Who is killing Indians in Australia?

March 8, 2010

Who is killing Indians in Australia? An open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Rajeev Srinivasan on enough weasel-wording, some action needed now

Dear Prime Minister Rudd,

Allegations about systematic racist attacks on Indians in Australia have echoed in India for some time. But the gruesome murder of a 3-year old Indian boy is a game-changer. Gurshan Singh Channa, whose mother is a student, was abducted from his parents’ residence, murdered and dumped about 20 miles away. This goes beyond what civilized people can tolerate.

The incident is reminiscent of the infamous kidnapping and murder of the small son of Charles Lindbergh, American aviation hero of the 1930s. The murderer was sent to the electric chair. Indians have the right to expect nothing less than the arrest and conviction of the murderer of young Gurshan. The Australian government must act with the full force of its forensic powers to track down the killer(s) immediately. When an Australian named Graham Staines was killed in India some years ago, the Indian government worked overtime to solve the case; diligence on your part would be simple courtesy.

I understand that an India taxi-driver has been named the suspect in the case, but even if he is proved to be the murderer, what about all the other cases where your police have admitted they have no clue?

The ongoing attacks on Indian students in Australia, which has led so far to several deaths, have been downplayed by your government. The standard line has been that attacks on Indians are random acts of violence by anti-social elements. Occasionally, the Indians were also blamed for putting themselves in danger; some official even told the students to conceal their iPods and cellphones, suggesting that the motive was simple robbery, and implying that it was their own fault for flaunting their stuff.

Blaming the victim is, shall we say, unusual? There have been cases in Australia where defendants in rapes suggested that the women brought it upon themselves by wearing skimpy clothing. I don’t remember this line of thinking being considered acceptable by the courts.

The obvious question: how come nobody is robbing Chinese students, or African students, or Arab students, all of whom are visibly different from native (white) Australians, and who should, by the same logic, be equally subjected to harassment, beatings, murders?

Nobody has an answer, so the next logical hypothesis is that there exists a group of people with particular animosity towards Indians: that is to say, these are racist hate crimes. But nobody in Australia has had the guts to admit it; however, now with the brutalization of a small child, there is no more room for beating about the bush – someone is targeting Indians in Australia, and it is the moral and legal duty of the federal government to find out who it is and to stop them.

It is interesting to compare the general Indian experience in the US, which I am personally familiar with, to the Indian experience in Australia, which I have heard about from Indian students. In the US, barring some discrimination and an occasional casual epithet thrown one’s way, there has practically been no sustained violence against Indians since the 1960’s (if you forget certain incidents early in the last century when anti-Asian and anti-brown laws were in force).

In the past year or two, there was a disturbing series of murders of students from the state of Andhra Pradesh, which led some to speculate that there were contracts being put out back home, but nothing was proven. But it must be acknowledged that there were three singular, barbaric acts in the US in the last thirty years: Navroze Mody was beaten to death with baseball bats by teenagers in Hoboken, New Jersey; Charanjit Singh Aujla was shot to death by plain-clothes policemen in his own liquor store in Jackson, Mississippi; and Khem Singh, a 72-year-old Sikh priest, was starved to death in a prison in Fresno, California. Otherwise, Indians have felt welcome in the US, on average.

The experiences of Indians in Australia, according to long-term residents, have been good. Many say they have felt little overt discrimination or racism. A large number of Anglo-Indians, of mixed Indian and white ancestry, emigrated to Australia around the time the British left India – and because of the shared colonial experience, I assume there was a certain wry recognition of the damage the British did to both countries: a Gallipoli in one case, a Jallianwallah Bagh in the other.

Speaking from the Indian side, there is a appreciation for the well-marketed Australian image (exemplified in the US by ‘Crocodile’ Dundee and in India by witty Foster’s ads) of the place being full of blokes having a rollicking good time. Then there is, of course, cricket. Although I am personally indifferent to the game, many rabid Indian fans are great admirers of the Australian team, generally considered the best in the world in recent years.

Thus, Indians start off with residual goodwill towards Australia, although, sad to say, this has not been reciprocated at the official level. Australia has in the past acted as the ‘enforcer’ in nuclear-related matters, and your government has been forcefully arm-twisting India regarding the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (alas, that would be suicidal with bellicose nuclear powers China and Pakistan next door). Besides, you appear to have made a conscious decision to put all your Asia eggs in the China basket. Official relations with India have been chillier than they need to be.

On the face of it, still, it is baffling to Indians that students – who are spending billions in tuition fees – are being murdered by Australians. It simply doesn’t seem in keeping with the Australian character that has been marketed to us; or for that matter, with the Australians I have personally encountered – they seem too easy-going to plan mass-murder. Of course, appearances being deceptive, I am aware that the treatment of, say, Aborigines, wasn’t exactly pretty. I too have seen “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith”, and incidentally I have enjoyed “Breaker Morant” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.

