Why are Indian students being targeted in Australia?

By Lohit Shandilya, IANS,

I have lived in Melbourne for over seven years and there is no doubt that the situation has changed for Indians here. Denying racism in Australia is like denying casteism and dowry in India. But there is more to this issue then just blaming the Australian government.

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I would like to define the term which has been used again and again, “Indian students”. Who are these students and how are so many of them here all of a sudden? When we talk of overseas students, what comes to mind are students of engineering, bio-physics, medicine, MBA, PhD or some research work.

But this is not the case here. Unlike in the US or Britain, the majority of Indian students in Australia are enrolled in vocational courses in hospitality, cookery, hair design etc. I am sure this comes as a surprise to many, as it did to India’s foreign minister on his recent visit.

International students are worth $13 billion to the Australian economy each year. After coal and iron ore, education is the country’s third biggest industry.

But Australia was not a popular destination for Indian students until education here was linked to permanent residency.

Most come here to get residency and the easiest way to do so is by enrolling as a student in some course. There has been a significant increase in the number of vocational colleges and students, especially Indian students whose number grew a whooping 161 percent in 2006 and 94 percent in 2008.

Indians were 31 percent of the new admissions in Australian universities in 2008, according to the umbrella body Australian Education International.

There are people who lure students into this immigration racket via the vocational colleges. These agents promise them permanent residency and provide them admission in the cookery institutions run mostly by Indian or other Asians. They also provide them services of migration agent or lawyers, again mostly Indians.

These institutions are like cattle markets. In a class meant for 100 there are intakes of 500 students. Recently quite a few of these privately run institutes have been shut down by the government. There have been many cases where false documents were provided to get admission and later residency.

As a result, visa applications from India are now scrutinised more rigorously by immigration authorities, who have rejected 33.2 percent of the 21,120 student visa applications from India between July 1 and Oct 31, 2009, a considerable rise from 6.5 percent in the same period in 2008.

Most of the Indian students in these vocational courses come from villages and small towns, having taken large loans for the purpose and hoping to recoup the money by earning in Australia after gaining permanent residence rights.

From day one they start looking for work. They work as taxis drivers, in laundries, as security guards, petrol pump attendants and in call centres. Most of them are night jobs.

The desperate Indian students get the worst shifts and in shady locations. Being new in Australia, they don’t know which suburbs to avoid. While going for the night shifts they catch the last train, bus or tram. And they become easy targets. Muggers know Indians, being new to the country, are less likely to resist.

Also, a lot of Indian students don’t retaliate due to the fear that a police case might hamper their chance to get residency.

Friday and Saturday nights the crowds on the streets are high on alcohol and drugs and not at all friendly crowd. The Indian students have to deal with them in convenience stores, as security guards and taxi drivers.

There are also groups of teenagers of local and different ethnicity roaming the streets with pack mentality. They are always in good numbers and look for easy targets and assault innocent victims for sheer fun and to prove their machismo to their peers.

Even the cops stay away from them. There have been instances of abuse and assault on cops too. Indian students are among their easiest targets. The recent attack in Melbourne on the eve of Australia Day Jan 26 was by a group of four-six Asian teenagers.

So we can see the chain reaction: – billion dollar education business – mushroom growth in shady vocational training institutes to make quick bucks – poor loan-burdened Indian students desperate for work picking up risky jobs – easy targets.

The world is no different from a class room. The more you cry, the more you are bullied. Now it has become a fashion to assault Indian students. The more we react the more we become the victim. For the locals, bashing an Indian make them overnight sensations and they enjoy all the publicity and hype in the media. Even if they are arrested and charged the damage is already done.

But I am hopeful things will change, once the immigration slows down.

(31-01-2010- Lohit Shandilya can be contacted at [email protected])