Stop the spin! The attacks on Indians are simply racist

June 1, 2009

This piece is the first I ever wrote for my employer, The Age. It was carried in print and online The reaction stunned me. I received numerous phone calls, was interviewed by Al Jazeera's English TV news, by the SBS Worldview programme and an Indian newspaper in Sydney.

ONE night last week as I approached the city by bus, on my way to work at about 7pm, a sense of fear suddenly enveloped me as my normal stop loomed ahead.

A walk of a kilometre from Myer in the city to The Age is my normal exercise of a working evening, but I kept wondering: would it be safe to walk the streets any more? Should I ride the bus right up to my office instead?

You see, I'm Indian. My appearance is distinctly sub-continental. And I wouldn't like to end up in hospital, looking like one of those poor lads who has suffered at the hands of hooligans in this fair city.

In 12 years of living in Melbourne, I've felt afraid just once, in Footscray around dusk. On Thursday, I was scared to walk down Lonsdale Street in the heart of the city.

I guess part of the fear comes because of the reaction by the authorities.

Nobody, but nobody, is willing to call a spade a spade and slam the perpetrators for what this is — latent racism in society coming to the fore. Everyone, the police first and foremost, is pussyfooting around the problem and trying to characterise the naked violence as anything but an expression of racial hostility.

As long as this goes on, we'll continue to see more of such senseless violence in the suburbs. And it will embolden others in other regions of the country who have feelings of the same kind to express themselves with sticks, stones and knives.

It amazes me that the authorities don't realise that the need of the hour is to out the cause. Yes, these savage beatings are one of the effects of a feeling of hostility within, fed by ill-informed radio jocks and others, over the perception that a foreign race is taking over the suburbs.

Fears about a bunch of "inferior" people taking over all the jobs that otherwise would go to "Australians". About a group that is unwilling to be quiet and behave as migrants and visiting foreigners "should".

My biggest fear is that, if nothing is done to stop this scourge, if the authorities do not stand up and shout with one voice, then the violence will start to bear fruit. And the other side will begin to think that it should assert itself.

That would be really ugly. The Indian boys who are being beaten up have kept quiet so far. It would be a tragedy if they decided that enough was enough and took the law into their own hands.

And as these things generally happen, they would unerringly pick on a decent soul, one of those who form the majority of Melbourne's populace, a person who goes about his or her business without bothering others.

If that kind of reaction does take place, then the authorities in Melbourne would suddenly find themselves in the midst of a turf war that they have helped create.

When Pauline Hanson came up with her famous statement about Asians crowding the country, there were people like Jeff Kennett around, leaders who fearlessly condemned her for what she really was.

We don't see anything like that when Indians are being beaten up by the dozen. And unless we do, it is only going to get worse. Remaining in a state of denial in the belief that labelling racism for what it is will give Australia a bad name is only going to exacerbate the problem.