Saturday, May 30, 2009

Crocodile Dandi

Violent attacks against Indian students in Australia have made headlines in India this week. It started with Times Now making the case of Shravan Kumar a prime time issue - not for a day, but over the entire week. Now, it's been taken up across the Indian media.

And many more such stories are tumbling out of the closet. Baljinder Singh was stabbed last week while Rajesh Kumar suffered 30 per cent burns after a petrol bomb was hurled at him - in his home - in Sydney.

Actually, back in March, the Economic Times had reported on this issue as follows:

The growing number of attacks on Indian students in Australia has become a big cause for concern at the Indian High Commission in Canberra. A senior diplomat at the High Commission told ET that in the last six months, there have been 500 cases of assault on Indian students, registered by the police authorities across Australia.

FIVE HUNDRED attacks and it did not make a ripple in India. And students too sat silent, I think because of two reasons:
a) Once you've invested in an education in Australia, you want to complete it - no matter what.
b) You know your own government will do nothing for you apart from lip service. So why make a fuss?

As a panelist observed on Times Now, "If a government does not care for the safety of its citizens abroad, why should the host nation?"

Well, in this case, because of economic interests. Indian students are cash cows for Australian universities- they've been heading Down Under in ever larger numbers over the last few years. Why?

Well, Australia is perceived as being cheaper than the US and friendlier than the UK. It's also relatively easy to get admission.

While Australia does attract some high achievers the general profile is the kid with average marks and above average bank balance. Business families, kids of corporate executives, well-to-do farmers. And the Oz-exodus is fuelled by a concerted marketing effort - in the media and at the grassroots level.

Canadian newspaper reports: Joyta Gupta, principal of K.R. Mangalam World School, a private school in central New Delhi says she and some of her teachers and students have been flown by the Australian government to cities such as Brisbane and Sydney to take part in seminars, a move Gupta said has made students more inclined to go to Australia to pursue diplomas and degrees.

One fourth of the graduates from the school go abroad to study every year.

Then there are students from smaller towns who would rather go phoren than settle for a B or C grade college in an metro town. And increasingly there are middle class Indians heading for foreign shores, with the help of loans.

Incidentally, hospitality, management and commerce courses are the most popular options.

So all in all, 95,000 Indians joined Australian universities in in 2008, making us the second largest foreign student group in the country after China. In fact, the education sector generated $15.5 billion in 2008 and has become Australia’s “third largest export industry” after coal and iron ore.

The Australian government was planning a $3.5-million campaign to attract more Indian students. But they'll need to use those funds more constructively now!

I have never been to Australia but the impression I have of the country is friendly and easy-going. No doubt there are anti-social elements in any and every society. And some who would be racist in their outlook.

But is the situaton getting aggravated by the current economic situation?

The report in ET noted: There are fears that such incidents of muggings, theft, racial abuse, car jackings and even murder are on the increase because of the economic meltdown and loss of jobs.

Last year Australia changed its visa rules, giving Indian students studying in Australia automatic eligibility to work part time during their courses. Earlier you had to seek permission to work as a student.

Some years ago it was next to impossible to stay on and work in Australia after completing your degree. Unless you had skills which were classified by the government as 'shortage' area. So MBAs and journalism graduates, for example, had to head straight back home.

But more recently I believe there is an option called the 'Skilled-Graduate (subclass 485) visa, valid for 18 months and carrying unrestricted work rights.
Foreign students who may not be eligible for permanent residency can apply for this visa and get some work experience.

I'm sure these graduates are willing to work harder and longer than locals - and maybe even at lower salaries. This could be a source of tension for locals in a dwindling job market.

So, what happens now? Will the flow of Indian students to Australia get affected?

I think it will, in the short term. 'Sentiment' thoda down ho jayega. And the attitude of the authorities - so far - has not been very convincing. Last month the Melbourne police asked young Indians to “moderate their social behavior,” by not making conspicuous displays of wealth, such as laptop computers (seriously - no jokes!)

