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Indians in Australia: The Enemy Within

by MANPREET KAUR SINGH

 

Indian Australians are clearly worried - far too many Indians have died in Australia in a matter of months; but far too many have been killed by their own compatriots ... their fellow Indians. The most recent death, that of three year old Gurshan has shocked everyone beyond belief ; more so because yet again, an Indian has been charged for the toddler's manslaughter.

We have been hearing about incidents of violence against Indians in Australia and there have been shrill (sometimes unfounded) cries that racism pervades the streets and minds of all Australians. Perhaps the name calling reached its crescendo when 21 year old Indian, Nitin Garg, was killed in a knife attack in Melbourne on January 2, 2010.

Police are yet to charge anyone for this murder and its best not to speculate about the motive or the ethnicity of the killer/s.

But there is something extremely disturbing about the deaths of Indians in Australia over the past few months.  To use a euphemism that the Police often use, Indians are greatly ‘over represented' in all the gruesome murders of Indians across Australia - but not just as victims, but as perpetrators too.

29 year old Manpreet died because of a knife wound on her throat on December 29, 2009.  She was living in a Sydney house with her husband Chamanjot and another couple. Her husband fled to Melbourne soon thereafter but was arrested early this year, and is suspected to have killed her. Chamanjot is 22 years old, remanded in custody.

21 year old Amandeep's near-lifeless body was found in a canal in Brisbane, Queensland. She was in hospital for two days thereafter, but lost her battle for life on December 21, 2009.  Her husband, Rana Pardeep, was regarded as the prime suspect, but could not be charged due to lack of evidence. He alleges she committed suicide. 

25 year old Ranjodh's charred body was found in the New South Wales country town of Griffith - he was torched to death on December 29, 2009 and his half burnt body was recovered a few days later. New South Wales Police initially charged a couple, 23 year old Gurpreet and his 20 year old wife, Harpreet for the murder, and another man named Harpreet was charged soon thereafter. All three are in police remand.

The new year started with the fatal stabbing of Nitin Garg in Melbourne on January 2, 2010, followed soon after by the bizarre case of Jaspreet on January 8. Jaspreet alleged that he was a victim of a racial attack, with the perpetrators setting his car alight and burning him in the process too. Police investigations revealed that the fire was self inflicted, in an attempt to gain $11,000 as a pay-out from his car insurers. Security camera footage shows him purchasing almost 15 litres of petrol in a can, just a day before the incident. 29 year old Jaspreet is a married man and has a child too.

February 12, 2009 bore witness to a double murder of young Indian brothers in Perth, and unfortunately, the killer was their house mate, compatriot and fellow Indian, Jagdeep.  20 year old Navdeep and 19 year old Kawaldeep shared their house with Jagdeep, and reportedly an altercation about house expenses and rental spiralled out of control. Kawaldeep died instantly; brother Navdeep managed to reach a nearby hospital despite his severe injuries, but died before he could be treated. 22 year old Jagdeep has been charged for the murders and is in Police custody.

Another Indian's lifeless body was found near the Victoria - NSW border in October 2009.  After months of DNA tests, Police have only recently confirmed his identity - it was Indian fruit picking contractor, Pradeep Kumar, who went missing four months ago. No charges have been laid yet.

And now this despicable murder of three year old Gurshan has taken this violence to a whole new abysmal level. A missing child is every parent's worst nightmare and then to find the dead body a few hours hence, and only to discover that your fellow housemate played a part in the crime, is utterly incomprehensible. It is possible that more people are charged in this case and its best not to speculate at this stage, but the fact is that 23 year old Gursewak Dhillon has been charged with manslaughter and yet another Indian is accused of killing another Indian - Gurshan's tender age of three only compounding the magnitude of the tragedy.

