Some of the attacks against Indian students in Australia over the past few weeks had racist overtones, admits Victoria state’s top police official. But he also underscores that the victims were vulnerable due to socio-economic reasons.
“I am not saying there have been no racist undertones. There may well have been but I would like to stress that opportunistic crime and the fact that these kids are vulnerable have also contributed to the number of incidents,” admits Simon Overland, Victoria’s chief commissioner of police who has been in the eye of the storm quelling sit-in protests and demonstrations in the wake of the attacks.
“Because of their sheer numbers, they will be victims of crime. But I will ensure that these incidents are not disproportionate,” Overland said.
Over the last few weeks, there have been at least 20 such incidents of either students being attacked in public transport or waylaid near their houses in both Melbourne and Sydney, sparking allegations of widespread racism in Australian society and a failure by law enforcement authorities to act.
“They have been preyed upon. But they are vulnerable for a whole set of other reasons which need to be addressed urgently and most of these are socio-economic,” he asserts.
“They live in cheap housing, work late hours and often take on more than one job to stay afloat. Many of them drive taxis in the late hours, so that can invite trouble from louts who are drunk, while others work in convenient stores that are open right through the night.”
“In addition, many who use public transport to go back home that is usually in the suburbs, sometimes unknowingly invite trouble by using i-pods and laptops. The transport system can be unsafe in the wee hours of the morning,” says Overland, who commands a force of nearly 11,000 men for the state.