There is an emerging hypothesis in India that it is not hate-filled whites behind the attacks on Indians; rather that it is immigrants of certain ethnicities who may have a grudge against Indians or are picking on them because of the known tendency of Indians to be pacifist. I understand there are many ethnic gangs in your country, and that there are no-go areas where law-enforcement fears to tread. Well, that’s really no way to run a country. I submit that you simply have to do something about it.

Both from an ethical angle and from a trade angle, booming India (growing at 8% this year) is too big a market for Australia to lose. At the very least, you need a second buyer of your raw materials lest China gain too much buyer power and dictate terms, glimmerings of which we saw with the Rio Tinto affair.

No, Mr. Prime Minister, as America declines, and Asia rises, it would be strategically unwise to alienate one of your potential allies. India will be growing faster than China in a few years’ time as the demographic dividend kicks in. And India would be happy to have Australia as a supplier for various strategic goods. It would be a shame if all this is thrown away because you cannot offer Indians physical protection from a bunch of violent thugs. You need to, as Indians are surely an industrious and inoffensive ethnic group in your melting-pot.


Rajeev Srinivasan, a concerned Indian


One Response to “Who is killing Indians in Australia?”

  1. samh78 Says:

    My Dear Mr Srinivasan,

    Thank you so much for your letter. I am so pleased to hear from you on this matter. The death of Gurshan Singh shocked the nation and indeed we set out to find the person responsible as soon as possible. The gruesome death (not murder)”of a 3-year old Indian boy is a game-changer.” This is indeed a predicament – how does the Australian government prevent Indians from killing other Indians in Australia? Perhaps the Indian government could assist though your thoughts on this would also be welcome. I have heard many of your proud compatriots suggest we not allow people from the Punjab state to enter the country (as the British are now looking to do in their own way) though I’ve dismissed this as racist nonsense and quite shocking frankly as I always assumed India was a nation completely free from prejudice and discrimination. Please help.
    There is of course the question of Nitin Garg – the other case where our police “have admitted they have no clue”. He was unfortunately a victim of crime like so many other people in this otherwise wonderful country, whose murderers are yet to be found, people of all ages and races. Given the amount of attention to Indian media has given to Mr Garg’s death, I can only assume the Indian media and government will do the right thing and afford all these other victims of unsolved murders the same attention despite the fact they are not Indian.

    And thank you kindly for your submission that we really need to do something about the “ethnic gangs” and “no go zones” in our country. In fact this point has been bothering me greatly of late and I’ve decided to send a high level fact finding mission to India to see the world’s best practice on how this is done. After all, given all the advice the powers that be in India have offered us, one can only assume there are no unsolved murders in India, there is no sectarian, political or tribal violence, no prejudice between the communities of different Indian states. We must also assume that these reports of dowry killings, infanticide, gendercide and the thousands of deaths we hear about due to poor safety standards in India have no basis in fact whatsover or perhaps more accurately, they are a product of the British imperialist legacy.
    Separately, I noted with great sadness a report in the Hindustan Times recently about an Indian store clerk in Kansas in the US who was murdered in his job http://www.hindustantimes.com/indians-abroad/indiansabroadnews/Gunman-kills-US-store-clerk-working-final-shift/Article1-520791.aspx.
    Similarly, I read this a report about a Sikh shopkeeper in the UK who was killed on the job http://www.hindustantimes.com/indians-abroad/europe/Murdered-Brit-Sikh-shopkeeper-had-talked-of-quitting/Article1-512036.aspx
    Notwithstanding the fact these are isolated incidents and the no other Indian has ever been attacked in these two countries, I hope we can also turn our attention to the plight of your compatriots in other western nations as well with the same vigour India has sought redress in Australia.
    And I was so glad to hear you have seen some of the finest Australian movies and that this has helped shape your views about the Australian treatment of aborigines. I have been encouraging all the staff at our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to watch that wonderful film “Slumdog Millionaire” and to use that as a template for understanding Indian society better.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but from your letter I infer that you have never been to Australia? That most of what you know about our country is based on Indian media reports, third hand accounts or movies from the 1960s to 1980s? I’d like to extend a hearty invitation to you to visit this great land and see with your own eyes the wonderful time many of your countrymen are having.
    Finally, I need to address the matter of trade. We too are excited by the trade possibilities that arise from our rich resources and your emerging market. But as yet, we don’t feel we have the need for Indian-made products, despite the very high standard of workmanship. Nor do we feel the time is right to provide India with the uranium it has been eagerly seeking. With the greatest respect, we’re yet to feel confident about India’s ability to handle this material. I hope you understand.

    Yours sincerely,

    K. Rudd, a concerned Australian

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