As Australia's Indian community was grappling to comprehend this chain of events, the wider Australian community was equally horrified by this incident, turning the David Street house in which Gurshan lived with nearly 12 other adults, into a shrine.  Flowers, cards, soft toys and messages adorn the outside fence of the house, displaying the empathy and the deep sense of shock that has permeated the whole neighbourhood. Even before this, the wider Australian community rallied behind Indian Australians and marked Feb 24 as Vindaloo against Violence - a novel, proactive endeavour, when thousands of Aussies thronged Indian restaurants around the nation, to show their solidarity for the besieged Indian community. The Indian community, especially its Sikh and Punjabi stawarts, has rallied together remarkably well too, but with one tragedy following the other in quick succession, they can be forgiven for wondering "Who is the real enemy out there?"

And the cases listed above aren't the only cases involving Indians either. In June 2009, 42 year old Sanjay Mehta was charged with killing his wife Jyoti and her nine year old daughter Ujjala. Marital discord seemed to be the root cause of this double murder in Sydney. Then there are the unresolved cases of 25 year old Rajat Garg and 26 year old Upkar Babbal. Both of their bodies were found near railway tracks in Melbourne, the former in February and the latter in June 2009. Both were international students in Melbourne.

There was also that bizarre case of Puneet, the Indian student in Melbourne who jumped bail and fled Australia with his friend's passport. 19 year old Puneet had been charged with culpable driving, since he was responsible for the accident that killed a Queensland student, Dean Hofstee. He is now a fugitive, believed to be hiding in India. Was he racist, because he killed a ‘white' person in his drunken state? Are Gursewak, Chamanjot, Gurpreet, Harpreet and Navdeep racist, since they deliberately attacked someone of Indian origin in Australia? Or do only attacks by white Australians against Indians qualify for a racist label?

Yes, there have been ‘racist' attacks against Indians in Australia, but it is wrong to automatically infer that they were all carried out by white Caucasians.

Either way one looks at this, the above roll call of fatal incidents across Australia resonates eerily. Whilst every Australian Indian finds these incidents reprehensible and would call on the toughest penalty to be imposed on all perpetrators (regardless of their nationality or ethnicity), yet the fact is that these incidents have continued unabated for months.

Generalisations are always dangerous, but the time has come to ask some serious questions. Why are Indians figuring so prominently, both as victims and perpetrators of crime in Australia? Is this the sign of a young, extremely restless and desperate new generation, acting without concern for consequences? Or is it a sign of a generation feverishly in pursuit of pleasure and unrealistic expectations, yet unable to accept the burden of responsibility?

Is it possible that people of rural backgrounds are failing to adjust to the cold realities of a Western metropolis? Or do financial pressures, cultural isolation and other limitations erode basic human values, pushing people over the edge? Certainly, it is time to stop, ask, answer and address all of these questions. Just like Australians are wondering why so many of their teenagers and youngsters are behind a majority of the so-called racist attacks, Indians should be questioning why so many of their own are perpetrators too.

Australia's race credentials have been scrutinized very publicly over the past few months. The ultimate irony is that despite their global standing as a hardworking, friendly, successful, vibrant, charitable and large hearted community, Punjabis may now be forced to defend their own credentials too - and that clearly, is a bigger cause of worry. 

 

[This article, in its abridged form, was first published in the Hindustan Times on Saturday, March 13, 2010]

March 15, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), March 15, 2010, 10:20 AM.

Manpreet did a great favour to our communities by bringing some facets to our attention that we as outsiders may miss in the alarming news from Australia. When my wife, Amrita, and I were in Australia for the Parliament of World Religions, people asked us why the outside world was not concerned with the discriminatory treatment of Indians in Australia. We snooped around some more for information and reached the same conclusion as Manpreet reaches. We may impress upon the host governments to provide safety to immigrant communities, it is not enough. We must also look within and discourage behaviour that undermines our presence.

2: Gur Singh (Boston, MA, U.S.A.), March 15, 2010, 2:03 PM.

