Attacks Against Indian Students in Melbourne, Australia
Posted by Barry Pittard on June 2, 2009
There have been most shocking physical attacks against Indian students in Melbourne, Australia. Some 90, 000 Indian students now study here, second to China in the number of foreign nationals studying. Australia intends to attract many more. They need to feel safe and respected. Yesterday’s news reported what is alleged to have been a peaceful demonstration waylaid by a small number of anti-social elements.
In March 2009, this blog reported Channel NineMSN’s exposure of security personnel violence against protesting staff and disabled clients at SWARA (run by one of the superluminaries of the Sathya Sai sect, Moyia O’Brien) in Brisbane. Reports that suggest the Melbourne protest was derailed by over-reaction of authorities, brought back eerie reminders of those accounts which a number of those involved (including those who remain Sathya Sai Baba devotees) have given.
In both the Brisbane case (security personnel) and the Melbourne case (police, including mounted police), violence by authorities has been seen. Irresponsible commentators see no reason why the actions of security and police should be examined. They fail to ask whether proactive, peaceful methods could have been used, instead of the violent handling of what had been organized as a peaceful protest. It is an old theme – and authorities in modern democracies cannot hide, though they try to, violent propensities.
(For the SWARA case, see under Reading and Viewing, below)
As a nation, we need to decide whether we wish small numbers of louts to shopfront us to the world. More fundamentally, we have to find solutions to danger posed by those marginalizing forces which create unemployed, dispossessed angry young people who lurk by day and night on street corners unleashing their contempt for human life and property. Boldness and imagination can address these problems. We cannot depend on politicians to be bold and imaginative; we have to be bold and imaginative ourselves.
Melbourne newspaper The Age yesterday reported (May 31, 2009) Gautam Gupta, a spokesman for the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA) as saying:
“We want a multicultural police section and we want crime statistics made public so that we know the extent of the problem,” he said.
The protesters also wanted on-site accommodation for Indian students at all universities and colleges.
“We want blanket cover for all international students, covering them for accidents and assaults and the government should run an ad campaign highlighting positive influence that migrants and international students have made to this country.”
Mr Gupta blamed outsiders for the trouble outside the station, saying it was always meant to be a peaceful rally.
“People have been angry over the past few weeks, especially the young people, but it was supposed to be a peaceful rally. Unfortunately there were some agitators there, stirring things up … They had their own agenda,” he said.
Many Australians with experience of Indian students know of their characteristic politeness and hard-working qualities. They do credit to their country. Let me give a small, though I think iconic, example of an arrangement that could, badly handled, have gone terribly awry. Because of huge outsourcing by Australia to India of telecom handling of public enquiries and complaints, the extraordinary politeness and patience of the Indian operators have become a byword among millions in Australia.
But something nasty is astir, though it should not deflect attention away from the fact that a great many Australians support multi-culturalism, a fact that has been strongly shown in poll after poll, including at the height of the Mrs Pauline Hanson’s deplorably simplistic political presence in the nineties. However, support is more than sentiments stated to pollsters. The real fairness and justice require that we do not pass by, and turn blind eyes, and cocoon ourselves or fail to inform ourselves. It is not by our deploring racism that our humanity will be guaged.
At the same time, heated debate over whether the attacks were based on racism or opportunistic, soft-targeting should not be allowed to obscure the fact that all citizens and visitors alike have every right to feel safe. Politicians in Australia of all complexions have been characteristically unbold in looking for solutions to poverty.
One question that has to be driven is this: Are tougher sentences and proposed clauses such as ‘hatred for or prejudice against a particular group of people’, remedies that are anywhere near sufficient? The question about the extent of racism in a country may not, in the present context, be the most pressing or relevant one. Pressures in a changing society can make an issue that may be relatively isolated grow much larger. Emphasis on tough policing and judicial solutions, without a far wider suite of remedies, can ensure. counter-productively, that the hateful violent are increasingly sent to one of the best-known ‘colleges’ of hatred – the prison system, itself in grave need of reform. Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s prompt assurances to India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must be accompanied with sophisticated action. The raw-nerve (sometimes knee-jerk, sometimes cynical) reaction evinced by many politicians about finding and punishing the culprits will not do. The problem is far more complex.
Radically, we need to ensure that a false sense of ‘justice’ having been done is not engendered. Especially in dealing with aftermaths of crime (and for preventive capacity over time), I would point to far wider notions of ‘Restorative Justice’ – which some institutions, including police, have had success with. See, Restorative justice: An Australian perspective.
