Jun 2, 2009

Crikey wrap: Indian press on Australia’s racism

The spotlight on Australia’s racist underbelly comes amid fears our reputation as a destination for Indian students is on the line.

A series of bashings and stabbings on Australia’s Indian students has come to a violent head, after a protest over the treatment of Indian students in Melbourne on Sunday. Images of angry Indian students on Swanston Street have been beamed over the world, from Hong Kong to Edinburgh, and Al Jazeera, sparking fears our international reputation has taken a battering of its own. Attacks on Indian students have been increasingly reported overseas recently. The BBC reports there have been 70 assaults in the past year, and at least 14 in the past fortnight. But the issue came to the fore last weekend, when 25-year-old Sravan Kumar Theerthala was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. He remains in a serious condition in intensive care, reports The Age. Last week, Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan refused an honorary doctorate from Queensland University of Technology, saying: “there seems to be a moral disjuncture between the suffering of these students and my own approbation.” He explains why on his blog. Friday’s edition of the Hindu Times covered the article on the front page, in an article which opened,"“racial attacks against Indians continued unabated". The front page of Saturday’s Hindu Times reported Friday’s discussions between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh. India Today reports that 30 members of political party BJP staged a protest outside the Australian consulate in Mumbai yesterday. The top four stories in the Times of India’s “Indians Abroad” section cover the story, featuring Rudd’s assurance that the violence will be “met with force”. The spotlight on Australia’s racist underbelly comes amid fears our reputation as a destination for Indian students is on the line. ABC Radio Australia reports the incidents concern not only Australia’s reputation as the land of milk and honey, but also one of our largest exports – education. Age online subeditor Sam Varghese writes of his experience as someone whose “appearance is distinctly subcontinental”. He argues Australia’s denial of what is simply racism will only make things worse, writing, "Nobody, but nobody, is willing to call a spade a spade and slam the perpetrators for what this is — latent racism in society coming to the fore. Everyone, the police first and foremost, is pussyfooting around the problem and trying to characterise the naked violence as anything but an expression of racial hostility." But another subeditor, Akash Arora, chief sub-editor for the British design magazine Wallpaper, says the issue of racism in Australia is being blown out of proportion. "In fact, I have encountered the worst form of discrimination, and most varieties of it, in my own country, India, where people are discriminated against on the basis of almost every difference: race, cast, class, gender and sexual orientation," Arora writes. "So it is indeed puzzling that news about Australia being racist is reaching epic proportions in countries that can hardly claim to be any better. After all, charity begins at home. And so should social reform." Business leaders such as Primus CEO Ravi Bhatia agree, warning readers to let the government deal with the attacks before branding Australia racist, according to Express Industry.

Meanwhile, students at the University of Melbourne yesterday recieved this email under the subject line "University community condemns attacks on Indian students" from their Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis:

Dear students, The University of Melbourne community has been greatly distressed to learn of the recent incidents of violence against Indian students in the city of Melbourne. With our own Indian students and staff, we join with the broader Indian community in condemning such incidents and any racially-motivated violence as repugnant to our city. Melbourne has always been regarded as a safe destination for international students, a culturally diverse and urbane place which welcomes students from all nations into an environment of civility and respect. This is a reputation of which all Melburnians are rightly proud but recent events show that we must all work hard to maintain it. Today we have consulted with student representatives of the Indian student organisations at the University of Melbourne, who confirm our own security records that Indian students at our campus thankfully have not experienced racially-motivated attacks of the kind reported elsewhere at present. We are sending a message to all our Indian students and staff highlighting the support we offer to ensure student and staff safety in our precinct. A security escort service is available on campus and in the surrounding areas to accompany any student who feels at risk, to provide safe passage from University buildings to public transport. Emergency (blue) telephone points are installed across the campus, and University Security is available 24 hours a day. In preparation for our Semester 2 intake, the University is delivering pre- departure briefings to our students in five cities in India -- Hyderabad, Chennai, New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Personal safety will be a priority topic in these briefings. As part of the Orientation program on arrival, students will receive guidance from our security staff and from representatives of Victoria Police on personal safety, including advisory information on using public transport at night. Last week the University of Melbourne joined with other universities in asking Victoria Police universities could take to improve the situation. I would like to draw the attention of all our students and staff to our Safety on Campus webpage -- and also remind students and staff that University Security can be reached at any time at Freecall 1800 24 6066, and that free security escorts can be arranged by contacting Security on 8344 4674. No student or staff member should ever be denied the right to feel safe and secure on our beautiful campus -- or anywhere in our city, state or country. I am sure that the University community joins with me in wanting to ensure that all visitors to our campus and our country return home with only good memories of their experience in Australia. Glyn Davis