This comment is just directed to Sikhs and not others in the Indian diaspora. Guru Nanak's attempt was to get us rid of our bad habits and inculcate good ones, which he and his successors taught. However, as Sikhs came from Muslim and Hindu societies, they would bring the wrong habits of both cultures with them. In the absence of any direct education about the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, these behaviours start manifesting in us. So, many a times we meet a Sikh who is a perfect combination of pseudo-islamism (violence) and pseudo-hinduism (superstition) and not even near to Guru Granth's teachings. If we exlude the racist violence against Sikhs, most of the other violent behaviour within our society can be explained by the bad habits we have inherited, mixed over time to give rise to deadly cocktail. If not properly washed with the teachings of the Gurus, it manifests very quickly . Waris shah rightly said: "Waaris shah naan adtaan jaandian ee, bhavee katie porian porian ee" - 'Bad habits die hard'.

3: Kam Singh (London, England), March 15, 2010, 3:58 PM.

Cultural and racial harmony is a two-way street. Sikhs and every South Asian community around the world have to make efforts to integrate and drop the baggage of backward mentalities that they were escaping from when they go abroad. They mustn't regress into mental and physical ghettoes. They should embrace the people they live amongst. What is the point of moving to Australia, America, England and Canada, and then carrying on living as if you are in India?

4: Kulbir Singh (Sydney, Australia), March 15, 2010, 4:01 PM.

Most respectfully and humbly, I disagree with Gur Singh's comments that we are bad because we come from Muslim and Hindu heritage. Every religion and community (whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim) are good and we cannot generalize the way my brother has done. If one is Sikh (I mean pooran GurSikh, that is, he/ she follows the discipline of the life as ordained by our Gurus), then he/ she will never commit these crimes. If you analyze/ scrutinize these cases, most of the persons involved in these cases who are Sikhs are so only in name. They may be born in a Sikh family, but their lives are millions of miles away from Sikhism. We can generalized them as Punjabi. Anyhow, whether Sikhs or Punjabis are committing most of these crimes, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Australian Government to maintain law and order. Victims of the crime are to be protected and must be supported. Criminals must be punished and we should start the debate of bringing back the death penalty in Australia for the heinous crimes committed by anyone. Most of the criminals are encouraged to commit such crimes because there is no death penalty and the law here is so lenient in that it gives several benefits to criminals. Thanks to my sister Manpreet Kaur for bringing the facts to light. I think still there is much, much more to it, which will come out in the public as and when the evidence is known to the police.

5: Quintin Rozario (Australia), March 15, 2010, 5:45 PM.

