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Indian student attacks: Denial of racism will lead to more attacks

November 19, 2011
Saturday, January 16, 2010 – 11:00
By Tim Dobson

Deputy PM Julia Gillard’s different reactions to two media controversies say a lot about the denial of racism in Australia. After performers on the television show Hey Hey It’s Saturday did a blackface skit Gillard was insistent that “obviously I think whatever happened was meant to be humorous and would be taken in that spirit by most Australians”.

However, Gillard failed to see the humour when the January 5 Delhi Mail Today published a cartoon depicting a Ku Klux Klan type figure wearing a Victorian police badge saying: “We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime.”

The cartoon referred to the January 2 stabbing murder of Indian university graduate Nitin Garg as he walked to his workplace: a Hungry Jack’s restaurant in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Gillard reacted furiously and said, “Any suggestion of that kind is deeply, deeply offensive to the police officers involved and I would absolutely condemn the making of a comment like that.”

Both comments, and other statements by the government regarding attacks on Indian students, deny, and consequently refuse to deal with, the racism that exists in Australia.

The government and sections of the media have portrayed the outrage that has swept India in response to violence against Indians in Australia as hypocritical. They claim that the international Indian community is making things worse by reacting to the murder.
For instance, Julia Gillard told media on January 6: “In big cities around the world we do see acts of violence from time to time; that happens in Melbourne, it happens in Mumbai, it happens in New York, it happens in London. Any individual act of violence is obviously to be deeply regretted and our sympathies go to anyone who is harmed by an act of violence.”

But the truth is different. The January 8 Sydney Morning Herald reported: “In the 12 months to June 2007, 1082 attacks on Indians in Victoria were reported to police — an assault rate of 1700 in every 100,000. Victorian Indians are 2½ times more likely than non-Indians to be beaten up or knifed.”

Victorian police figures reveal 1447 assaults on Indian students from July 2007 to July 2008, an increase from 1082 the previous year.

Less than a week after Garg’s murder, on January 8, 29-year-old Jaspreet Singh was attacked and set on fire by four men in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon.
Fortunately he survived.

Many crimes against Indian students also go unreported. Some students are afraid that lodging a formal police report would harm their chances at permanent residency. Others do no trust the police to take their complaints seriously. One Indian student told Green Left Weekly at a May 31 Melbourne protest by international students against racist violence that: “As soon as the police hear your accent or see your skin colour, they dismiss your complaint.”

Nineteen percent of people from a non-English speaking background in Victoria reported having experienced discrimination in policing at some time, which is three times the rate for those born in Australia.

The January 7 SMHsaid: “The Federation of Indian Students says the real figure [of violence] is four or five times higher, and increasing.”

Confronted with evidence that Indian students are victims of crimes in disproportionate numbers, Australian politicians and media have attempted to focus on every possible reason except racism.

For example, Indian students who tend to work late and catch public transport late at night make “soft targets”. Victorian Police advised Indian students “not to speak loudly in their native language or display signs of wealth such as iPods”.

The fact that Indian students are told to hide their Indian identity, as well as their iPods, to avoid being beaten up is a sign that they are being deliberately targeted for the race. A term even exists for racist violence against Indians — “curry bashing”.

But it is not often asked, why so many Indian students have to take low-paid jobs and work late at night. Faced with high fees, nearly all international students have to work and they face discrimination in finding a job.

The June 15 SMH reported that having a foreign or indigenous-sounding name gives people less chance of landing a job in Australia. In a January 6 article in the Melbourne Herald Sun, Federation of Indian Students in Australia spokesperson Gautam Gupta said: “ANU data shows fresh graduates of Indian or Asian background have 64 per cent less chance of finding permanent employment in their chosen fields”.

Whether or not Nitin Garg was murdered specifically because he was Indian is not the major issue. Social discrimination, rooted in a profit-first system, means it is more likely that Indian students will be attacked.

Of course, discrimination occurs against nearly all minority groups, not just Indian students. Racism has been part of White Australia since it was founded on the genocide and dispossession of Aboriginal people.

After federation in 1901, the first legislation of the new national parliament was the introduction of legislation barring non-White migrants.

That this racism continues is shown by the Australian government’s suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2007 to attack the rights of Aboriginal people and the “fortress Australia” anti-refugee policies.

If the government actively discriminates against people, sometimes violently, is it any wonder that some people on a train at 3am will do the same?

Resistance wants all unfair discriminatory policies immediately abolished and will continue to fight with the Indian students in their campaign for justice.

From GLW issue 822

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