| Curry bashing in Australia
I am sorry to write a group email, but I am alarmed at how a particular issue has got completely out of hand, and has become the subject of some hysteria in the press, especially in India. And this is the issue of so-called "curry bashing", that is, attacks on ethnic Indians in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney.
Basically the issue is as follows. Over the past two years there have been a number of attacks on ethnic Indians, mainly in Melbourne, but also in Sydney, and to a lesser extent in Adelaide. Much has been made of this, and I have read comments about the "white trash" and "racist Australia". The truth is more complex than this.
When I was Hindu chaplain at Flinders University, I became aware that there were a number of attacks on Indian students in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. When I enquired with the police I found out that the attacks were mainly mounted by Aboriginal gangs, and Indians were targeted because they were easily identifiable and because it was believed that they were wealthy. Normally they also carried mobile phones and laptops, which were items which could easily be converted into cash. (However, these gangs were also targeting isolated rural homesteads and other individuals; it wasn't just Indians).
With the recent round of attacks in Melbourne, the Victorian police have refused to release details of the identity of the attackers. This has made many people think that it is white supremacist groups involved. However, I have made my own enquiries, and I have found that while some of the attackers are "white", the majority are ethnic gangs, mainly of second generation immigrants.The police apparently do not wish to identify the groups (the same groups have created similar trouble in Sydney, and are just as likely to target white Australians - who they call "skips" (after the TV series, "Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo").
Why are Indians targetted? It seems because many are believed to be rich, and many display items such as mobile phones ands laptops which can be quickly converted to cash on the open market. Moreover Indian students are hardworking and often work long hours in jobs which require them to travel late at night or work in isolated locations or high risk jobs (petrol stations, hospitals, all night supermarkets, etc)
Moreover, many students who come to this country have no idea how violent Australian society is. I have repeatedly told new students that they must exercize care at night, especially in the more lawless suburbs - the northern suburbs of Adelaide, the western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney. Many students imagine that because Australian is a "European" country, it is safe and that we are all law abiding. Our crime rates in some parts of Australia are a national disgrace. Most of the violent robberies and bashings in Australia (up to 80 per cent) are committed by drug addicts, and the most vulnerable and frequently assaulted targets are not ethnic Indians but elderly middle class Australians of all backgrounds. I have impressed this on all Indian students of my acquaintance - to be careful of their personal safety, especially at night.
There is racism in Australia, as there is in every country round the world. White supremacist groups do exist, as they do in North America and in Europe, but they have little impact upon public policy, and they tend not to be openly violent. (And interestingly their leadership tends to be British or Irish immigrants) But this is a country where people of any ethnicity can make a successful career, and where Indian immigrants often occupy upper level positions in the professions and business. (A huge percentage of postgraduate students are of Asian background and our IT sector would collapse without Indians.) In Adelaide our most recent mayors have included an ethnic Chinese, an Arab, a Jew and now an Anglo-Celt. The Lieutenant Governor of this state arrived as a refugee by boat from Vietnam. My son-in-law's parents fled China during the Cultural Revolution, and all have made successful careers in Australia. To label Australia as a "Country of Racists" is not only stupid and offensive - it is plain wrong.
Let me quote something that was stated during a recent election campaign. "I want you to go out and find places where Satan has his strongholds: mosques, Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, bottleshops, and Casinos, and destroy these places. We want a Christian Australia." Guess who said this? Pastor Danny Nelliah, a Tamil migrant from Sri Lanka, a leader of the Pentecostalist group Catch the Fire Ministry, and a Senate candidate for the Pentecostalist front Family First Party. And this is the most likely area where Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhist and Jews have to fear organized hatred. Pauline Hanson got much of her support from fundamentalist Christians, who are just as likely to be immigrants as native born Australians. (The leader of the violent National Front white supremacist group in Perth had an Indonesian mother, and many of the Family First membership are ethnic Chinese and Koreans.)
In 1983, after I had taken my third kavadi in Malaysia, I received a letter from a Christian group in Perth.This group accused me of betraying my Christian upbringing and told me that I would go to hell. I guess, I was stupid; I responded, I was already in hell; I was working in Canberra. The letters continued, until I finally got one which was openly threatening - it stated that the writers knew where I worked, they knew were my wife worked, they knew where my children went to school, and they had friends who would deal with me. When I took this letter to the Canberra police, they police traced the letter down to an Assemblies of God church in Fremantle (Perth). The pastor of this church was from the subcontinent.
The hysteria which has broken out in the Indian press is not helpful. Most Australians are horrified by the idea of racist attacks, (or attacks which might be interpreted as racist), and Kevin Rudd, our Prime Minister, is the first leader we have had who speaks Asian languages. Burning effigies of Rudd is just stupid. (We had the same hysterical reaction after Australia won a controversial cricket test in Sydney in January 2008; I wonder why these rent-a-crowd people are not protesting against real and systemic and often violent injustices against Indians in places such as Kenya, Fiji, Burma, etc. And Indians in Australia do not die in police custody) Of course, Australians are not immune from this hysteria. We had the same thing in this country when convicted drug pusher Schapelle Corby was jailed by a Bali court, and when drug dealers Chambers and Barlow were executed in Kuala Lumpur.
In 2007 my wife, Wendy, was mugged by a gang just off Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur. This was in broad daylight. Given that she had just recovered from an illness, it was a miracle she was not injured. Later a senior Malaysian policeman told us that "white" visitors were the special target of these gangs, particularly those who appeared middle aged or older. Was this racism? No: it was the fact that "white" tourists are seen as soft targets. Does this make me anti-Chinese, or will I be immature enough to go out and burn Malaysian flags or effigies of the Malaysian PM? of course not. Most Malaysians who heard of this incident were horrified, and I know most Malaysians - whether Malay, Chinese or Indian, to be kind, generous and welcoming. As are most Australians. And of course the main victims of Chinese gangs in Malaysia are...other Chinese.
Just one final issue. Most Indians who study in Australia come with the express purpose of getting Permanent Residence. I note that all of those interviewed on TV after last weeks demonstration stated that they still intended to do so. If this country was as vicious and unpleasant and as racist as the Indian press seems to imply, one would have imagined that Indian students would leave as soon as possible. Many Indians who have come to this country have come from regimes where they have experienced real injustice and often appalling violence - countries like Sri Lanka, Fiji and apartheid era South Africa. I have worked with these people, and I am proud to call such people my friends. Racism, bigotry and intolerance must be opposed wherever they appear. These qualities appear in every country around the world - Australia is no exception. But while the attacks on Indians in Australia may contain a racist element, from the information passed to me most of them are not racist attacks. I pass this on in a hope that the hysteria which has surrounded this issue can be put to one side or at least viewed in some sort of perspective. In general Indians in Australia are as safe as any other Australian.
Carl Vadivella Belle
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