Tragic murder puts spotlight back on safety of Indians in Australia
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Tragic murder puts spotlight back on safety of Indians in Australia

The weekend murder in Melbourne of Mr Nitin Garg, an Indian man living in Australia, is a tragedy which is likely to cause further problems in attitudes and relations between the people from the two countries. Concerns about a series of attacks on Indian students – particularly in Melbourne – led to a string of visits to India by senior Australian government figures, and an inquiry by a Senate Committee.

While the investigation of every crime should be conducted according to the merits, and we should not automatically assume this latest crime was racially motivated, the history of past attacks, and arguably the slowness of Australian authorities to take the issue sufficiently seriously, means that just a single serious incident such as this has the Hindustan Times reporting that, “Indian government officials ‘will be forced’ to issue a (travel) advisory in the form of a warning to those who want to work and study Down Under, if the (Australian) authorities there did not take stern action this time.”

Even if such travel advisories are not issued, the sort of coverage crimes such as these will inevitably receive in Indian media will undoubtedly cause an increase in negative perceptions about the safety of Australia. Some Australians feel that the way the Indian media treat the issue is overblown, but it is easy to imagine a similar sort of response from Australian media if the situation was reversed and there was a series of violent attacks on Australians living in India. One single, terrible murder of an Australian backpacker in Croatia in late 2008 gained blanket coverage in Australian media over many weeks, with many negative reflections on Croatian authorities.

It is the nature of media to highlight these things, and normal for people to perceieve a pattern once something happens more than once or twice and start getting concerned, especially when the events are in a country people are not very familiar with. It is the responsibility of government and community leaders to take effective steps to assure people that (a) the issue is being treated with maximum seriousness, and (b) everything reasonable is done to ensure peoples’ safety. When there is a plausible prospect that people are being targeted because of their race, it is essential that all is done to reduce the risks to them. 

ELSEWHERE on Asian Correspondent, Chennai based writer Bala Murali Krishna has written a fairly scathing though overly polemical piece, where he not only understandably criticises how Australian officials have not treated the reality of race based attacks with sufficient seriousness, but also gets stuck into the adequacy of the education provided to Indian students in Australia. I think his suggestion that those Indian students who have gone to study in Australia are “plain dumb” is rather unfair. Some education courses offered to overseas students in Australia are very high quality, while others clearly are quite poor – I doubt that is unique to Australia though.  In addition, it is clear that many students have decided to study in Australia just as much because of the potential pathways it has provided to permanent residency in Australia, rather than just for the education itself.

Another instructive piece is on the website of the Australian ABC (a government funded, but independent media outlet) by Gautam Gupta, the Secretary of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA). The comments following that piece also indicate the ability of people to talk past each other – each asserting something to back their on whether there is or isn’t racism in Australia, without really paying much attention to underlying issues. It is almost certainly true that it is safer in general in Australia than in India, but it is also true that some of the preceding spate of attacks on students and residents in Melbourne of Indian background did contain racial elements – refusing to acknowledge this fact unnecessarily exacerbates the problem.