The country which will benefit the most from all this is Singapore. Safety is assured in that country - and the economics of getting an education are similar to Australia. In fact many Australian universities have 'branches' in Singapore and "there is a view that Australian institutions should make more courses available in India, which students can attend at home".

Ahem. Firstly we need to pass a bill in Parliament to legally allow that to happen. And secondly, I think for many many students going abroad will still be the preferred option.

'Education' is not just about attending a college but the whole experience of a new culture and its people. Kids who have never picked up a glass of water in their own home learn to cook their own meals. My cousin who drove to college in his car went to America and happily worked at a gas station.

So - I am all for studying abroad - wherever. But safety and civility are things we can and must expect from the host country.

Let's hope the issue which has exploded in Australia is taken seriously and resolved quickly! And it is nipped in the bud... if simmering elsewhere.

Related articles: Student taxi drivers, visas and immigration


  1. Cool article, but mostly what we've heard on TV for the last 2-3 days.

  2. Nice piece, but governments will never have a solution to this. You can't force a country to stop disliking Indians.

    Stricter laws will only address the symptoms, not the cause. Its important for us to understand that they don't like us, for some reason, and then if we can, change that.

    Lets stop passing the buck, and lets take responsibility.

  3. "But safety and civility are things we can and must expect from the host country"

    I'm sure the UP-ites and Biharis must ask the same of Mumbai :)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. As someone studying in Melbourne, I think that the Indian media has made a mountain from an anthill. Seriously, I didn't even know about these incidents till a student from India found me on Facebook and was seeking my advice on the matter and his studies. I think Australia, like any other country, has criminal assaults and just because 500 Indians get assaulted in 6 months doesn't mean that the crime is racial in nature. Today, even my father called me up to check if I was alright, and I had to assure him that everything was fine. In fact, things have been great since the last 14 months. I think partly these incidents are just normal crime associated with any society, and partly caused because of Indians who deserve it (getting drunk, abusing Australia and its culture, hitting on Australian women in groups, and I've seen all this happen). Apart from that, it's just media hype. From my personal experience, I think the society here is much more crime-free than most countries, and Australians and their culture is more friendlier and welcoming to internationals than any other country I've been to and I whole heartedly recommend Australia to anyone wanting to study abroad and have a great life experience in the meanwhile. I think the sooner Indian media find a more legitimate, juicer story, the better.

  6. "I'm sure these graduates are willing to work harder and longer than locals - and maybe even at lower salaries."

    This is true for every country.It's so strange that indians will do anything to not live in india! If only living in India was more attractive!

  7. As an Indian student living in Adelaide, Australia although I have never encountered any form of racism in my past one year spend here I have to say that with regard to the recent attacks and violence on Indians students in Melbourne there had been no news coverage here in Oz. That makes me wonder if they are trying to cover it up?

    For someone like me without any idea of how serious the situation your blog post brought to attention key issues and possible reasons. Thank you.

  8. I typed out a comment, and it disappeared. So, here I go again..

    Is 500 is a big enough number to warrant attention? No, I am not an insensitive soul but to me, it doesn't look like Indian students are being singled out for assaults.

    I checked out the official statistics for assaults in Australia. Per Australian government (, there were a total of 840 (reported) victims of assaults per 100,000 of the population in 2007 (and this trend has been on the rise since 1995). The site also reports that on an average, the assault rate has been growing at the rate of 5% annually (that makes it 926 assaults per 100,000 in 2009)

    Now, if the attacks are randomly distributed in time and in population, then 500 is the normal assault rate if the Indian student population is at least 108 K (which is not unreasonable since according to your post, 95K landed in 2008 alone).

    So, while I am saddened by the rising assaults against the Indians, it appears like a "Life As Usual" statistic when put in context. Perhaps, it's not a Indian-specific scenario, and the Aussies need to get their act together and improve their law and order.