Racism thrives on ignorance, and on unreal social structures where persons and groups cannot get to interact with and appreciate persons and groups who are different. The locus of Australia’s achievements in multi-culturalism were not the politicians, but were staged in the Australian suburbs. They belong to the people, both older Australians and migrants, and they must not let political elites obsure or attempt top down solutions.
Racism and urban crime and violence greatly worsen in times of economic hardship and unemployment. India’s High Commissioner to Australia, Sujatha Singh, has said that she thinks Australia is not a racist society, but that there were are elements in Australia that hold “racist attitudes”. Referring to the Victoria Police, she spoke of a “lack of sensitivity” towards Indian student victims of crime. Mrs Singh has very rightly criticised the suggestion from the Victoria Police, with whom she has had an urgently-called meeting, that Indian students should move to safer suburbs. This police reaction the students’ realities lacks aliveness to the situation of many students. For many Indian and other foreign students, since they have to use their money extremely judiciously, live in lower rent suburbs, at a sacrifice of long periods of travel to and from their places of study. This fact lends futher strength to the call by the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA) for a multi-cultural police section. I recently had the pleasure of meeting a busload of young Indian students who were visiting Steve Irwin’s famous Australia Zoo, and had a great chat. They studied Catering here. They were by no means all from well-to-do sectors.
A very real question is: why is some given suburb unsafe? If it is unsafe, then the situation is not only a policing matter but also a matter that needs to be addressed by the whole community, with inputs from all the civic, religious, cultural, sporting, political and social welfare groups.
It is to be hoped that other countries will not be shy of demanding strong accountability of Australia for the most proactive welfare of their students who study in this country.
The Age reports that The Deputy Commissioner of the Victorian Police Walshe believes ‘some Indian students were being attacked because they were by nature quiet and passive people, they travelled late at night, often alone and carried expensive gadgets’.
But if the situation is not fast and well-addressed (and one of the criticisms of the police and Victorian Government is that they have not acted sensitively or properly), India will not be too quiet and passive, and nor should she be.
We in Australia cannot forever, and unchallenged, pose ourselves as the great and successful multicultural undertaking on which many of us have felt a pride. Though there is truth and remarkable accomplishment, there is a point at which the resting on laurels, lazy assumptions and government propaganda have to be ground to a halt by our strong effort.
Among other authorities, Australian educators are going to have to address these issues very seriously and proactively. No ethnic group, or individual, should have to suffer any slight. A few years ago, I learnt that my former Indian yoga teacher, a woman, one of the most gracious and loved people one could ever meet, had been spat on. The disturbingness of this act dealt to one person is serious, but what to speak when reports of horrible actions are wider-spread.
Having been a University student at the time of the great moratoriam marches against the war in Vietnam, and close enough to some of the events to know the facts, it was easy to see how very small but vicious agitator elements posed a danger to triggering off trouble. Key dangers were a minority of rabble, and the governments of the day and their police forces. Over the years, there have been reforms to police practice, including raising the educational qualifications, greatly increasing the presence of women, breaking down cultures of sectarianism, nepotism, and so forth. The Victorian government will need to probe whether any of the police acted outside proper professional guidelines.
It is no use Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd simply “deploring” to India and “assurring” her of urgent action. The problem lies far deeper than political accommodations can reach. All of us need to be engaged in the peaceful solution.
A Helpline for Indian students who are victims of crime is available: 1800342800. From 10am to 5pm, and 7pm to 11pm, Monday to Friday.
Reading and Viewing – with link to the Channel NineMSN Australian Current Affairs program. This shows the sickening conduct of security personnel, seen by millions of Australians. The security detail was called by SWARA, when, to judge from the wide and separate questioning of those who had been involved, and from careful examination of the footage, the position appears to be clearly this: that social work professionals, volunteers and disabled clients were assailed without SWARA’s recourse to those pillars of Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings which SWARA professes to hold: Truth, Right Conduct, Love, Peace and Non-violence. There are those close to the issues who still regard themselves as Sathya Sai Baba devotees who have used such terms as “disgusted” when they describe the conduct of SWARA committee personnel.
On The Attacks on Students
Australia’s Channel NineMSN Exposes Security Violence At SWARA
This entry was posted on June 2, 2009 at 8:16 am and is filed under News and Politics, Opinion, Politics, Sikhism, Social and Politics, South Asia, Uncategorized, World Issues. Tagged: Australia, Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA), Indian students, Kevin Rudd, Manmohan Singh, Moyia O'Brien, non-violence, peace, Police, Steve Irwin, SWARA, Violence. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.