Sukhmeet Grewal: Australians Celebrate Arrest Of Indian Man Charged For Anti-Sikh Violence
“The community [was] incredibly happy. It finally felt like the law was working."
April 28, 2021 | 4 min. read
In the early hours of Apr. 18, 2021, New South Wales Police arrested Indian national Vishal Jood for his role in a series of alleged assaults against Sikhs across the western suburbs of Sydney.
He was a key instigator and perpetrator of the violence seen over the past six months, including the most recent attack in Harris Park on February 28, 2021, when Jood, alongside others, allegedly attacked a vehicle carrying four Sikh men resulting in thousands in damages, physical injuries, and psychological trauma.
One of the victims of the Harris Park assault, who chose to remain anonymous, gave 7NEWS Australia a brief glimpse into the malicious attacks.
“They attacked our car with baseball bats and steel rods,” he said. “[Someone] could have [lost] their life.”
In order to better understand the situation within Sydney, Baaz sat down with Haroon Kasim, co-founder of The Humanism Project, and Amar Singh, founder and president of Turbans4Australia.
Kasim tells Baaz that the attacks caught the wider Indian diasporic communities within Sydney by surprise and left them shocked. However, he believes, the recent rise of far-right Hindu nationalist rhetoric played a key part in the violence.
“In around 2013-14, with the advent and proliferation of social media, there was a deliberate attempt to drive a hate narrative by forces foreign to Australia, against minority communities like Sikhs,” Kasim said. “[The surprise] wasn’t that the hate was occurring or that a hate narrative existed and was being pushed, but rather that it culminated in the violent attack we saw.”
Singh explained that the attacks singled out the Sikh community of Sydney, with targeted attacks coming in many forms.
“There was a Tiranga rally carried out into Glenwood,” Singh said. “There’s no other significant landmark in the area, except the Gurudwara, so it was obvious that Sikhs were being targeted”
Furthermore, Singh affirms that the identity of the attacker was made known quite quickly after the first attack. “He was boasting on social media about his crimes, posting under his alias ‘Rahul Jood’.”
However, rather than dividing the community as the assailants may have intended, the wider Indian community remained united against the hateful ideology being perpetrated. Kasim asserted that the Indian diasporic communities will remain united even as some organizations sow seeds of hatred. Kasim said that Hindutva and other far-right organizations are a threat to all diasporic communities.
“It is not conflict within communities, it is hate being driven by a few individuals, backed by hate-filled organisations,” Kasim said. He goes on to say that “Our job as a community is to point out the drivers of hateful ideologies and, in no uncertain terms, say this is not who we are”.
Kasim emphasizes that “Hindutva does not represent the tolerant Hindu community at large and should not be potrayed as such.”
When news of the arrest came, “The community [was] incredibly happy. It finally felt like the law was working,” says Singh. “[The arrest] built faith in the police system and strengthened the relationship between local politicians, the police, and the community.”
Kasim welcomes the arrest but puts forth that “The government and law enforcement officials continue to see this as simply an inter-community issue,”. He states that “The crimes are deliberate, targeted and driven by hateful ideologies...[if they are not] addressed as hate crimes, then we are not addressing the issue at all”
Singh reports that Turbans4Australia met with the NSW Police Hate Crime unit to support the classification of Jood's assaults under Section 93Z of the NSW Crimes ACT 1900, a law that Turbans4Australia, among other community groups, helped enact.
Such laws are essential in the fight against hateful right-wing ideologies, a significant issue facing Australian society in the current moment.
Taegan Westendorf, of The Strategist, articulates that “Australia faces a significant and growing threat from far-right violent extremist groups. By late last year, 30–40 percent of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s counterterrorism caseload involved the far right, up from 10–15 percent before 2016. Yet Australia’s list comprises only Islamic extremist groups.”
Both Singh and Kasim identify the unity and solidarity seen amongst the wider Indian diaspora in support of the Farmers’ Protest.
“We had support from individuals from Gujarat, Haryana, Telangana among many other states during our solidarity rallies,'' Singh said. He goes on to say that “Sikhs were being identified from their participation in pro-farmers protests…[the assailants intended to] instill a level of fear amongst the Sikh population.” he said.
Importantly though, Singh conveys that the community “did not step back, we couldn’t”.
Singh goes on to say that “[The community] decided to take the path of the law and let the authorities handle it, as well as pressuring MPs to do something.”
As part of the Humanism Project and in response to growing far-right Hindu nationalism, the Australian Alliance Against Hate (AAAH) was established. The AAAH signatories include many religious groups, including, Turbans4Australia, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, and Hindus for Human Rights.
Ultimately, Singh adds, bigotry and hate have no place in any functioning democracy.
“As Australians, we stand united with the multicultural society and uphold Australian values. We will not accept hate or bigotry, no matter the origin, whether it be fellow Indians, or if it is other communities. Hate is simply not acceptable,” he said.
Sukhmeet Grewal hails from Melbourne, Australia, and is currently studying to obtain his Masters in Culture and the Creative Industries. He is also the co-founder of “We Sikh Justice”, a Sikh youth collective based in Melbourne focused on education, advocacy, and sewa. You can find him on Twitter at @Sukhmeet_Grewal.
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