Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reprisals begin - Indian students take the law into their own hands

It was only a matter of time really. When police response to a law and order issue is woefully inadequate, or at least perceived to be, concerned civilians turn to vigilantes.

In Springvale in Melbourne's Southeast, Vikrant Ratan's car was torched outside his apartment in the early hours of the morning. Around the same time, in St Albans on the other side of town, Kamal Jit was being beaten unconscious by a group of men apparently wielding a metal pole. It was the second attack in two weeks Jit had endured, after being pelted with eggs the previous week.

In St Albans, Thomastown and Springvale Stations, police have instructed the large groups of Indians gathered there to ensure the safety of their countrymen to move on. The police say they have stepped up patrols in those areas, and the gathering would-be vigilantes were threatened with $200 fines each.

Too late, as it turns out, because things are already getting out of hand. Indians are hitting back.

A 20-year-old man was stabbed once in the neck and twice in the arm in St Albans early yesterday after allegedly racially abusing a group of Indian students.
The victim allegedly said: "You are black. You don't belong here. Go away from our country".

Note that I doubt that the victim actually said that - knowing Melbourne's young people as I do, I'd wager it was more like "You bunch of f***in' black c***s, you don't f***in' belong here, get the f*** out of our country."
Nearby, a car was torched, believed to belong to people attacking Indians.

I don't blame the Indian "guards" for gathering at St Albans as they did; actually in one sense it is an admirable show of community strength and spirit in the face of perceived community indifference. But anytime you get a group of agitated young males together, things have the potential to get ugly.

Things also got ugly this week in the suburb of Harris Park in Sydney's West. In a suburb dominated by the Indian and Lebanese communities, tensions ran high after a number of attacks on Indians in recent weeks, including the petrol bombing of a student, a man being kidnapped by four balaclava-clad men, and eggs being thrown at a temple. Indians and other residents have claimed that there has been a major problem with Lebanese gangs there for years which has gone unchecked.

Around 200 men gathered in the street, incited by inflammatory text messages and news of more attacks on Indians in nearby suburbs. A group of young Lebanese men were dragged out of their car and attacked; it is unclear if this was related to any other incident or simply for their ethnicity.

As you can imagine, these sorts of incidents have readers over at the Herald-Sun and Daily Telegraph wetting themselves with delight, as they snidely type "Ain't multiculturalism grand?" or think of new ways to say "Send them all back home!"

But the vigilantism in both Melbourne and Sydney is an example of what happens when the State is not living up to its duties. The severe lack of police presence in trouble spots, and Victoria Police's continued assurance that the attacks on Indians had little to do with racism, send a pretty clear message that they just do not care. Yesterday Police Commissioner Simon Overland and Premier John Brumby belatedly admitted that there was clear racism in a number of cases; but the damage has been done to Indians' confidence in these men's ability to uphold law and order.

Likewise the Harris Park situation. While Melbourne's anti-Indian violence does not seem to by dominated by any particular ethnicity, attacks in Sydney appear to be largely young men of Middle-Eastern heritage.

What happened in Harris Park on Monday night was in many ways a smaller-scale and browner version of the infamous Cronulla Riots of 2005, in which around 4000 people, mostly male and Anglo, whipped up hatred for "wogs" and "Lebs", and attacked a number of innocent passersby who happened to look foreign. Cronulla was one of the most sickening displays of Aussie racism and twisted patriotism in our history, but it was nonetheless a response to a serious issue - the aggressive and anti-social behaviour of Middle-Eastern thugs - which was not being dealt with adequately by police.

Vigilantism is also unsurprising when you consider how many times Indians have been described as being "soft targets" by the police and media, who imply that they are being picked on because of their "naturally passive nature". (Which in some ways is true, and in some ways is ridiculously untrue - the subcontinent's violent history suggests they ain't quite so passive.) If you were being picked on and everyone said it was because you were soft, what would you do?

So what happens now? A number of possibilities.

The Indian students may have done all of us a favour by putting pressure on Governments to get tough on street crime, particularly by increasing patrols to act as a deterrent.

However, the image of brown people behaving belligerently in the streets is likely to provoke further racism among those who were already unsympathetic to migrants.

It is possible that these incidents will show that Indians are no pushovers and may make would-be attackers think twice; however it is probably more likely that they will simply provoke another cycle of violence. After Cronulla there were reprisals from Lebanese youths, and you'd have to expect there will be some now too.

Either way, no one wins from this crap.

For more interesting takes on this issue, try here, here, here, and here.