By ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ
AS the international anger grows at yet another murder of an Indian in Australia, serious questions need to be asked of the Australian and Victorian governments about their framing of these events.
Ever since the first public awareness of the mixture of exploitation, impoverishment and violence being experienced by Indian international students surfaced two or three years ago, governments at all levels have been in denial.
The script appears to be common – no evidence of racism, random criminal acts, no issue of discrimination.
Just issues of policing and institutional regulation, not of social policy.
Maybe cultural ignorance of the victims also played a key part.
The stabbing to death of Indian-born permanent Australian resident Nitin Garg in West Footscray, Melbourne, has again led to government officials denying racism played a part in the attack.
Acting Victorian premier Rob Hulls refused to accept racism was an issue; his denial was also voiced by deputy prime minister Julia Gillard, whose electorate is close to the site of murder.
Gillard is “distressed” but refuses to see the attack as racist, as there is “no evidence” to this effect.
What would count as evidence?
A swastika carved into the dead man’s chest?
Graffiti sprayed on his body attacking Indians?
A campaign on Stormfront.com urging on its followers to beat up a “Paki”?
Witnesses hearing that the attackers called the victims “curry-munchers”?
With so much emphasis being placed on denial of racism, one would expect that government and police officials would have a clear sense of the boundary line – where does something begin being racist?
Is there an operational definition (as in the New South Wales police “ethnic” flags on racially-suspect incidents) that might guide public statements (in which case all these attacks would most likely to have been flagged)?
What would be the implications for public policy were the events to be declared racism, and what practical effects would such a declaration have on policing and other areas of public action?
So far there is silence on these questions and journalists from the international media, who have sought answers to these questions, have been fobbed off.
That is not to say that there has not been evidence of racism in fact during investigations and court cases in the past.
Victorian police commissioner Simon Overland recognised this in a comment last June on bashings at St Albans.
“Some of the attacks were clearly racist in motivation and that violence is unacceptable and racism is unacceptable in any form,” he said.
The Victorian parliament has also amended the Sentencing Act (PDF 144KB) to focus court attention on racial dimensions of attacks, and a court demonstrated this concern in a verdict in a case of permanent maiming of a young Indian by “Aussie” attackers last October.
However, with senior government and police officials in denial about the extent of the racism, professionals from the anti-discrimination field are unable to influence public policy.
For of course, if these are not racist attacks, then there is no need for an anti-racism strategy and no need to move multicultural and cultural diversity policies higher up the national government agenda.
Indian student leaders are furious with the inert non-response of government, expressing their frustration at what they can clearly see as racism, in the only way they can – pointing to the sensible decision of thousands of young Indian potential students to go somewhere else, anywhere else.
The most dangerous thing about the current situation is the mind-set it reveals within government – despite all the real evidence that Australia does harbour racism and Australian culture can license racial violence, the blame is really shifted onto the victims for being stupid enough to place themselves in danger.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop was quoted as saying that “I hope that as well as solving the crime, the Victorian police will work with the community to educate people about personal safety”.
Last time I looked it was not illegal to walk around at night in Australia’s cities.
The attacks are the illegal activity.
* Andrew Jakubowicz is a professor of sociology at the University of Technology, Sydney