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Racism or crime, Oz’s got a problem!

By Kamna Arora | Last Updated: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 18:04
Kamna Arora
Éminence grise

It took long for Australia to earn the tag of a ‘multi-cultural’ society from the ‘only-Whites’ one. But the recent spate of attacks on Indian students Down Under has heightened the worries of a country, which technically seems to be a perfect choice for Indian students planning to go abroad for further studies.

Australia has high educational standards and affordable standard of living as compared to that of the US and the UK. But the attacks on Indian students, of late, have sparked allegations of widespread racism in the Australian society.

What is it that is actually happening to Indian students in Australia? Are the attacks racist in nature, as alleged by the Indian media, or the result of urban crime, as suggested by the Australian police? Quite unsure! But one thing is certain that the extensive reporting of the attacks by media has led to a near 50% slump in enrolment of students from India to Australian universities. Travel advisories have been issued to Indians students in Australia by the Indian government and the diplomatic ties between the two sides have soured.

Is the Indian media ‘truly’ reacting too sharply to the attacks on students in Australia? The questions struck me when a report, recently, claimed that Indians in Australia were unhappy with the media in their native country for linking attacks with racism.

Meanwhile, both New Delhi and Canberra have asked the Indian media to exercise restraint while reporting on alleged racism in Australia.

In fact, the Australian government’s irritation and annoyance with the Indian media was clear when acting Foreign Minister Simon Crean said that his appeal to “Indian newspapers” to “wait for the full facts” before adjudging any attack on Indians as “racist” will “fall on deaf ears”. Already, in the New Year, one Indian has been murdered and one allegedly set on fire in Australia's proud multi-racial melting pot city, Melbourne.

As far as the Australian media is concerned, there is no such hullabaloo. In fact, I have come across reports revealing the whole concept of fake Australian institutes, luring students from India, but hardly any report details the reasons behind such a slew of attacks. Over 70,000 Indians are studying in Australia and each attack is widening the mistrust between the two sides.

It cannot be denied that racism exists in Australia. Are only Indians targeted? No. Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and Middle Easterners too are the targets of racial abuse. However, Indians are softer targets than above-mentioned nationalities due to their comparatively poorer standard of living and their lure to earn permanent residency. Indians can be seen driving taxis, making chicken in Nando’s, preparing burgers in McDonald’s, working in stores, doing security jobs, or cleaning malls. Most of the Indian students go to Australia to earn dollars and get permanent residency, than actually pursuing a course. One can easily find Indian students with high-profile degrees, such engineering or MBBS, washing dishes to earn their living. And Australians know that very well.

It is annoying for them to see people from other countries coming and taking the jobs they could be doing and earning their pocket money. As far as Chinese are concerned, most of them work in Chinese stores or restaurants, in which they can speak their own language to talk to customers. Hence, they do not pose a threat to Australian jobs.

Moreover, ask Chinese why did they come to Australia, most of them will say they wanted to improve their English. Australians do not see Chinese students, but Indians as a threat. And what about Middle Easterners? They spend lavish life, as most of them are funded by their respective governments and do not have to work to earn their living. In fact, most of the Vietnamese I came across were sponsored by their governments and went back after completion of their course.

The Indian community in the so-called ‘multi-racial’ country is very well aware of the ‘racist’ incidents, but evades from commenting on this. The reason: the fear of backlash. Moreover, many Indian students think that reporting the attacks may put in jeopardy their chances to gain permanent residency status in Australia.

I want to add another angle to the story as well. Some Indian students use racism as a token for sympathy. I can recall an incident where all the Indian students, but one, failed in a particular subject of a course they were pursuing in an Australian university. They cited racism as the reason. However, when I conversed with the professor of that subject, he told me a different, but trustable, story. The professor was quick enough to suggest me that some of the Indian students fail to adjust with the Australian academic structure and reply to questions in an ‘unprofessional way’. The incident compelled me to see the other side of the story.

The Federation of Indian Students in Australia (FISA) has maintained that racism in Australia was "still alive and being reborn in a new generation". Surely, but to what extent? Australia claims the majority of attacks against Indian students might be just opportunistic and motivated by robbery. But they cannot deny the fact that they have a serious problem to deal with.

If the Australian officials downplay any racial aspect to the attacks, claiming Indian students work often in dangerous areas, then it becomes their utmost duty to identify and safeguard those areas. The attacks indicate a serious flaw in the behaviour of law and enforcement agencies of Australia.

Australia cannot afford to lose Indian students. In the words of FISA president Amit Menghani, "Each (Indian) student is worth about USD 30,000. And there will be students who will not be coming to Australia because of this. Each attack discourages five students from coming here. And it adds up."

Issuance of statements alone cannot be the solution. Australia needs to act sternly to review the whole situation and take concrete steps to curb the attacks.

First Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 18:04

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