by the media.”

Regarding violence against women, Priya said, “These are issues that are present worldwide. It is not unique to India.” “Taiwan is no exception either. We have seen through the 'MeToo' movement that these things also happen in Taiwan,” she added.

Indians in Taiwan saddened by online racismIndia Taipei Association (ITA) celebrates Diwali with performances, 2023. (CNA photo)

Despite Taiwan being known for its safe and inclusive society, Priya said many Indians have encountered discrimination, including while studying at Taiwanese schools and universities.

“My own children have experienced it … But if you point it out, then they understand. Usually, they are willing to change,” she said.

After the racism surfaced online, Priya said she told her husband to be careful and “don’t let people know you’re from India.” “Can you imagine feeling that way in a place as safe as Taiwan?” she asked.

She added that even before the incident, “There was this bias against people of South Asian or Southeast Asian descent. Taiwanese people have this mindset that people who are Caucasian are better somehow.”

Taiwan has long held discriminatory policies concerning Southeast Asian migrant workers, who are largely controlled by employers and brokers, according to a Taiwan News documentary.

The 5,000 Indians living and working in Taiwan have all contributed immensely to Taiwan’s academic fields and economy, according to Priya. “Indian students work hard and are intelligent. Taiwan is an aging society. Universities are closing down, and they need Indian students,” she said. Indian workers would only benefit Taiwan by alleviating its labor shortages, she added.

The Indian public is very supportive of Taiwan, but Priya warned, “Don’t alienate them with this rhetoric.” “It’s already happening. The Indian media is reporting on this issue. The reaction is that some in India are saying, ‘Let’s not send our workers (to Taiwan)’ or ‘Let’s not support Taiwan anymore’,” she said.

In a press release on Thursday (Nov. 23), the Taiwan Indian Studies Association stated, “The incident highlights Taiwanese society’s lack of understanding of Indian society and culture, leading to misunderstandings and feelings of alienation.” It recommended that the government take measures “to promote bilateral exchanges in media, youth, education, culture, etc., to understand Indian society correctly.”