Racist attacks on Indian students increase

Issue 

Bashings of Indian students continue, revealing that despite official statements to the contrary, racism in Australia persists.

Nitin Garg a 21-year-old Indian student was stabbed to death in Melbourne's western suburbs on his way home from work on January 2. Jaspreet Singh, 29, suffered burns to 15% of his body after he was set alight by four men in Essendon on January 9.

On May 9, 2009, Sourabh Sharma was bashed and robbed on a Melbourne train. The bashing was on film and released by the police. His assailants said as they beat him: "Why don't you just go home?"

And, on January 16, an Indian taxi driver Satish Kumar was bashed in the north Melbourne suburb of Reservoir. He claimed his attackers used racist abuse while beating him.

In all of these cases, representatives of the federal and state governments and the police have denied that race was a factor in the assaults.

The January 9 Sydney Morning Herald said people of Indian appearance are two-and-a-half times more likely to be victims of assault. The number violent crimes against people of Indian appearance rose by 5.4% over 2008-09, totalling 1525 cases.

But it took until January 20 for Victoria Police chief commissioner Simon Overland to admit that police have known for two years that Indians were over-represented in victims of crime statistics.

This admission came only after repeated travel warnings issued by India, saying that Australia was not safe for Indian students. On January 21, Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna threatened to increase warnings to students unless action to reduce the assaults was taken.

This would threaten Australia's international education industry, worth $15 billion a year.

"There is no question, regardless of the motives, Indian students have to a degree been targeted in robberies and that is not okay", Overland told ABC radio on January 20. This went against statements made by deputy PM Julia Gillard just a week before.

"We recognised this problem a long time before it hit the public.

"We have known for two years that there has been this issue and we have been working away, at a number of levels around engaging with students, trying to make them understand the risks and how they keep themselves safe."

Justifiably outraged at the attacks — and the police response, which focused on what Indian students do, rather than the motivations of their attackers — Indian students have organised themselves.

On June 1, protests against the violence were organised outside Flinders St Station by the Federation of Indian Students Australia (FISA). The 2000 students spoke out against police inaction. Eighteen protesters were detained for "breaching the peace".

In a January 5 statement, FISA's Gautam Gupta said racism was the key cause of the attacks. "Either Indians in Australia have been extraordinarily unlucky over the past 12 months, or there is a disturbing undercurrent of racism in this country that needs to be held up to the light of scrutiny", he said.

"Why does the Australian media feel the need to silence and sideline Indian students? Many Indians have been criticised by the media for the sin of complaining about being beaten or their claims have been openly doubted.

"After talking to many Australian journalists I began to understand the source of their denial. No one wanted to look at the hate crimes against Indians as it showed them an ugly side of Australian culture — that racism was still alive and being reborn in a new generation."

Prominent Sydney Aboriginal activist Pat Eatock said that Australia has deeply racist attitudes that need to be examined.

"It's ridiculous denying that this is racism", she told Green Left Weekly. "Anyone of colour in this country, regardless of any other background they have, is fully aware that white Australia has a racist history.

"They know that this country was founded on the almost complete genocide of Aboriginal people and this is a history that most Australians try to ignore. They have yet to come to terms with it. Until they do, a certain level of racism, of white superiority will remain.

"This is also why white Australia is so sensitive to accusations of racism, because they don't want to face the past. But racism determines who is the victim, they could go for anyone, but they select an Indian taxi-driver or student."

The Victorian police are trialling new "stop and search" powers as their "solution". But unless the racist attitudes and discrimination that underpin and justify these attacks are dealt with, little will change for the safety of Indian students in Australia.

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