Thousands of people have marched in Melbourne today (Sunday May 31) against racist attacks on people of Indian origin living in Melbourne.  There have also been attacks in Sydney, last week Indian student, Rajesh Kumar, was left with burns to 30% of his body after a petrol bomb was thrown into his apartment.

The protest was organised by the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA). The protest started outside of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where Indian student Sravan Kumar Theerthala, is still fighting for his life. He was stabbed with a screwdriver last weekend and remains in the hospital.

Word of the protest had been spread by text message, so when the marchers coming from the hospital arrived at Parliament, the crowd waiting for them was even bigger. At least three other contingents joined the main protest over a period of half an hour, each time they arrived it was to huge cheers

It was a very lively rally, protesters chanted against racism, and “we want justice” and “Victoria police, shame, shame”.  The organisers were unprepared for the fantastic turn out, and speakers on megaphones were difficult to hear. Protest demands included police statistics on the number of attacks being made public, that attacks were acknowledged as racist and condemned as such by authorities, that the the government run anti-racist ads highlighting the contributions of migrants and international students, that universal insurance cover is provided for oveseas students for accidents and assaults, for on campus accommodation for students, and for trains and train stations to be staffed. 

There was universal condemnation of the police response. Victorian police have tried to suggest the attacks were opportunist and not racist, inspite of victims and witnesses describing racial abuse. Police have told Indian students to moderate their social behaviour, to not display ipods, and not to speak loudly in native Indian languages while in public. This is a disgusting and racist responce from the Victoria police, which tries to blame the victim rather than tackle the racism of the attackers. It puts the focus on the victim, while rendering the racists invisible.

The racism of the police has led to calls by some protesters for the police force to be multi-cultural. It is reasonable to expect that the instutions of society should look like the whole society, not a small part of it, but a multi-cultural police force won’t by itself change the nature of the police force. The main job of the police is to make the world safe for business, not people.

Much of the discussion in the mainstream media in Melbourne has treated overseas students as commodities focusing on the ‘threat’ to revenue  that Indian overseas students bring in, rather than the threat to Indian students themselves.

Racist scapegoating is one possible response to economic crisis. Some actions of the Rudd government make it more likely – these are refusal of the Rudd government to provide relief to the economic pain of unemployment, either through providing jobs by directly employing people, or raising unemployment benefits, combined with Rudd’s own preparedness to use racism, for instance  with the NT intervention and the suspention of the racial discrimination act to quarantine welfare for Aboriginal people. One of the protest signs said “Kevin Rudd protect us”, but this is unlikely while Labor refuses to even condemn the attacks on Indians as racist.

The other response to economic crisis is to unit and fight. To fight for every job and to fight every racist attack. Sadly our many of our union leaders aren’t up to the task, rather than fight, or strike, or occupy to defend jobs, the ACTU wants a “buy Australia” campaign, which at best does nothing to protect jobs and at worst can feed nationalist prejudice. Fighting racism, which can undermine solidarity between workers, should be the task of every union.

As the message on one of the placards read, “racism a poison for everyone”,  this issue cant be left to Indian student to fight alone. There should be national follow up protests, with some time given so that we can gather support and participation from as many university campuses, unions and workplaces as possible.

Racism is not welcome, Indians are.

STOP PRESS: Such is the level of anger at the racist attacks, that over 200 angry and determined protestors staged a sit-in overnight at Flinders St station. They left around 5am when police violently broke up the protest.

Report by Chris Breen

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