The press hype about attacks on Indians in Australia


I just returned from a week-long trip to Australia. This was my first trip down under, and I was looking forward to talking with the cabbies on this trip. Usually Indian or African immigrants, cabbies all over the world tend to have compelling life stories and a unique perspective on the state of the society. I tend to meet punjabi cabbies in most US and UK cities, and get even more interesting tidbits from them because of the desi connection.

On this trip, there was this additional issue about the glorious Indian press, and their panic-laden-headlines (case 1, case 2, case3) about how Indians were under racist attack in Australia. It seems, going by headlines, that Indians all over the country are being selectively picked up for attack for their ethnicity.

It seems that ToI needs to make a study of statistics mandatory for the hysterical headline writers. If they’re going to lie so much, they may as well do it with a professional demeanor. Lies, damned lies, and newspaper headlines.

So in Brisbane, my cabbie at the airport was Ravinder Singh from Gurdaspur, Punjab. All of 25 years old, Ravinder was an MSc in IT, and was in Australia to do a course in commercial cookery. “Hmmm…sardarji wants to be a chef! Must have that punjabi flair for finger-licking food”. I thought to myself. However, inside that cab, this seemed odd. His culinary avocation was at variance with the smell of Subway sandwiches in the taxi (extra onions and double dose of bell peppers, from the smell of it). I pressed him to tell me more. Anything to get over the smell of stale bell peppers.

It seems that Australia is woefully short of hair stylists and cooks. I didn’t see many long-haired hungry people during my trip there, but I take the economist’s word for it. As a result, they are allowing foreign students in these subjects to come study in Australia ($23k AUD) for 18 months and then get a Permanent Residence. Many Indian students  (about 20,000 or so) had come to chase their Australia dream. The cookery degree was just a cheap way to get access to the country.

It also turns out that the Indian students who come for the PR tend to come from middle class families. Having spent their family fortunes in getting the cookery degree, they can’t afford to pay for expensive housing, and tend to find rental accommodation in shadier parts of the cities they study in. This makes them targets for neighborhood crimes. Not because they are Indian, but because there is crime in the parts of the city they live in.

Earlier in May 2010, the Australian govt has figured out they don’t need any more imported hairstylists and cooks. Now they need cardio surgeons and IT professionals. Yeah, right! Well, that puts the status of many people like Ravinder Singh at risk. Now they have put in their hard earned family money, but will have to go back home with a degree in cookery. No wonder they feel cheated.

And Hey! ToI. Here’s a quick lesson in mathematics: If the crime rate in a city is 7090 offenses per 100,000 population, then there will be 7090 cases of people being mugged, assaulted or killed. For a city with 100,000 people, some of the targets of these incidents will be Indian. If, say, 13 of these 7090 cases were against Indian people, would you still say that there are “racial attacks” on Indians? Maybe. But the question that would justify alarmist headlines is: “are there disproportionately more attacks on Indians in this city as compared to the general population”.

As for the cabbies I met in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, I have to tell you that they were the happiest cabbies I met anywhere in the world. They were happy with the standard of life and their future in their adopted country. Thanks for asking!

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