Lack of Information about Attacks on Indian Students

After over hundred brutal attacks on Indians in Australia in less than a year, including some murders, people in India deserve better information on the topic than has come out, not the stereotypical approach with which Canberra and New Delhi has treated the matter hitherto, one terming the attacks as acts of criminality denying any racial undertones to them, with no evidence to prove or disprove either notwithstanding; and other confining itself to warnings, advisories and hopes.

I do believe Indian media has overreacted on the issue, acting irresponsibly, but is there a thorough investigation into the attacks so far, or, has police probe in anyone of them produced an outcome? Yesterday’s three-month sentence to an Australian for racially abusing an Indian cabbie within hours of crime is too dramatic an event to pacify Indian worries. In the darkness of information, it’s but natural for media to connect dots or speculate.

The only thing we know for sure – not denied or debated – is that Indian students are ‘soft targets’. Why? Nobody can justify it on one ground, there’re strong points on both sides of the debate. Australian government has been ignoring the points on racist side and so has been accused of denial. Though a greater section of Australian media attributes attacks to criminality, blaming Indian media for stocking hysteria, there’re journalists in Australia who clearly see racism behind attacks. Not to mention, Australian population has been largely sympathetic to Indian victims.

Having said that, I must express my own opinion of the attacks, which is made of a number of things, including crimes in Australia, change in country’s demographic profile, economic recession and unemployment, racism, and recommendations of Senate Committee Report and interim Baird Committee Report on welfare of international students.

Crime has been on rise in Australia, according to figures of Australian Institute of Criminology, from 1995 to 2007, with its streets becoming increasingly unsafe. Very riveting revelation emerges when we compare this rise – four fold as compared to the rise in country’s population during that period – with graph of Australian Bureau of Statistics, which shows that unemployment rate plummeted during that period, for country’s economy, it reasoned, was doing very well. In a word, with more prosperity and more opportunities of employment, a class of Australians attracted and another committed more crimes, robberies, attacks under influence of alcohol, that kind of things.

Australian populace is conscious, wary of the street crimes. That’s why, after Nitin Garg’s murder, one Australian columnist wrote that Garg was killed due to his ignorance, for he was crossing a park in night. Most Australians know that their parks are not safe in night, he added. In many circumstances, Indians were not assaulted by Australians but by other ethnic groups, as TDP leader Nama Nageshwar Rao said after her return from Australia last year. That’s the ground on which Australian government has so far branded all attacks on Indians as ‘opportunist’, colour-blind.

But let me give more facts and figures. Unemployment rose in Australia after economic recession in 2008, considerably by May 2009, the time which roughly coincides with beginning of attacks on Indians. Statics shows that an Indian is 2.5 times more likely to be attacked than others. This rouses two major questions: why Indians were attacked on such a large scale, and why were only Indians attacked, though people of 140 nationalities live in Australian cities?

Both these questions can be answered in two different perspectives, one of which, that Indians don’t know Australian realities as in Garg’s case, has been dealt with above. Second is the swift change in country’s demographic profile and growing competition for employment, between Australians and foreigners, and among foreigners themselves. Figures tell us that there’re nearly 1,30,000 Chinese students studying in Australia presently, followed by nearly a lakh Indians (the number significantly rose from 30,000 in 2004 to one lakh in 2009); both these ethnic groups are the largest reserve armies of possible immigrants intending to settle in Australia.

The fact that most of Indian are living in cheap shanties and doing paltry part-time jobs – which only lower economic class Australians living in economically depressed areas will covet – make them most vulnerable to attacks arising out of this possible feeling of competition. Call it racism, without doubt.

Some believe that Australia has used its education industry for dual purposes – one, earning revenue; two, using institutions of learning as primary immigration points where cheap labour for the future could be produced. Australian government and unemployed Australians seem to be in clash on the topic.

Crime, racist or otherwise, is one thing at the centre of the entire debate. After Australia’s argument that Indians are ‘soft target’ because of their living in economically-depressed suburbs, Indian students demanded proper actions from government to make sure that international students get accommodation near their institutes. Also, a journalist suggested that educational institutes should take more responsibilities for student safety. Neither Senate Committee Report nor interim Baird Committee Report addresses this basic concern.

The first, ironically, asks international students to ensure personal safety while in Australia and hold unscrupulous overseas recruitment agents for the problem; the second recommends tight control and compliance mechanisms, tough entry standards and migration rules and more diligent policing. What are these reports meant to mean? Besides assiduous policing (which will curb crimes), other recommendations will only make sure that international students enter Australia with sufficient money so as not to require part-time job and cheap lodging.

South Australia has a number of practical measures to ensure international student safety (including campaign for affordable lodging in city-centres), but state of Victoria (where most attacks occurred) seemed to have badly failed to properly address the issue. In addition to adopt a more practical stand on the issue, Australia needs to convincingly answer any question arising out of such attacks to allay fears. Politically correct parroting – as Australia is safe for international students, crimes happen around the world etc – is but futile, incapable of humouring anyone. Hyperventilation in Indian media on the topic and fall in number of study visa applicants bear this out.

Australia needs better handling of the issue. Neither Indian students in Australia nor people in India have ever denied opportunistic nature of crime behind some attacks, but have argued that existence of a specific world like ‘curry bashing’ used during a number of beatings is indicative of racism. Australia needs to move out of denial mode, too. Acceptance will do it no harm, rather solve the problem and enhance its credibility as responsible country.

Indian government is no less guilty of not churning exact information about attacks out of Australia. Apart from warnings, advisories, and rhetoric of constantly being in touch with Indian embassy in Ausralia, we’ve heard nothing more from it. It could have formed a special task force to study problems of Indian students in Australia. It would have been a good way to know the truth for sure and find its solution.

Saurabh Dharmesh

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