Australian rules

Attack victims must make their case within the bounds of Australian law

Both SM Krishna, India’s foreign minister, and Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, have advised Indian students against—pardon the cliche—taking the law into their own hands. First, Mr Krishna urged the students “to be patient and show restraint…and concentrate on (studies) rather than retaliate”. Then Mr Rudd warned that “it’s unacceptable for anyone to commit an act of violence against any student of any ethnicity anywhere in Australia. It’s equally unacceptable for so-called reprisal attacks and for so-called vigilante action as well.” While Mr Rudd’s attempt to draw an equivalence between the two can be debated, what is indisputable is the fact that where there is rule-of-law, violation of the law has no justification.

But if there is rule-of-law in Australia, why do the Indian students feel the need to set-up “vigilante groups” to protect their compatriots? This is, first, a question for the Australian government and Australian society to contemplate. At the very least it suggests that the response of the Australian state after the first few attacks was found wanting.

Be that as it may: there is no excuse for violating the law. The Indian government must spare no attempt to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals anywhere in the world. Where they are innocent victims, the government must do what is necessary to protect them and ensure that justice is done. But if they are accused or guilty of an offence, the government’s job is not to apologise or shield them, but rather, that due legal processes are followed and their rights are protected.

Tailpiece: On the matter of racism: Australia is not a racist country. There are racists in Australia, some of who attack foreigners. But it is incorrect and unfair to extend this argument and characterise the whole country as racist. There are anti-racists too and they are speaking up.

13 thoughts on “Australian rules”

  1. Threats of violence are certainly not the right thing to do.

    But they work. The Oz government responded mighty quickly when indian students threatened to take arms. They were not much perturbed when we mouthed our usual platitudes.

    Being able to demonstrate that you can bite — hard — is important. That usually gets the job done without actual biting.

  2. AG,
    In the long-term, threats of violence have negative consequences in rule-of-law societies. Playing by the rules is a better strategy.

    Udayan,
    Realism is the appropriate framework to look at international relations. Within the confines of a state, the law of the land prevails. The law of the land has greatest legitimacy when the state is a liberal democracy. This blog has been a consistent advocate of constitutionalism when it comes to the relationship between individuals and the state.

  3. Nitin

    In the long run we are all dead. It does NOT work to play by rules others have set. You have to MAKE the rules. America has done exactly this and continues to do so. For, they are clear what they are after: securing americans first.

    I have noticed a significant softening of the Acorn’s stand over the past few months. The sharp edge, the pragmatism and clarity in thinking are missing.

    In its place have come empty posts with high falutin, haughty Economist-esque language that are more interested in protecting ‘fairness’ and ‘morality’ than india’s interests

    Hope this criticism is taken in the right spirit.

  4. Who exactly is beating Indians? By taking into account many videos and interviews by the victims, it seems it is not whites but people of middle eastern origin like Lebanon and other Muslim countries. Why they beat up, may be they don’t like India progressing, while their brothers in Pakistan are getting into a hell hole.

  5. Being dead in the long run does not apply here. There will be other Indians going to Australia for education, work and tourism for whatever time horizon one may care to select. If Indians acquire the image of bypassing the rule of law, it is going to hurt the interests of other Indians who will visit Australia in future.

    I can’t imagine what an “unrestrained” or “hard” stand Indian government might take on this issue. Sanctions? War? I hope people do realize that India gets Australian visitors too, and whatever actions the Indian government takes in response to the current news cycle will be reciprocated by the Australian government when an Australian citizen gets molested in India next time.

    As to the Americans, just do a few google searches for “american tourist molested/assaulted/raped in India” (without quotes). Check the results and see if you can find what the American govt’s response was. Let us know if you found it to be hard or unrestrained. Also, check America’s response in the case of American citizens getting jailed in North Korea recently.

    There is no one-size-fits-all response to these things. As Australia is known to have a pretty good legal and justice system, it is best to simply ensure that the law takes its course and that Indian students are briefed on appropriate precautions.

    The media didn’t even pick up the story till recently, even though now they all say that there have been a bazillion attacks in the last 6/12 months. I don’t recall such media outrage when Indians were being regularly assaulted (some even murdered) in Russia. Why? Is it because they didn’t have rich enough parents, or because Russia is/was too much of a “friend”?

    Incidentally, Melbourne has a very diverse, multi-ethnic population, and a Chinese-origin Australian (John So) served as the first directly-elected Mayor between 2001-2008 (two terms). No need to go overboard with the “racism” meme.

  6. “Australia is not a racist country. ”

    I am sure the aboriginals will disagree.

    Anyway, the response of official Australia doesn’t inspire confidence. Just because a few say it’s wrong, doesn’t mean anything. One can see Australian players attitude in cricket too. It’s only when rubber meets the road, we’ll know what the make up is – most bikes look good in the show room.

  7. @chandra,

    There is no doubt that Australia was a racist country. Just as the US and many others were. What matters is that it is not a racist country now. There is no sense in pointing to the past of a reformed country or person. Behavior of the cricket team is not a true indicator of Australian society.

    But we are getting into the wrong debate. I don’t think the Australian authorities were serious about protecting foreign students until now. Democracies always need a controversy to effect change.

    Where I don’t agree with Nitin is on where India should draw the line. I think it should back our boys regardless of accusations. Such an approach will make foreign authorities a lot more careful in handling Indian nationals.

  8. @ Udayan

    I think it should back our boys regardless of accusations. Such an approach will make foreign authorities a lot more careful in handling Indian nationals.

    It is not clear to me why such a policy is always desirable from a realist perspective. Consider a counter-example: Negotiations for sale of Australian uranium are on, behind the scenes, and a deal is in sight. Given the potential benefits of such a deal to a much larger population in India, it may perhaps make sense for India not to make a lot of noise about some Indian students getting attacked. So a public observer who doesn’t know about the negotiations would perceive a ‘weak’ response.

    In essence: if we don’t know enough about what’s going on behind the scenes, so it’s not a good idea to make policy prescriptions with such partial information.

    Ultimately, Australia needs Indian students, as they need Australia. They’ll figure things out.

  9. I don’t understand how some racist attacks in a country of millions of people demonstrate that an entire country is racist.

    In fact look at how non-racist the country is. It has brought in so many refugees and immigrants from around the world. Would a racist country be so generous?

    Look at the fast response of the police and government once the problem was clearly stated.

    There are minorities in all aspects of Australia’s upper echelons. Many of the top politicians are of Lebanese origin. The Prime Minister’s daughter is married to a Chinese man. The list goes on.

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