Whilst it is interesting that you repeat the convenient "allegations" represented as fact by the mainstream media and police about deaths of Indians by Indians we have yet to prove that these allegations are in fact true. John Brumby, Victoria's Premier went on national TV in defence of allegations his government had done little to protect Indian students, and virtually convicted the Indian identified as having torched his car for insurance money when the man has only been charged to date. Brumby's language says something about his and his government's attitudes about Indians. It reinforces the none too subtle racist attitudes that contribute to the plight of Indians in Australia. It also says something about Indians who failed to react to his reckless statement in this regard on TV. The same applies to all allegations including that of "murder" of Gurshan Singh whose death is not and has not been classified as murder. There is a difference between manslaughter and murder and care must be taken by all, especially Indians, when describing the circumstances of the toddler's death. There has been a spate of attacks, unwarranted and unrelenting violent attacks against Indians, in particular the most vulnerable of these - students - by other Australians for over a decade which have conveniently gone unreported and unattended by Australian and Indian authorities. Where the assailants have been identified or adequately described by their victims to police, little action if any has been taken to charge the culprits or to pursue an investigation leading to charges being laid. There are two possible reasons for this. One, that the police either consider these forms of violence too insignificant because their resources are tied up elsewhere or the police are simply not interested like the rest of Australia about migrants of the latest wave, Indians. To reinforce the point, one merely has to ask the welfare workers at the family courts of Australia and the Departments of Human Services in each Australian state how difficult it is to get the police to act even in extreme cases of domestic violence and violence against children. That of itself is a statistic on record that describes police attitudes and actions towards violence against the most vulnerable in our midst for whatever the reason may be. The second reason is a more likely one and it has to do with attitudes. Let us examine the case of one Dr. Muhammed Haneef, an Indian doctor charged under the Terrorism act. The Federal Police and The Attorney general at the time of Haneef's arrest knew well if not subsequently that Haneef had no involvement in the Glasgow airport incident and that the evidence against him contained in a brief to the AG supported the contention he was innocent. Yet they unrelentingly pursued the man, feeding the media a pack of lies and further engaging a compliant willing media pack with disinformation on the incident and the man. It helped reinforce what this article attempts to do innocently or otherwise. Stereotype and demonize a section of the community. Let's take another example, just in case this one is seen as a selective isolated incident. Julian Moti, a Fijian born Indian lawyer who was appointed Attorney General in the Solomon Islands and was approached by Australia to take a stand more closely allied to its political objects for the Pacific region, was accused, extradited and charged in Australia on a number of counts of having sex with a minor. In short, they said he raped a child and was a pedophile. Before the trial was over, it was revealed by the victim and her family that the Australian government, through the Australian Federal Police, had paid the family something like $100,000 to fabricate the evidence and the substance of their complaint in order to charge Moti and to lay those false charges against the man. These are not isolated incidents by any means. If we want to digress from the white-black dichotomy let's examine what happened to Lindy Chamberlain and a plethora of other cases before we accept police pronouncements and pious government platitudes about who murdered who and about Australia's shining multi-cultural policies. Now here is the rub on the Gurshan 'murder'. It is strange and even stranger still that the police do not know how Gurchan died. Yet they were able to interview someone, probably not as competent in the English language as they would be and in fear, get him to make an admission to a homicide. Remember that at law an admission is not necessarily admissible into evidence in court, unless it satisfies certain conditions. Only an open trial will be able to determine any of the admissions made by the alleged offender. We do not know whether anyone would be willing to defend this man now that the publicity has already demonized him (and the community, for that matter). Very convenient indeed. We still do not know what the police know about what they do not know. That's of itself a mystery. And the last thing we need now is to reinforce and regurgitate the exaggerated and unproven stories or lines being run by Australia's government and its irresponsible and apologetic media for a practice they in the mainstream community see as a "rite of passage" for all migrants. Violence, humiliation and degradation. What we also do not need are those "house boys and house girls" like those doctors who willingly allow themselves to be rolled out by the media and government when required to say the most ridiculous things like "I have never witnessed or faced any racism in Australia". They have never productively engaged themselves with the community at any level save a small exceptional few. They are however quite happy to fight for their 15 seconds of fame even if at the expense of their dignity. That we need not repeat or duplicate here. The right of Indians to complain in a free society as Australia claims to be is without qualification of whether or not there are criminals amongst them. That's another form of vilification of Indians and must be stopped. It is not difficult to get an Indian to shake in his pants when confronted by people in authority, especially uniformed men and women. These are young people whose memories of encounters in India are still fresh in their minds. I had the privilege of teaching many of them as a lecturer at Central Queensland University in 2004. They are honourable young men and women many of whom were ripped off by universities and colleges into coming here to fill a labour shortage. That point may not be official but the sales pitch by agents approved by a government authority says otherwise. The audacity of Julia Gillard, John Brumby and Kevin Rudd in supporting these attacks, then embarking on a media campaign to reinforce their self righteous position, must not be tolerated. There is an email SMS campaign being planned by a group of Indians to Indians to boycott Australian goods and services which I think deserves consideration. Australia worships the hip pocket, venerate the rich and famous. Some Indians fall into that despicable category. I don't think it is a bad idea to go along with the Boycott Australia campaign in India. I, for one, will. The Indian government will do nothing unless you are a Chhabra, Win Chadha, Anil Ambani or the like. These kids are not. They are ours. This is the test of our Indian-ness. Let's see how many now run for cover in embarrassment.

