Monday, January 18, 2010

Sikh temple burns, more Indians assaulted. Australia still not racist.

The question of whether there is a particular problem with violence towards Indian people in Australia is still a controversial one. But for those who argue that there is, more evidence could be found this weekend.

In Lynbrook, in the outer southeastern fringe of Melbourne, a Sikh gurdwara (temple) was set on fire on Wednesday. The Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar temple, which was still under construction, was badly burned in a fire police confirm was deliberately lit. Story here.

In Sydney, a 28-year-old man of Indian descent was badly beaten by a group of youths, both male and female, at Coogee Beach. No one else present on the beach came to his rescue. The victim then called the police who arrived at least 40 minutes after the incident took place. The victim had been living in Australia for the past 11 years and was a permanent resident there. He said he believed that this attack was unprovoked and racial in nature. One person has been arrested in connection with the incident, and admitted that he and others punched and kicked the victim. Story here.


In Ballarat, three incidents occurred involving Indian taxi drivers during the week. One involved a driver being threatened with a knife by two male passengers who then fled the scene. In another, a driver was punched and spat on by four youths who also stole his taxi. And a 48-year-old man, Paul John Brogden, was jailed for 3 months after attacking a taxi driver and racially abusing him while on a drunken rampage.

Now, it is an unfortunate reality that fare evasion and violence are not uncommon for taxi drivers. So given that Indians make up a large proportion of the taxi drivers in Ballarat, there was not necessarily a racial motive in these attacks. Of course, the racist abuse that accompanied Brogden's attack is an obvious clue, but it is possible that racism was merely part of his behaviour but not the cause.
But while the incidents may be purely down to drunken male idiocy, it is hard to escape the feeling that they might not have happened to a white Australian taxi driver. At very least, I think the fact that the drivers were Indian makes it considerably more likely that such anti-social types will get aggressive. I have heard it suggested that Indian taxi drivers get attacked more because they are ruder or do not provide a good service; this is possible, but at least as important is the tendency for potential criminals to pick on someone they see as different, or easier to take advantage of. If you see someone as being not like you, it is easier to treat them with disrespect.

Another incident was reported in the Indian media this week, but it seems to be a case of hysteria making something out of nothing. The Times of India reports that a group of 6 South Asians (3 Indians and 3 Nepalese) were denied entry to a bar in Melbourne, and cites it as a case of racism. Now lets be real here. People are rejected from bars all the time. Sometimes it actually is due to racism, and it is possible that it was in this case. But quite likely not. There are plenty of other reasons they may have been excluded - what they were wearing, the door security just being pricks, or perhaps they were not cool enough for the image the venue was trying to maintain. Many clubs and bars dislike admitting groups which are all- or mostly male. That the South Asian group felt it was racism gives an indication of how on-edge much of that community is now, and are extra sensitive to anything that could possibly be racism. Which doesn't help things, but it's hard to blame them really.

A couple of interesting articles in the Australian press this week about racism. One is by Josh Gordon in the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled See No Evil, in which he details quite honestly the tendency we have to deny that racism exists, even though the evidence is there if you look. Meanwhile in the Herald Sun, Aboriginal leader Tom Calma says that there is inherent racism in Australia, which may be the cause of some of the attacks, and that attitudes need to change. So of course, being the Herald Sun, the readers' comments to that article are all about how it is Aborigines and immigrants who are the racists, and "true blue" Aussies are perfect and not to blame for anything. What was Josh Gordon saying about denial?

Finally in India, Hindu extremists remind us that Australia has no monopoly on bastardry. Far-right nationalist group Shiv Sena are trying to prevent Australians from competing in the 20/20 cricket tournament in Mumbai, due to the recent attacks on Indian students in Australia. They have vandalised pitches in the past to prevent games between India and Pakistan, so this is no empty threat. Shiv Sena has a real history of violence against Muslims and anyone else they don't like, so Australians need to be careful.

The irony is, of course, that any such move will only add fuel to the fire. It will no doubt do wonders for Indians' popularity in Australia and make further attacks likely, unfortunately.

____________________________
UPDATE (18th Jan):
Two more men will face court today after another attack on an Indian taxi driver in Geelong over the weekend. Robert Harvey, 25, and Andrew Madden, 24, both of Norlane, set upon the driver and stole cash from him. One positive aspect of this, if you want to find one, is that a number of passersby intervened to stop the attack and subdue one of the men.

For everything I've previously blogged about attacks on Indians, try here.

6 comments:

  1. There was a piece by Tim Watts at Larvatus Prodeo last week “I’m not Racist, but… I’m Complacent” which was also interesting reading. On the one hand, I see where these articles are going. On the other hand...it's just more excuses.

    ps, excellent post title.

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