The murder of Nitin Garg, an Indian student in Melbourne stabbed to death while walking to work, has reopened the wound about the safety of Indian students studying in Australia. While evidence is yet to emerge if the attack was racially motivated, police have acknowledged an increase in violence against Indian students and the debate over how best to deal with this critical issue has pundits divided.
The Indian government released a travel warning on Tuesday as part of their ‘Guidelines for Indian Students wanting to study in Australia’, noting the dangers of studying and living in Australia:
There have been incidents of robbery and assault on Indian students in Australia, particularly in Melbourne, which has seen an increasing trend in street violence in recent years, with the offenders being mainly young people in the 14 to 24 age-group. While Australia is by and large free of crime, there are, as everywhere else in the world, certain criminal elements, especially in urban areas. In Melbourne especially, casual violence on the streets, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, is on the increase.
Also, while Australia overall is a multicultural society that welcomes people from other cultures, countries and backgrounds, there are also, as in other countries, people who are prejudiced. There have been incidents of verbal abuse and attacks on international students, including Indian students. In recent months, this has directly affected not only Indian students studying in Australia but also members of the larger Indian community here. There have been racist elements in some recent incidents.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Rather than viewing it as a warning against racist attacks, Tim Colebatch saw it as a “calm, sensible advisory notice”, useful for any international student studying abroad:
It is street-smart survival-kit stuff, as relevant in Delhi or Mumbai as Melbourne. And thank God for some common sense after all the hyperventilating by the humbugs on India’s news channels…
While the Victoria Police supported the travel warning, Deputy PM Julia Gillard and Victorian Premier Rob Hulls both defended Melbourne as safe for Indian students to live and study, with Gillard saying that violence was more of a big city issue than a race issue:
“That happens in Melbourne, it happens in Mumbai, it happens in New York, it happens in London. That’s a matter for the Indian government, what it puts on its travel advisories, but the situation here is we are a safe country, we’re a welcoming country, we certainly seek to welcome international students.”
The Australian High Commissioner in India, Peter Varghese, called the majority of attacks on Indian students “opportunistic, urban attacks … In some, there would appear to be racial motivation. It’s not that we are refusing to admit that there are racist attacks. But to reach a conclusion there has to be evidence for it. As of now, we don’t know who has done it and so we don’t know the motive.”
But not all are so happy to sweep the idea of racist attacks under the carpet.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has come forth on Unleashed, saying the government needs to acknowledge Australia’s inherent racism:
Since when was it the victims fault that they were attacked by ‘opportunists’? Since when do we say that victims of violent assault and fatal attacks were simply ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’, or carrying one too many iPods?
Some people are racists and politicians are kidding themselves if they think that by denying this, these people will somehow go away, or no one else will notice them. Every country has its fair share of morons; people who commit acts of violence against others simply because of the colour of their skin, their gender or their sexuality. Sadly, Australia is no exception.
We need leaders to be honest enough to address the issue directly rather than sweep it under carpet, doing so under the guise of the ‘new political correctness’ that says we can’t mention racism because it will whip up a Pauline Hanson style backlash. Yes, racism does exist in Australia and it is wrong. Australia is not immune from morons.
Hanson-Young was not the only one willing to go on record saying that Australia has racism issues which need to be dealt with.
Amit Menghani, the president of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia, writes on The Punch about the institutionalised racism in Australia, where many of the attackers of Indian students still roam the streets free while the victims lie in hospital, being criticised.
For a country like Australia and a state like Victoria which is ranked the most liveable place, it’s a disgrace that racial discrimination has become so institutionalised, that the system finds it easier to criticise the victims than to heal the wounds of these victims.
Lack of infrastructure with little or no guidance has left these students in a situation of paralysis. The solution to the problem is to have stringent law in place against such perpetrators and strict policies should be enforced.
The public are unaware of many of the issues confronting Indian students in Australia, mainly because the media chooses to turn a blind eye to them and are often slow to report news of attacks on them, says Gautam Gupta, a spokesperson for the Federation of Indian Students of Australia.
In Australia, Indian students feel that many mainstream journalists have given up their independence to become a cheering squad for a complacent police and government, which have failed to admit or address the concerns of international students in the country.
It was in such a situation that the onus to report objectively, and without fear or favour, the attacks on students fell on the ‘social media’ of community activists as well as the Indian media.
Gupta also writes in the Herald Sun about the under reporting of attacks against Indians, because Indians students are fearful of police, uncomfortable with their level of English, concerned their parents will send them home or scared of dealing with the law since they are on temporary visas.
Why are we still so unwilling to admit these are racist attacks? asks Gupta.
But does making the issue about race simply divides the nation along even clearer race lines rather than address the issue of crime? asks Paul Colgan in The Punch.
Since the Victorian police have said there is no current evidence suggesting it was a racist attack, we should focus on the fact that there is a vicious murderer loose on the streets of Melbourne, says Colgan.
Crying racism is an easy way to rouse political sentiment because once an issue becomes about race there’s never a shortage of people lining up add their voices to the condemnation of bigots, and rightly so.
But it’s a dangerous and damaging leap of logic to link racism to any particular event simply because it involves someone from a minority group.
This is particularly the case when blaming racism for crime, because it breeds fear and anger in affected communities. And once that starts it can be difficult to control.
Leo Shanahan headed down to Footscray, the suburb where Nitin Garg was stabbed to death recently, where he found it’s not just race that’s an issue, but drugs, mental illness and poverty.
But crime should stop being defended because of supposed economic and social circumstances, writes Miranda Devine.
After a decade of policy dictated by leftist academic criminologists, who cling to the myth that crime is caused by poverty and social injustice, the most vulnerable people – such as Indian students working late at fast-food outlets – are paying the price, while ministers trumpet the lie that Victoria is the safest place in Australia.It has long been the “root cause” dogma of the left that crime cannot be combated in the traditional manner by police on the streets. This allows big government to launch all sorts of utopian “social inclusion” programs to “address poverty and disadvantage”, and effectively hobbles frontline police who would prefer to be out arresting crooks.
If Melbourne wants to clean up its streets, than it should take the zero tolerance policy that Rudy Giuliani instigated in New York in the early 1990s, which has resulted in New York recently being declared the safest large city to live in the US by the FBI and its murder rate dropping to its lowest rate ever, helping proves that crime isn’t just economics, suggests Devine.
Author John Birmingham has a solution for stopping the attacks, saying that a year ago the attacks could be argued as opportunistic, now are clearly just racist.
The Victorian police, and their New South Wales counterparts need to get out on the streets and kick the living bejeezus out of a couple hundred worthless white scumbags.
It’s the only way this is going to end
“Indians are welcome as money providers to their educational industry but not as equally respected humans,” argues Tarun Vijay in the Times of India.
The total number of student visas for international students has dropped more than 20 per cent this year. Whether it due to losing money or realising that racist crimes need to be dealt with in this country, let’s hope the government begins acknowledging and addressing the problem.