The Question of Racism: How to Understand the Violent Attacks on Indian Students in Australia?

Michiel Baas


For the past ten years I have been involved in research on the topic of Indian student-migrants in Australia. What started in India in 2004 with the ostensibly simple questions why there was such a surge in Indian students’ enrolments in Australia, turned into a study which had the question of migration at the heart of its investigation. Realising that the majority of Indian students based their decision for Australia on the relatively easy pathway the country offered towards permanent residency my research focused on understanding how such trajectories from students to migrants took shape. However, as I argued in Imagined Mobility (Anthem Press, 2010), while the propensity to apply for PR may be high, permanently residing in Australia was often not the objective. Instead many Indian students saw a PR as facilitating the start of transnational existence. In this paper I will draw upon a vast collection of newspaper articles as well as ethnographic material collected over this period in order to produce a personalised account of how I, as an academic researcher, observed the discourse about Indian students in Australia ‘migrate’ from them being welcome international students and would-be migrants to unwelcome profiteers whose place in Australian cities was highly contested. Questions I will focus on are: how did the violent attacks and subsequent debate about their racist nature impact the lives and trajectories of Indian student-migrants as starting transnationals; how did they themselves reflect on these attacks especially in relation to them now being ‘permanent residents’; and finally, what role do ‘Indian students’ continue to play in Australia’s skilled migration debate?


International Students; Media Analysis; Racism; Violence; Indian Students; Indian Middle Class

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-03-07 ‘Study highlights loophole in Aust skilled migration program’

-02-08 ‘Cash-strapped foreign students “struggling to survive”’

-06-09 ‘Would-be vigilantes patrolling Melbourne train stations’

-06-09 ‘Retaliation fears grow as students watch their backs’

-05-09 ‘International students target of racist attacks in Newcastle’

-07-09 ‘Police raid migration agent’s offices’

-07-09 ‘Call for greater regulation for migration agents’

The Age

-03-06 ‘More student protests planned’

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-03-07 ‘Call for student visa changes’

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-10-08 ‘Reigning in rogue colleges’

-10-08 ‘“Sham” colleges operating with impunity’ (both in The Age);

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-12-08 ‘Overseas students exploited’

-01-09 ‘Migration fraud “rife” in overseas education’

-04-09 ‘Pressure to rein in “corrupt” colleges’

-02-09 ‘Indians told to keep a low profile’

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-05-09 ‘Unis say they'll still rely on foreign students’ fees’

-05-09 ‘High-risk training colleges face new audit’

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The Australian

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-03-07 ‘Punish dodgy colleges’

-10-08 ‘Licence to fleece’

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-04-09 ‘Dodgy colleges exploit foreign students’

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-06-09 ‘Blind eye to racism’

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The Herald Sun

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Hindustan Times

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Indian Voice

Oct. 2005 ‘It's not easy being a taxi driver’

Nov. 2005 ‘It's not fun being a taxi driver. Racist remarks/abuses’

Dec. 2005 ‘Late Night Surcharge: Is it 20% or …?’

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Radio Australia

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Sydney Morning Herald

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-06-09 ‘Indian students want concession cards’

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Times of India

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