iconimg Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 23, 2007
Indian students in a Sydney suburb are forming vigilante groups to take on local thugs after a number of them were attacked and mugged this month. These students — armed with sticks and bats — go out in small groups every night to patrol the streets of Harris Park. They say they have to do so because of the local police’s inability to protect them.

The mugging incidents — and the angry response to them — have been highlighted by Sydney-based The Daily Telegraph, which also wrote a sympathetic editorial headlined: Should we really blame the vigilantes?

The incidents were brought to the notice of the Indian government on Wednesday. Vayalar Ravi, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister, told HT that High Commissioner to Australia P P Shukla has been asked to take up the matter with the Australian government. “We take cognizance of even small incidents,” Ravi said.

An Australian High Commission spokesman said in Delhi that the premier (equivalent to a chief minister) of New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, has received a complaint from the Indian Consul General in the city.

“We have also received information from the police that the vigilante groups did not comprise only Indians. They were formed out of the general community who were concerned about law and order,” he said.

S R Chinoy, the Consul General in Sydney, in a June 20 letter to Ravi, however, said it appeared from the newspaper reports that there was “preponderance of Indian students in the suburb”. He was referring to The Daily Telegraph report of June 15, headlined Suburb goes vigilante (picture above).

According to Australian government figures from 2005, there are 27,000 Indian students in Australia, many of whom live in Sydney.

Indians had been attacked and robbed in Harris Park in 2006 as well, following which Chinoy had spoken to the then New South Wales Premier Morris Lemma and the local MP. Sydney witnessed riots on the famous Bondi beach last year where men with ‘Arab’ features were accused of stabbing holidaymakers.

But Indians were unwilling to suffer quietly this time and so they formed vigilante groups. The intention was to provoke the police to take action against their tormentors. Instead all the Indians got was a warning. The police have threatened them with arrest, saying vigilante action would escalate existing tension.

The Daily Telegraph, in its report, quoted an Indian, Harjot Singh saying the community felt insulted by the police' advice. "It is obvious they can't protect us. They say you should carry two wallets so you can hand the robbers a fake one. They say we should not carry mobile phones. How do you manage without a mobile phone these days?" Singh was quoted as saying.

Chinoy's letter to the overseas Indian affairs minister referred to a meeting of Indian representatives with Police Commander Robert John Redfern on June 19.

“During the meeting, the police said that Indian students had gathered in small groups in different areas of Harris Park armed with sticks, bats on the night of June 13. They had reportedly told the police on patrol duty that they wanted to take revenge on the people who had attacked and robbed Indian students the previous night…. He (Redfern) also admitted that there had been a spike in assaults on Indian students in the recent past,” Chinoy wrote.

The letter said the police had contended that the attacks were not racial and that “Indian students were perhaps more likely to be victims because of their late-night travel alone, after their part-time work”.

“The police also appear keen to avoid adverse publicity that shows them in bad light,” the letter said.