NOTE: This is an old post. It's still relevant, but for more recent posts on anti-Indian violence in Australia, check here.
Melbourne, long known as one of the world’s safest cities, has seen an alarming increase in violent crime of late. While alcohol fuelled-brawling in the CBD has made many recent headlines, another worrying trend is seemingly on the increase – robberies and attacks on South Asian people.
The western suburbs have seen a 27% increase in the number of robberies in the last financial year, and police estimate that one-third of these were against people of Indian appearance (read: Indians, Sri-Lankans, Mauritians, Nepalis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis.) Considering that South Asians would make up no more than 5% of the population in the area, that is a staggering figure.
The South Asian presence in Melbourne has visibly increased in recent years. Approximately 33,000 international students from India study here, predominantly in the areas of business and information technology. Tamils from Sri Lanka have been one of the main refugee groups settling in the city. Add to that the significant number of those young Indians who have finished their studies and now working here, as well as the large numbers of South Asians who were either born locally or have been settled here for a number of years. They are also a highly visible minority on trains, on university campuses and in certain occupations.
It’s hard to say why this has translated into South Asians being particularly vulnerable to robbery and assault. A racial element is all too obvious in some of the attacks. But if you were thinking of it as white-on-brown, Aussie-versus-foreigner violence, you’d be mistaken, as the picture is more complicated than that. There is no dominant trend apparent in the ethnic background of the attackers – Anglos as well as people of European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian heritage all feature.
Sunshine (the epicentre of these attacks) and its surrounding suburbs are undersupplied with community-enriching programs and facilities, but well-supplied with at-risk young men of various ethnicities who are susceptible to a lifestyle of brawling and petty crime. On the lookout for ways to prove their manhood and feel a sense of power, they pick on the different and the vulnerable.
So are these hate crimes per se, or are Indians just in the wrong place at the wrong time? A bit of both, I'd wager.
Since a large number of South Asians, particularly the recently-arrived, are getting around using public transport rather than driving cars, this puts them in danger more frequently. Likewise, occupations such as taxi drivers and convenience store operators, in which Indians feature disproportionally, are particularly vulnerable to criminal violence. In other words, Indians are seen as soft targets, and their high visibility as “the other” – particularly for turban-wearing Sikhs, who seem to have especially targeted - makes them vulnerable.
Inspector Scott Mahony of the Brimbank Police said as much when he advised Indian students how to reduce their chances of attack. "They need to make sure they walk through a well-lit route, even if it might be longer, and they are not openly displaying signs of wealth with iPods and phones, and not talking loudly in their native language."
Which is all well and good, but given that talking loudly and displaying phones and iPods are common to a great many young people, one might be inclined to see a hint of victim-blaming in this. Check out Indian-Australian journalist Sushi Das' take on this.
Whatever the reason, there is a growing sense of unease in South Asian communities. Fortunately women do not seem to have been particularly targeted in these attacks, but this is small consolation for the male victims. Below are just small selection:
* Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, the widely respected former head of the Australian Medical Association was mugged and savagely beaten by a group of teenagers in Williamstown last September.
* 23-year old student Jalvinder Singh was stabbed while driving a taxi in Clifton Hill in April last year. This incident led to the demonstration by taxi drivers which shut down traffic in the CBD, complaining about lack of protection for cabbies, but also of racial targeting by the many Indians at the protest.
* Two Indian students walking down a street in Sunshine were set upon for no apparent reason by thugs who jumped out of a car wielding baseball bats in August 2007.
* Sukhraj Singh, 27, was in a coma for weeks after he and 3 other Indian men were set upon in an Indian grocery store in Sunshine by a group of up to 15 youths wielding metal poles. The local police apparently took 50 minutes to arrive on the scene. This led to a demonstration of 100 Indians outside Sunshine Police Station in December.
* Mauritian man Binesh Mosaheb was assaulted and robbed last year by four men. The attackers, of a variety of ethnicities, were part of a larger group that had bashed to death Chinese-Australian academic Zhonjun Cao in nearby Footscray earlier that night; the gang members then suggested they go “curry-bashing.”
* Two young Sikhs alighting at Albion station after working late at night in the city were attacked by two men and a woman in January 2008. Ajaydeep Singh was racially abused and needed six stitches on his eye. Ricky Ahluwalia was also bashed and had his wallet stolen.
* 26 year-old accounting student Kanan Kharbanda had only been in Australia five months when he was attacked by a mob of around 10 people at Sunshine railway station a year ago. He fled back to India, and is now blind in his right eye.
* Between May 8 and August 2 last year there were 12 assaults on taxi drivers in 3 suburbs in the inner northwest. 10 of the drivers were Indian, and the assailants were all reported as African youths.
Bear in mind that many Indians suspect the actual number of attacks to be greater than stated by the police, since new migrants can be less likely to report crimes out of fear of retribution or mistrust of police.
I have a lot of time for the western suburbs, but there is something sick that is festering out there. I don’t know what is happening to my city, but it’s becoming a scary place.
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UPDATE (June 5th 2009):
It seems that certain people reading this post are taking information about the ethnicity of some of these attackers and twisting it to fit their own racist and anti-immigrant agendas. Just because I made mention that some of the attacks were committed by Africans, this in no way implies that Africans are responsible for the majority of them.
I've posted more recently on this issue, attempting to set the record straight about the ethnicity of the attackers. The point being made here is that there is no real pattern, other than that the attackers are predominantly young and male. You can find that link here.
The last thing I want is for my blog to be used as the tool of right-wing xenophobic bastards.
Other posts related to this topic:
Are Australians really racist towards Indians?
Another racist attack on Indians in Melbourne; police accused of cover-up
Disgraceful attacks against Indians continue
Attacks on Indians - is it racism or opportunism?
More Indian students attacked, and temple vandalised
Kamahl weighs in on curry-bashing - and the media twists it
Curry-bashing ringleader jailed for murder
3 more Indian students bashed in a fortnight