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

9 thoughts on “Crikey wrap: Indian press on Australia’s racism

  1. Evan


    Q. How did the Indian press and visiting students find out Australia’s violent thieving thugs are actually racist?

    A. They didn’t. Our thugs are opportunist, not racist, just like any nations’ thieving thugs. It would make a good survey, though I think it may be confounded by “socially desirable responding bias”, which would be where the hard crims would think it is cool to be rascist and not answer the questions truthfully.

    Q. Why are we over-reacting to the racist tag being applied to us?

    A. I guess because we are damaged by our colonial history where violent racial acts occurred under the Australian flag. We know we didn’t do it personally but we also know we have not really done enough in our lifetime for indigenous people that have continued to suffer from those earlier ignorant acts.

    Q. How do we deal with that?

    A. With regard to the indian student thing, don’t get drawn into it – the rancorous indian students and press aren’t calling us all “violent thieving thugs”, because they know that would be too easy to knock down as flawed logic – “transferring the evidence of the particular onto the whole”. But call us racist, well… then we are getting those old guilt-buttons pushed. Let it go. After all, it is as silly as saying MY CRIMINALS ARE BETTER THAN YOURS. With regard to long term however, lets make a better effort for indigenous Australians so those buttons are so easily prodded.

  2. Heathdon McGregor

    how do the statisticas add up against any other racial group. Were there less attacks on people with african, mediteranean or asian heritage. How many anglo people were victims in the last year? More than 70?

    Please can somebody in the media please compare apples with apples or is it just too easy to have effigy’s burning on your website/front page?

    once again who will get beat up by this beat up this time? it wont be anybody who started this.

  3. Venise Alstergren

    Evan, Australia didn’t have a flag until recently. Every deed done, every war fought-exceptions Vietnam and Iraq-has been done under the flag of Britain.
    The more excited ‘concerned Australians’ become about being racist, the more I’m inclined to believe we are racist. If we were not racist we wouldn’t get so excited. After the Cronulla incident I was sure large numbers of people were racist. Those hoons didn’t get to be the way they are without a lot of parental advice.

  4. Evan

    Agreed – some better stats required

    Sorry perhaps I should have said “racially violent acts in the name of King and country?”
    I am going to stay right out of your intuitive connection between excited by “name calling” equalling evidence of guilt. I am sure you are right that in some quarters there is the sort of parental values that you allude to, but once again, I think you will find compelling evidence that the great majority of Australians do not support racism in any way as evidenced in the Australian values survey (ANU) for instance.

    maybe this is better for highlighting the silliness of all this disproportional reaction…


  5. Venise Alstergren


    I agree with you about thugs. Once there is more than one of them they’ll attack anyone. Also, I agree that people alone on a late night train are especially vulnerable. Which is why you seldom see women traveling alone much after dark.
    However, thugs are basically brain-dead bullies, and their lack of brains leaves an empty conduit for other people’s minds. Something has to lodge there-nature abhorring a vaccum-And they pick up on racist negativity. If we weren’t a racist country (on this lowest strata of the community) no-one would be having these racist thoughts to pass on.

