22/11/00 - South China Morning Post

The inquest into the death of the 33-year-old Indian solicitor in Ruttonjee Hospital, following an epileptic attack, concluded that it came from natural causes. But the mother’s experiences during her 18-month stay in Hong Kong led her to believe that racism had placed her “at the bottom of the pile” when it came to medical attention.

Before that, she had shrugged off everyday irritations like being ignored by taxi drivers and sworn at in the street as something which, as a person of a darker skin, she had to learn to live with. Her experience was not unique. Nor is it confined to Hong Kong. But other jurisdictions have laws to protect ethnic groups from discrimination on racial grounds. The SAR has no such legislation. Nor does it have any intention of drafting it.

Why a Government pledged to make this one of the great world cities should have set its face so determinedly against a law that would help make it so remains a mystery. Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan place, but it is by no means an equal society. There is not even a commitment to equality for local residents, as shown by the Government’s legal challenge to fair treatment for non-indigenous New Territories villagers or for right-of-abode claimants who feel cheated out of their entitlement by a re-interpretation of the Basic Law.

Racism, however, is an insidious form of prejudice, and harder to counter without legal backing. In the SAR, discrimination begins in childhood, when children from the Indian sub-continent and Nepal have difficulty finding school places. Last year, Nepalis lost visa-free entry, and later Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian visitors had their permitted length of stay cut to two weeks. Recently, a Post reader complained that he had had trouble finding work as an English teacher even though he spoke the language well, apparently because of the colour of his skin.

The Equal Opportunities Commission has called for anti-racial discrimination laws throughout its three-year existence, but to such little effect it appears to have given up. Ultimately, the SAR loses. A society in which some are more equal than others is strictly third class, and likely to remain so.