Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Murder Down Under - Where is the data?

The recent spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia has created serious diplomatic tension between the two countries. On one hand, we have the (apparently) hysterical English-language media of India that magnifies every such report. On the other hand, we have the Australian police and media apparently living in denial. Where does the truth lie?

A bit of history first. India and Australia have often had a love-hate relationship. Indian troops fought and died alongside ANZACs during WW2, yet Australia refused to admit Indian immigrants for decades after the conflict, even preferring those from 'white' Italy (against whom they had just fought against). In this context, their recent apology for the 'lost innocents and forgotten Australians' also comes to mind. In recent times, on a less serious note, the Australian and Indian cricket teams have been involved in a few, well-publicised, on-field verbal and legal clashes over the last 3 years. On the other hand, the biggest fans of Australian cricket are probably in India. Steve Waugh the former Australian cricket captain, runs a reputed charity organization in Kolkata, India and is much loved and admired. And of course, after 9/11 and the Patriot act, increasing numbers of Indian students who usually head for the U.S. instead choose to study down under.

Not much statistics is available on what's really going on. In the last year, an estimated 80-100, 000 Indian students studied at universities down under making it a really lucrative business for the Aussies. A total of 105 violent attacks have been documented (some fatal). Today, we had the Indian envoy say that "most of these attacks were opportunistic", even as the Indian government issued a travel warning to students there. At the current rate, slightly more than 1 in 1000 Indian students have been victims. It would be interesting to compare this rate to the overall violent-crime rate there, as well as the rate for a comparable ethnic population (China has a larger number of students there and may be a good candidate). In particular, overall crime rates have been on the increase in Melbourne. Per wikipedia " ... From July 2008 to July 2009 assaults reportedly increased 8.7% in the city of Melbourne, 4.3% in the city of Yarra, 12.5% in the city of Port Phillip 17% in the city of Stonington ... "

At this point, its not clear if these vicious thugs hate Indians (I'm sure that not all Indian students are like Chatur Ramalingam) or just hate everybody they meet. Hopefully, a comprehensive statistical analysis will succeed where denial and hysteria has failed.

Jan 10 update: To be sure, no student deserves to be assaulted, even if you are a Chatur.R.

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