  6. Heathdon McGregor

    oh yes it must be the lowest strata of the community that are racist. If that is so how many non white faces do you see on australian tv. Yes those lowest strata tv executives.

    Of course the upper classes aren’t racist only the poor. I put it to you that it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor as poor people live in the suburbs where refugees are first settled before they make their own way. We live with, work with and go to school with all races. You get to know that an ass is an ass is an ass and it doesn’t matter what the background of an ass theyt’re still an ass.

    If we could get rid of the poor (caste system anyone?) then the world will be roses.

  7. Venise Alstergren

    Heather McGregor. you should get that chip off your shoulder.
    Having re-read all the comments I appear to be the guilty party.
    I will explain who I believe to be the lowest strata in society, just in case you believe that I would judge someone on their financial/residential background.
    IMHO the people on the bottom strata consists of the inherently lazy. They are too tired to attempt to think for themselves; instead they suck up like a sponge all the sweeping statements and negativity of other people. They are the ones who fling food out of car windows. Ditto burning cigarettes. They are cruel to animals, possibly by omission. They move their lips when reading the sports pages…and tend to drink too much. I could go on but you’ve probably got the picture.
    This sort of mentality can be found in the upper reaches of that infamously leafy suburb, Toorak, also in Balwyn, St Kilda, Brunswick or Oodnadatta.
    The worst case I’ve ever met lived in Albany Rd Toorak in a house worth ten million dollars. And the most noble example of the other end of the spectrum was born in a fairly wretched house in Collingwood-these were the days before this suburb became trendy. By dint of hard work and a desire to achieve something he has ended up becoming a legend in the entertainment industry. He is kind thoughtful and supportive of others.
    Here endeth the rant. In future please don’t assume that I would decry people by birth. It’s what people fail to achieve that bugs me.

  8. Heathdon McGregor

    Dear venise

    My name is heathdon. On rereading I may have jumped on the term lowest strata as a definition of class. If i am mistaken I apologise. I believe we are making the same point that it doesn’t matter where somebody comes from an ass is an ass.

    my problem is when you introduce terms such as lower strata you are trying to distance your self above other people. some do it by race, some by religion, some by wealth and probably by a million other reasons as well. My point about the executives is that there is not really a racially diverse representation on aus tv. Is this because they are lower strata. Perhaps now by your definition they are.

    If everybody had the same chances then you could decry what they do or dont do with their lives. As every person has different influences on their lives. I dont believe anybody has the knowledge to judge what anybody has or has not achieved as they have no idea what influences caused them to achieve or not. So by labelling the guilty parties as lower strata I jumped to an obvious wrong conclusion. Anyone can label just as anyone can form and state an opinion.

    Sometimes our opinions are incorrect

    Once again my apologies for that

    Sorry i got a little long winded there

    Methinks you do protest a little too much though.

  9. Venise Alstergren

    Dear Heathdon-that’s an unusual name,

    Yes, I think I can see where you are coming from. And, for what’s it worth, I possibly do protest a bit much.
    Thanks to a fairly brutal up-bringing-both my parents were theatrical should say it all. I was yanked out of school when I was fourteen, and booted overseas on my own. It took me years to put myself through a decent school and I ended up at the University of Madrid. So, when I see people not even trying to exercise their brains, just accepting whatever is handed out by people like Andrew Bolt or his even more dangerous fellow prattler Alan Howe of the Herald Sun, and Piers Ackerman-round up the usual suspects at the Oz-I get totally furious. Yes, people are entitled to arrive at their own political preferences. However, to rely on others to form an opinion for you is despicable. Yet there’s a vast amount of people who do just that. A member of my family is a revoltingly racist and bigoted creature. No Einstein but enough to think out a philosophy for herself. Does she? No she spouts all the right wing shit that is put out by Andrew Bolt.

    Unable to fit all of the above into one word I fall back on lower-class. It isn’t adequate but it just has to do until I think of a better one.

    No offense taken by your spirited rejoinder. Cheers

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details