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'Generally Indians are safe in Australia'

June 02, 2009 14:52 IST

Ganesh Sahathevan, migrated from Malaysia to Australia on a student visa. The Sydney-based Sahathevan is journalist turned researcher. Migration runs in his family, which who shifted from Jaffna, Sri Lanka to Malaysia many decades back.

He has studied accounting and law that gives him unique edge in research. Since last few years he has acquired expertise in understanding structures that support terrorists and jihadist activities in the region. He continues to research and report from Sydney with a focus on South East Asian business, economic and politics.

In this e-mail interview to Sheela Bhatt, Sahathevan defends his adopted country and argues that Australia is safe for immigrants.

Are Indians and students safe over there?

There has been an Indian migrant community in Australia for probably more than 100 years. See for example the history of the Sikh community in Australia (external link).

Then there have been migrants of sub-continental origin but who have migrated from Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji, who have been here for at least the past 50-60 years, if not longer.

Members of the Sikh Regiment are regular participants (external link) in the Anzac Day Parade -- which is considered the most Anglo-Celtic and Irish Catholic non-religious observance in this country.

More recently, over the past say 20 years, the Sri Lankan Tamil community has grown to such an extent that there is a Sydney suburban town, Homebush, that is associated with them. Given the above, the first part of your question -- are Indians safe? -- can I think be answered in the affirmative. There have not been any reports past or present, of any of the above communities being specifically targeted for harassment.

Coming then to the second part of your question -- are students safe? -- I must ask how it might be possible for anyone to superficially distinguish a student from India from a member of any of the Indian communities mentioned above.

Therefore, I cannot see how Indian students might be at greater risk than others of Indian or sub-continental origin who live here.

I should also add that I arrived here as a student in 1983, and as a result of post-graduate study, have maintained contact with university students, including students from India. I have not heard of any attacks specifically targeted at Indian students.

Are other immigrants also facing similar problems?

Generally Indians are safe as I said above, with the exception of the Muslim community who have raised a number of issues. Here however, given my own work in the area of terrorism, jihad and Islamism, I can say that the issues they have raised are not necessarily local in nature. There is a tendency to accuse the local population of discrimination due to the perceived mistreatment of Muslims elsewhere. To elaborate further let me refer you to a paper by a well-known Muslim community spokesman, Waleed Aly.

The relevant part reads: '...a person might begin with deep local grievances, but quickly learn to give them a global meaning. This is the nature of liquid modernity, where space collapses and it is possible to plug into the grievances of antipodean communities, even virtual communities, instantly. With globalised information flows, I can now appropriate the grievances of Muslims from Europe, Asia or the Middle East as my own, and I can therefore construct an artificially unified story. The brilliance of demagogues like (Osama) bin Laden is in their ability to exploit this; to impart upon people the tools to knit together global narratives of persecution out of their domestic grievances; to convince disconnected audiences that the frustration, exclusion and alienation they feel domestically is not merely a domestic problem, but is precisely the same oppression visited upon their coreligionists in Iraq, Israel, Chechnya or Kashmir, part of the same grand design.'

What are the main issues behind these attacks?

As I said I don't see any underlying issues which may affect the safety of Indian students. However, I have noted that an Indian student has told The Times Of India that fear among the Indian student population in Sydney, Melbourne and other cities is on the rise. "They target all Asian students including Pakistani and Sri Lankans. A lot of my Pakistani friends have left the place after being brutally attacked and robbed. Interestingly, the attackers are mostly not locals and are themselves people of foreign origin who resent the fact that Indian students go there in large numbers and take up jobs which may otherwise have gone to them," he told the paper.

I suspect that there may be some truth in the above assertion for it is a fact that inter-communal tensions have been growing, for example in the western suburbs of Sydney. These are racist in nature and arise from misplaced ethnic loyalties from those who have migrated here but insist on remaining apart from the broader community.
In this regard, it should be noted that members of the Indian community, and indeed others of sub-continental origin, are considered exemplary migrants for their ability and willingness to integrate. Their English language ability as well as familiarity with British norms and customs is probably the reason. Certainly, in cricket mad Australia they share much in common with those born here. Consequently, migrants of Indian origin are not generally known to herd themselves into ghettoes like members of many other migrant communities.

How different is Australian society compared to the West?

This question I cannot answer having not lived in any Western country. However, I can say that the Australian attitude is such that anyone is free to do as they please and no one really bothers. One can walk around with anything or nothing on and no one really cares.

What do you expect the Australian government to do?

The media has reported here that Attorney General Rob Hulls has recommended tougher laws for hate crimes which will have tougher sentences.

Do you think the trend of migration to Australia will be affected by this?

No. Australia will remain attractive to, at the very least, economic migrants.

Let me end by saying that Indian migrants and indeed students who are likely to stay here after their studies are completed should be on guard not to become pawns in the games played by others who seem them as another migrant group who may be used to score political points and further their own interests.

As mentioned above, Indian migrants are considered exemplary migrants because of their ability to integrate into the wider community. This advantage may however be seen to be at odds with politicians and others who are intent on promoting a policy of multiculturalism , which promotes division. To put this in another way, multiculturalists would rather an Indian spoke in Hindi or some other language so as to justify their being treated as a sub-class, always in need of assistance from their patrons. Such strategies are not uncommon, and indeed form a significant part of our current Australian Labour Party government's political strategy.