6: Tajinder Pal Singh (India - Australia), March 15, 2010, 7:38 PM.

I agree what Manpreet has written. At the same time, it cannot be denied that it has already put Australia under the scanner as there has been a drop not only as a destination for Education but also as a tourist attraction.

7: Sanam (Melbourne, Australia), March 15, 2010, 7:53 PM.

Manpreet ji - it requires a lot of guts and character to question one's own credibility and your article is an honest piece of work which was so well needed in this current climate. Thanks for not pushing any personal or political agendas ... unlike some of our other journalist friends. And I comment here in a very secular manner without any affiliations to any particular religion, community, race or caste. I reckon it's time to move beyond these limiting adjectives used to define humankind. And patriotism is not always about wearing a flag to a cricket match - it's equally about promoting the credibility of the values that you bring from your heritage. And thanks for doing that through your write-up. God bless.

8: Manpreet Kaur Singh (Melbourne, Australia), March 15, 2010, 9:13 PM.

Although I would struggle to match the eloquence and passion of my wonderful friend Quintin, may I say that this article is not about Indian victims of assaults/ bashings/ robberies in Australia. Undoubtedly, most of those in recent times are racially motivated/ opportunistic and much more needs to be done to address the general law and order situation here. But this article is about the deaths of Indians in Australia in the past few months, and whether we like it or not, most have been caused by fellow Indians. Let's all work together for better support and welfare services for the entire Indian community in Australia, since this isn't just a student issue anymore.

9: K. Kaur (Australia), March 15, 2010, 11:13 PM.

I find the comments made by Quintin Rozario both hypocritical and insulting to one's intelligence! It would appear that the Indian media and those who are out to discredit the Australian government for their so called racist attitude towards Indians in Australia have failed to look at India's own backyard! Did they forget that just this week Sajjan Kumar who orchestrated the November 1984 pogroms is out on bail, that journalist Jarnail Singh's life was threatened as he spoke up for justice for the victims, that it has been 25 years since the day that thousands of innnocent Sikhs were butchered by organized Hindu mobs for no other reason than for being Sikh! Does he or the Indian media not know that thousands of Sikh youth have 'disappeared' in the Punjab over the last 25 years and countless others killed in fake 'encounters' by the Indian Police? Has he not heard of the reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Ensaaf on enforced disappearances, torture and death in the Punjab! Perhaps it's time he and the India media took a good hard look at themselves and the gross human rights violations against minorities including Muslims, Christians and Sikhs committed by the Indian government and the majority Hindus before pointing the finger at the Australian government, or any other government for that matter. What a joke ... the pot calling the kettle black!

10: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), March 16, 2010, 11:45 AM.

I am glad Manpreet started and followed thorough with Indians in Australia and did not say Sikhs in Australia. Do we ever think why the sudden surge of domestic dispute and lawlessness in the people of Punjab? The reason is that they have given up on Sikhism. Forgotten are the days when Faith and Honour stood right at the top of the list of things a person was proud of. When these people gave up the roop of Sikhi, the spirit of Sikhi was lost too. Perhaps something for all to ponder.

11: Quintin Rozario (Australia), March 16, 2010, 3:32 PM.

