Tuesday, January 05, 2010

India and Australia, racist attacks or moral panic?

The paper ran a cartoon depicting an Australian policeman wearing a pointed white hood associated with the US racist group the Ku Klux Klan. The officer was shown saying "We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime."

That was, apparently, the actions of a newspaper in India called the Mail Today, in response to the murder of 21-year-old Indian student Nitin Garg. When I found the site of the Mail Today to check, the first thing I'm greeted with is a pop-up asking for my feedback in response to the question "SHOULD INDIA PURSUE THE MATTER OF AUSTRALIAN RACISM IN AN INTERNATIONAL COURT?"

It worries me that the single biggest source of the claim of a dramatic increase in racist attacks against Indian people in Australia appears to be the sensationalist media, and that the same media is making calls for special action to address the claimed problem. I'm currently trawling for actual statistics of crimes, but in the absence of reliable, verifiable statistics demonstrating an upsurge in demonstrably racist violence against Indian people, and with the role that the media is playing right now, I have to wonder: is this a moral panic? Is "racist Australia" here playing the role of a folk devil perceived as threatening the virtuous and vulnerable youth of India?

I have found one claim of of a clear and dramatic increase of attacks against Indian students as reported in the Indian media: both the Mail Today and the Siasat Times claim that a "government report tabled in parliament" said that "The number of Indians attacked in Australia in 2008 was 17. In 2009, 94 Indians were attacked till November 20. A total of 100 attacks on Indians, including students, have been reported in Australia during last year". If true, that would be an extraordinary upswing.

Unfortunately I don't know what this report actually is, or how these claimed statistics were compiled. I would need that information, I think, before I could accept the figure as accurate. So....moral panic or genuine upsurge in racist violence that specifically targets Indian people? I'm not really sure at this point, although I do find it odd that Indian people, and only Indian people, would be experiencing such an upsurge. I think that believing such a situation to be possible gives Australian racism far too much credit - it's far too broad to expect it to be targeted solely at one non-white group.

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