Why do Indians suffer the most discrimination?

Unfortunately the new Mapping Social Cohesion study reported last week doesn’t seem to be online anywhere, though I have been given the summary report.

Though it generally shows that ethnic relations in Australia are reasonably good, it provides further evidence that Indians have come from seemingly nowhere as the subject of racism and discrimination to being the lead victim group.

The Indians and Sri Lankans in the survey, recruited from areas of high ethnic diversity, were the most likely to report discrimination on a monthly basis, with 12% saying this was their experience. By contrast, 7% of Middle Eastern background people and 8% of Chinese or Vietnamese background people reported this frequent discrimination (though not reported by ethnicity, by far the most common forms of discrimination were verbal abuse and ‘made to feel that did not belong’.)

A Saulwick poll in 2004 and the earlier 2007 Scanlon report both found opposition to migration from India at under 2%, much lower than the proportions of people opposing Middle Eastern migration or Asian migration (around 7-8%, though both a little hard to work out because of numerous similar options).

I can’t think of any reason why Indians would suddenly become more discriminated against than less popular groups, which inclines me to the view – put somewhat controversially by Victoria Police – that situational factors explain the differences. Indians seemed to be concentrated in occupations, such as security guards, taxi drivers, and attendants at late-night stories, that expose them to the anti-social elements of Australian society. People in these jobs are more likely to cop abuse than other workers, and if they are obviously from an ethnic minority the abuser may chuck in some racist remarks as well.

11 Responses to “Why do Indians suffer the most discrimination?

  • 1
    davidp
    December 6th, 2009 21:24

    Two possible differences between Indian students and earlier students (esp. from China or Vietnam) are:

    1. (my casual observation) is that Indian students’ English is much better so they may be more go likely to work and socialise in situations that individuals with worse English might be wary of.

    2. If it is the case that a higher proportion of Indian students (than earlier groups) are for non-uni training, their incomes may be on average lower again affecting choices of places to socialise and work (and how much work)…

    These suggestions aren’t based on knowing general data on this so would be interested to know if the assumptions are wrong…

  • 2
    Cathy
    December 6th, 2009 23:42

    I notice that this is based on reported instances of discrimination. Is it possible that some ethnic groups are more likely to report discrimination than others?

  • 3
    Alan Anderson
    December 6th, 2009 23:51

    I think there are also cultural factors at play in some contexts. My experience is that Indian males are more inclined to behave in a very assertive manner than Sinic asian males, who will often withdraw from an embarrassing situation.

  • 4
    conrad
    December 7th, 2009 06:10

    Apart from just jobs that make them more exposed to annoyances, I wonder if they generally live in worse areas also — that certainly seems to be the case from many of the violence stories.

  • 5
    Andrew Norton
    December 7th, 2009 06:24

    There could be aspects of teen or other ethnic minority sub-cultures at play here. The vast majority of people charged with crimes against Indian students have been minors whose cases have been heard in the Children’s Court, where identifying details are suppressed. However the one conviction I have seen reported of an adult was of a Somali refugee.

  • 6
    Yobbo
    December 7th, 2009 06:27

    What Alan says makes sense.

    It’s common in East Asian cultures to avoid confrontation to save face.

    Indians on the other hand do what any other Englishman would do when pissed off – they complain loudly. Especially upper-class Indians who might have never had someone tell them to piss off before.

    The other difference is probably that the people who came from China or Vietnam were already used to being treated like shit by authorities or other people higher than them on the social ladder in their original homes. Despite facing racism in Australia, it’s still a much better situation than it was in their home country.

    On the other hand many of the Indian Students who are studying in Australia were well used to being top of the pops and treated like royalty in their home countries, and understandably get a bit upset when they come over here and rather than being treated with reverence, get abused now and then.

    I’d be interested to see what the Pakistanis interviewed (if there were any) had to say and if it differed from the Indians and Sri Lankans. Presumably they would complain less because they wouldn’t have such high expectations of how people would treat them – muslim Pakistan being much less class-conscious than India.

  • 7
    persephone
    December 7th, 2009 07:34

    I’m with Cathy – the key word is ‘reporting’. It’s a bit like the shock jocks who seize on the ‘increase’ in domestic violence, when what we have is increased reporting of domestic violence. Once upon a time, the victim had no redress and so didn’t bother telling anyone.

    And, like yobbo, I see it as a cultural thing. Apparently, the highest reporting group when it comes to racial discrimination in Australia are the English. Indians – especially educated ones – have inherited a lot of English attitudes and traditions.

  • 8
    Sleetmute
    December 7th, 2009 09:56

    I agree with a lot of the points above. As in other contexts, I think that abusive people are more likely to target people who they think will offer some sort of reaction. If an abuser considers that Indians have better English than other ethnic groups, the abuser might assume he will get more satisfaction from abusing an Indian than, say, a Chinese or Vietnamese. There’s not a lot of fun in abusing someone who doesn’t understand what you’re hurling at them. It’s an extension of the idea that avoiding eye contact with dodgy people is the best way to stay out of trouble.
    Also, in my experience, many Indians still have a post-colonial chip on their shoulder and do not respond kindly to criticism (let alone abuse) from anglos. Add to that the fact that most Indian students in Australia come from (or near) Punjab (Harbhajan Singh’s state) and you get some support for Alan and Yobbo’s thesis. If you’ve ever travelled in India, compare being a tourist in Delhi (which is full of Punjabis) and Mumbai: Mumbai is the more global and unplanned city (the Sydney of India compared to Delhi as the Melbourne), but tourists in general and women in particular get hassled a lot less in Mumbai (putting aside terrorist attacks!).

  • 9
    Fitzroyalty
    December 7th, 2009 15:35

    I would not give too much credit to the abusers. It may be more to do with cultural patterns in Melbourne where different ethnic groups tend to live and the different ethnic and cultural groups that mix in those areas.

  • 10
    Nicholas Gruen
    December 7th, 2009 21:33

    Thanks for the post Andrew. The nastiness towards Indians beats me. Very unfortunate and as you say, surprising. Perhaps your hypothesis is right. I can’t think of any others.

  • 11
    Jason Soon
    December 8th, 2009 06:59

    Bolstering Andrew’s hypothesis, such instances of discrimination are more likely to be encountered by FOBs (fresh off the boats) than the relatively more gentrified and assimilated immigrants of the Indian and Chinese contingent and FOB East Asians tend to find work in areas serving other FOB East Asians. There isn’t anything similar for FOB Indians because there is no India-town comparable to a Chinatown.