Are Indians perceived as soft targets in Australia?

By Ankur Tewari, IANS,

New Delhi: Attacks on Indians in Australia continue to shock people back home, but many of those working or studying Down Under say these are not necessarily racial in nature and are the handiwork of criminal elements who try to find “soft targets”.

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Vishal Vaish, 27, who hails from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh and is the state manager of the company Giga Force in Melbourne, told IANS over phone from Melbourne, “I am not scared at all.

“I work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and hardly get time to interact with the general public. But still it depends on the situation and the kind of person you are, what sort of life you are living. Every ethnic group is in constant threat as far as anti-social elements are concerned.

“I have done my masters in business administration, specialising in international business from Central Queensland University, Melbourne international campus. This college operates on the basis of international students and there are roughly 2,500 students who study there.

“There are about 100,000 students in Melbourne with an Indian background and it is absolutely wrong to link these incidents with racial attacks. They are not racial in any way.”

Since May last year, there has been a series of attacks on Indians, two of which were fatal. A fire in a Melbourne gurdwara and an assault on an Indian taxi driver in Ballarat as recently as this week have only added to the fears of Indians.

New Delhi has strongly condemned the attacks and asked the Australian authorities to probe the incidents and bring perpetrators to book. It has said that failure to ensure the security of Indian students could affect bilateral ties.

Vaish said, “I strongly feel some of us are being targeted because we are perceived as soft targets, which is directly or indirectly an impression created by us.

“Indian students studying in Melbourne work late night shifts on the side – something an average Australian will not do. I think conversation is also a big hurdle and the basic cause of every problem in Australia.”

On whether Indians are able to voice their concern before the police, he said, “We are able to raise our voice before the police. But their being sensitive to our cause is a big question mark.”

According to 25-year-old Swapnil Shah who hails from Dahod district in Gujarat and is pursuing a business networking course in Melbourne University, “Indian students studying in reputable universities such as Melbourne, Monash and La Trobe have had no problems.

“The problems are due to some people who migrate from India and are unable to converse in English. They behave the same way as they do in India – spit, shit and pee in public,” Shah told IANS over phone.

“Melbourne can be a dangerous city at night when you are alone and taking a train late at night to the outer city on the metro. Most attacks are committed by thugs or drug addicts, not jealous local students.

“Indians come across as easier targets as most of the time they travel alone and do not hide valuable items since they think sporting gold chains and rings is a status symbol.”

Though many Indian students in Australia claim that incidents of assault and mugging are not racial, 19-year-old Mukul Khanna who had gone to Macquarie University, Sydney, was called back by his worried parents in Gurgaon in April 2009.

Khanna had reason to be scared. He witnessed an assault up close. “My friend was working part-time as a salesman. One evening while he was returning from the shop, he was stopped by three people at the railway station. They asked him for money and when he resisted, they beat him up.”

But he admits that the environment on the campus was fine. “At the university, you cannot imagine that this is happening outside,” he said.

An Indian student, on condition of anonymity, said: “I don’t know whether these attacks are related to race or not. But if they are racial, they need to be handled properly and those responsible for them should be brought to book. I think the media is unnecessarily adding fuel to fire and making things worse. This is a sensitive issue and the media needs to exercise some restraint.”

(Ankur Tewari can be contacted at [email protected])