Amit Menghani

It’s the majority who are causing a problem for the minority” – Amit Menghani

The recent attacks on Indian students in Australia has only just come to light. Unknown to many, the assaults have been taking place for some time now but it is only recently, when the harassment has become more bloody and vile, did the world finally see the extent of the persecution. While the Indian Government has finally realized the need to stand up and protect their students, the Australian Government has yet to comprehend the seriousness of the situation. The Federation of Indian Students in Australia (FISA) has taken it upon themselves to advocate on behalf of the victims and demand protection for Indian students in Australia. The President, Amit Menghani has been working around the clock talking to prevalent news channels in hopes that the Australian Government will wake up to the sound of their distress. Amit speaks to Roshni Magazine regarding the tense situation in Australia, the disposition of Indian students in the country and refutes all claims made by local officials.

What is the role of FISA in Australia?
FISA is recognized as a point of reference for Indian students nationally. FISA main aim is to construct an effective and long lasting communication network amongst students who are Indian by pedigree in addition to network all University Unions/Organizations and other like-minded associations, Representative bodies and interested individuals.

FISA organises events to provide a social interaction point for students and acts as a dialogue between other community Representative bodies to provide students a perspective of multicultural Australia.

We believe in Empowering, Representing and Integrating Indian Students. Integration, to unify Indian students in Australia and integrate them with the Australian community at large; Representation, to partner at all levels of the Australian political and social spectrum to represent views and opinions of Indian students; Empowerment, To increase the spiritual, political, social and economic strength of Indian students in Australia.

How does one get involved in FISA?
To get involved with FISA, simply log on to our website and register yourself. And also we have representatives in every university; students can approach them and sign up. There is no charges or fee; its free for all students Indians or non-Indians, everyone can join FISA.

What is your role as the president? How long have you been in this position?
My role as the National President to Represent, Integrate and Empower students. I have been in this position for about 6 months. My task is to look after the student’s issues and talk to the right authorities to make those issues are addressed. As per my role, I also have to give presentation and meet the higher bodies. I tend to meet students on regular bases, to know more about their experiences.

What is your take on the recent attacks on Indian students in Australia?
Well attacks can take place anytime anywhere. Most of the attacks that have taken place were racially motivated which has been accepted by Mr. John Brumby (Minister for Multicultural Affairs) and Mr. Kevin Rudd (Australian Prime Minister). So we think there is lot to be done.  Due to inaction by the government for so long has led to what we see today, students getting bashed and stabbed. Students have started losing confidence in the system due to the inaction. FISA has been raising these issues for a long time now, since its start in 2002. At now that the government has recognized the fact that this is a problem we hope that the solutions will come through.

Would you rule out racism as a reason? If so, then why the sudden urge for locals to attack only Indian students?
We are saying that some of the attacks were racially motivated and both the governments need to take note of that.  The attacks were taking place before as well, the only difference is that before they were not known to the people and now due to the media they are being publicized. Additionally, students are getting more confident in coming out and talking about them.

How did FISA attempt to control the protest and outpour of anger?
We received a lot of help from our volunteers and the other police officials who were leading us the way. We knew there was a growing anger within the Indian student community and we wanted to channelize the anger into something positive so that the government would start taking our voices seriously. Our protest at The Parliament finished at about 2:30 pm which was followed by a candle light vigil for the victims of crime. We succeeded in doing that until the rally was high-jacked by some outer groups who had their own political agendas.

How are the victims who have been hurt by the attacks?
Victims are in a stage where they don't know what they need to do next. They are all confused. People have exams and they don't know if they should go to their university to study for the exam or they should sit back home where they feel they are safer. They are going through a huge problem. They don't have awareness of their surroundings as well.

Do you consider it “dangerous” to study in Australia?
Well, when I came, it was very safe that time. But now there is a need to be more cautious about the surroundings. Roaming around Melbourne at about midnight was safer back then but now we are forced to change that thinking. It’s the majority who are causing a problem for the minority. If the government starts thinking about solutions then we are sure Australia will be safer.

How did, or did the Indian Government help at all to aid Indian national students in Australia?
The Government of India at first was not that helpful but then they started taking things seriously. But we are yet to see some strong outcomes. They have done a brilliant job by coming up with do's and don’ts list which is been distributed in India to the students which as an initial step is good but a lot more needs to be done.

Do you feel they helped enough?
Their help is restricted to certain boundaries yet the help which they have provided to some of the victims, to certain extend is good. If we could see them forcing the government more in terms of safety and educational issues, that would be a good stepping stone to improvement. We feel their help could have been a lot better and considering the fact that the situation was heating up, they could have done a lot more.

And how about Australian officials?
No, we haven't seen them taking any strong steps. All we have been seeing is a blame game which has being going on within the system. First, they talk about not talking in our native language - which is not right and then they talk about strict laws but what we have seen is the attacker of one of the victims who was in coma, was let go after 6 months. They talk about increasing police workforce but still crimes are still happening. They talk about a zero tolerance approach but still people are getting victimized. So, we don't see them doing much from that end. We would like them to take these issues seriously and start talking about the solutions and implementing them rather than blaming students.

News reports indicate that Australian officials attempted to sweep what was going on in Australia under the mat and instead claimed that the victims were simply “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” What is your take?
Well then where is the right place and what is the right time? Why do they blame students, when they aren't doing their job seriously? Why don't they make all the areas safer instead of giving these statements which shows their lack of interest towards the students?

Did they work with you to help ease and soothe the situation?
We have tried working with the authorities. We have given them the list of things they can do to improve the situation, they have accepted the list but we are yet to see the outcomes for it. They have talked about things being implemented but we are yet to see some visible action from their side.

How is the situation now?
The situation is yet the same– attacks are still taking place. From the government’s side, they said they are working on the solutions but we think those are long-term ones. We are asking them to come up with some short-term solutions as well, so that at least students can start feeling safe. At the moment they are scared and confused.

What other newer projects will FISA be partaking in the near future?
FISA is working on couple of new projects. One is the open public forums which will be starting soon. We are also working on the Self-Defense classes for the students. We had a successful Art of Living classes and we will be having more of them.  We will be having Empowerment-Integration workshops as well. We have also collaborated with other businesses and organizations to provide workshops and other related activities for the students.

~ Roshni M.
(August 2009)

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