    I live in Chicago, and we had more than 500 homicides last year. FIVE HUNDRED homicides (and not just assaults). Yet, no one cares, except the victims, their families, and their friends. A lot of it is forgotten, because it's just life as usual

  9. Lets stop racism, but lets stop it everywhere!!

  10. Although Chinese students form the largest immigrant student community in Australia, why are there no reports of their being targeted? Why have there been over 500 incidents targeting Indian students? Obviously, something in the last year or two has caused the image of India /Indian students to suffer a beating.

    Could it be that the hostility witnessed during the last tour of the Indian cricket team to Australia has left a bad taste in the mouths of some Australians? Could the extremely bullying attitude of the BCCI in the "monkey-gate" case(the we-will-pull-out-if-Harbhajan-is-found-guilty attitude) have anything to do with the image of India taking a beating? Could that have caused collective hatred against Indians?

  11. I refuse to believe there is any specific targetting of Indian students. While what has happened to the injured students is unfortunate, I dont believe it is the norm. However, I do think its important that the issue gets highlighted so that there is a general awareness about the assaults. So the rallies and the hue and cry all contribute to the outrage. What Times Now may have taken up bevause of a dry run may just turn out to be the right tonic.

  12. Australia is not cheaper than US. The fees might be less but cost of living is very high. Most Australian universities are in Sydney or Melbourne, the only US cities with higher cost of living than these 2 are NY & LA. So if you are studying anywhere else your living cost are less.

  13. Curious.. if this was posted on March, why it took more than 2+ months to come out? May be we like to follow the crowd and comment on what is being reported in media?

    Rashmi I strongly suspect you might become yet another "expert" who will be providing their reactions in TV to any event with instant analysis.. without no knowledge of the background. Please, improve the quality of this blog. Where is a poll of Indian youth? Where is a detailed study about quality in Indian education? and what about challenges faced by youth?


  14. The reason Indians go abroad is because they do not have enough opportunity in India. Provide opportunity and things will be good.

  15. Hi folks,

    We talk about Globalization, blah blah, but the first thing, is people of one continent or not ready to accept another. INDIA and CHINA with their huge population and faster GDP will keep on exporting everything from good/services to employees and families across the world. If INDIAN diplomats dont start addressing the issue of racial discrimination straight away, in all the G20 or whatever summits you call them, we will be biting the dust, no one else.

    US/UK/AUSTRALIA and even in Central Europe, everywhere ASIANS are treated with suspect and disgust to some extent, they cant withsand the fact that we are taking up their jobs slowly and occupying their spaces. But then these are the countires who have developed fast and made all their superb contirbution to global warming and the worst atmosphere we are having and most of these countries have a declining population and very bad demographics.

    eg:Japan on other hand has realised this and has eased visa nowms and attracting foreigners to settle in JAPAN and improve the population and demographics.

    So, this issue should proivde a larger context for more larger issues to be addressed, we cant change the pschology of the humans, but yes, in short term, we need some framework, some judiciary, flat laws for immigration, safety etc.


  16. Its amazing that we are cribbing about a few (most likely random) assaults on Indian students in Australia - when the Maharashtra government is going all out to make Bombay inhospitable to non Marathi speaking Indians (including those who have lived in Bombay for generations). The most amazing display of gall was when Bal Thackeray (who in any civilised country with rule of law would have been sentenced to a life term for incitement of mass murder in 1992) said that IPL teams should drop Australian cricketers ... even if there are racist assaults in Australia, if we used the same logic - no one would employ Maharahtrians, Hindus, or people belonging to any other community for that matter.

  17. I seem to be the only Indian here to go across the trend but i must speak my mind.
    Getting mugged is not racism

    Please understand that all these €cases are being taken seriously by the australian police.

    They are not as free as delhi police who can whack people at will.

    please read here for more details

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