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Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 08:47 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 08:47 | SYDNEY

Indian students: New data clears air

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11 August 2011 17:19

So at last we have hard data to test the claim that many Indian students in Australia have been the victims of racially-motivated crime. And the picture turns out to be much more complicated than the racist caricature presented in hyper-competitive, hyper-sensationalist parts of the Indian media. 

Here are some of my initial impressions. The Australian Institute of Criminology's exhaustive survey of crime data relating to more than 400,000 foreign students in Australia shows that foreign students are less likely to be the victim of physical assault than the general population. 

Australia is a safe and welcoming place for the overwhelming majority of Indian and other foreign students. In general, it seems, foreign students are actually safer in Australia than many Australians. And Australia is mostly a calm, tolerant and law-abiding place – a point worth bearing in mind in an awful week when the streets of Melbourne and Sydney are looking a lot safer than London or Birmingham.

When it comes to acts of robbery, the picture is slightly different, and somewhat troubling. Between 2005 and 2009, in some parts of Australia, Indian students were more likely than students from other countries to be the victims of robbery. So on this score, the Indian media and the Indian Government were right to be concerned.

But the evidence in the report suggests that the main reasons for these attacks were not related to race. Instead, the numbers confirm that young male Indian students in Australia often work in late-night service jobs – taxi drivers, petrol station attendants, convenience store workers. And like anyone doing such jobs, or using public transport or being on the streets late at night, they are more at risk of robbery. Stating this fact is not to condone the crimes, nor is it to blame the victims in any way. It is simply stating a fact.

Importantly, the data indicates that not a single death of an Indian student in Australia has been connected with racism. In 21 years, a total of eight Indian students have died in Australia from various causes, according to the report. And remember, that is out of hundreds of thousands of young Indians who have visited Australia during that period.

One of these deaths, which rightly made the headlines, was the tragic stabbing and robbing of a young Indian man, Nitin Garg, in a Melbourne park. A 16-year-old has pleaded guilty to this murderous act.

But the facts now prove that there is not a racist crime wave. Like any country, Australia has its share of crime, and some of that is violent crime. Because of the reach of modern media, especially social media, any particular crime can become widely reported very quickly. And sometimes that means the facts and details can be lost in a media impression of a crime wave running out of control.

At last, thankfully, the authorities in Australia have produced some credible, powerful data to prove that there is no racist crime wave against Indians in Australia. Indians are one of our fastest growing communities – the number of Hindus in Australia has doubled in the past five years alone — and this is all to the good. People of Indian origin are a vital part of modern Australia's success story, and will be essential to our future in the Asian century. The crisis of recent years has been a timely wake-up call to ensure that Australian Governments improve their policies on student safety, student welfare, the quality of courses and the sustainability of the visa rules.

I wish the authorities had been able to release data sooner, and I have previously urged the Government to make this a priority. It would have helped prevent a lot of misunderstanding and damage to Australia's good name. But the criminology report needed detailed work, including persuading state governments to release confidential information. 

Now it is time to clear the air, and to make sure that education links can be a bulwark, and not an obstacle, to close ties between our two democracies. As it is, Australia-India relations, while they have enormous promise, also need a lot of help. The Indian Prime Minister's disappointing decision to skip the Commonwealth summit in Perth in October is proof of this. But that is another blog post.

Photo by Flickr user mugley.

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