Ms. K Kaur, it is not denied that thousands of innocent Indians of the Sikh faith in India were targeted for murder during the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984. It is not denied (even by the Indian government, I might add) that Muslims were targetted by BJP activists and others affiliated with the ruling government of Gujarat more recently ... and the list goes on. That of itself does not give anyone else, the Australian government by its wanton negligence included, the right to victimize or, in this case, to allow the violence that's been and continues to be perpetrated against Indians or anyone else for that matter on the streets or behind close doors in Australia, to continue unchecked. I accept and agree with Manpreet that now that she has explained the purpose of her article more clearly that the substance of her article was intended to be in a slightly different context, albeit at a sensitive time for Indians in Australia. I have had the privilege of having worked with Manpreet as her technical producer at the SBS for many years and can vouch for her journalistic credentials, her personal and professional credibility as well, and need take those points no further. A Sardarni in every respect. However, I must take issue with the criticism of my response to the article by Manpreet. In saying what you have said, the logic which flows from it justifies the mass murders the Congress (I) orchestrated against the Sikhs in 1984.

12: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), March 16, 2010, 8:02 PM.

Indians in Australia behave, please; life is not like the Indian movies you watch. Manpreet is just fine in her reporting, a very balanced report on a sensitive topic.

13: Angela Kaur (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), March 17, 2010, 1:36 AM.

One thing that I have noticed that a lot of the Punjabi immigrants now in the West, when they get there, they move to areas with mostly other Punjabis and have little social contact with the mainstream community and live like they are back in India. I know of people who have been here for 20-30 years and they never made a friend of another race.

14: Rahul (Melbourne, Australia), March 17, 2010, 2:47 AM.

Manpreet raises some very pertinent questions that need to be addressed! We must get out of our holier-than-thou attitude and do some introspection. Our own backyards are certainly not clean! On the other hand, I fully agree with what Quintin has put forward. History has it that the white man had always considered a coloured man as a lesser being. Where possible, he has tried to subdue the latter or has been discriminatory by simply being patronizing towards them. That is probably the white man's guilt. To sum up, the Indian community in Australia must first get together to speak in one voice. With so many bloody federations with their own personal agendas, no wonder the divide and rule policy is once again the trump card in the white man's hand!

15: Gurpal (United Kingdom), March 17, 2010, 1:47 PM.

I think both Manpreet and Quinton have raised valid points and have had something of immense value to say on this topic, from different angles. Thank you!

16: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), March 17, 2010, 2:19 PM.

Is this Quinton Rozario the son of the Principal Rozario in India? If it is, I see some shades of his dad's passion here.

17: Kulbir Singh (Sydney, Australia), March 19, 2010, 1:03 AM.

Yes, agreeing with Gurpal (UK): both Quintin Rozario and Manpreet have raised very valid points, but from different angles. The only thing I can say that the purpose of the article by Manpreet Kaur was different: she has been associated with the Sikh and Punjabi community directly, and several victims have contacted her for help during years of community work. Quintin Rozario is also right from his angle and we will realize the truth of his points in the coming days when more and more evidence comes out. I am confident this will happen in the near future.

18: Jagtar Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), March 19, 2010, 2:30 AM.

Many in Punjab now belong to the radhasoami cult. So these students with Singh as last name or Jat surname could very well be radhasoamis as well. Along with Sikhs, radhasoamis also need to do introspection.

19: Gurinder Singh Dhanoa (Australia), March 21, 2010, 5:19 PM.

Racism exists in Australia, as it does in India.

20: Ravneet Pal Singh (Ludhiana, Punjab), February 16, 2011, 1:22 AM.

Manpreet ji, it is good that you have displayed a handful of facts before us. I believe that if Punjabis can start following Kirt Karni, Nam Juppna and Wund Chhukna here in Punjab, they don't have to travel so far to start with such a tough life abroad and bring such times to themselves when they have to commit crimes and bring a real bad name to the community. The Sikh community has already suffered with a militant stereotyping after 1984 throughout the world. And all this is adding to it. The Sikh community should work out with the Australian government to start some programs where these youngsters are made to learn the Sikh philosophy and hopefully get inspired to live a happy life wherever in the world they chose to live. But I know now they are changing rules, and making the visa process harder. This is the best solution at the moment, but they cannot push out the already existing citizens in their country. Guru Raakha!

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