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At midday on Sunday 1 August, 16 people logged onto a Zoom call organised by Shashank Chakerwarti, a peace commissioner in the city.
The Zoom room was named “Justice for Anjali, Join the Movement”, and as the meeting began, Anjali Sharma retold her story of being attacked by teenagers near the gates to St Stephen’s Green.
One by one, five other people also told stories of similar assaults. People like Sharans Kabra, who said four separate incidents during his three years in Dublin have left him psychologically scarred.
“Mine were more psychologically damaging because these are kids in all the cases,” said Kabra.
A common theme, and one that Chakerwarti says he wants to try to address, was the sense of helplessness and lack of support that those assaulted say they have felt.
Chakerwarti has created a survey for “victims of underage crime”, to gather details of how much victims feel supported, whether an ambulance quickly arrived, and how the Gardaí helped them.
“I’m actually investing my own money because I really want to see justice, so we’re gonna have a gift voucher for people who fill the form,” said Chakerwarti, during the Zoom meeting.
On Medical Care
Between January and June 2020, Gardaí recorded 127 hate crimes and two hate incidents, said a spokesperson for its press office
From January to June 2021, there were 197 reported hate crimes and 41 hate incidents, they said.
A hate crime is any criminal offence motivated by prejudice or hostility against someone’s ethnicity, colour, age, disability or religion, says the An Garda Síochána website.
Sharma says she thinks she was targeted because of who she is. “In the past month, I’m seeing a lot of attacks happening on brown people, like so many, it’s very common for brown people.”
On Monday 19 July, Sharma had gone to St Stephen’s Green to relax after work with friends, she says.
It was about 8.30pm. “After a while, the security came, and they told us that the park is closing,” says Sharma, a recent graduate in cloud computing from Griffith College Dublin.
At the park gates, a group of teenagers came up to them, she says. They punched her friend in the face and grabbed his earphones.
They tugged at her backpack, she says, so she turned around. “Just as I turned around somebody thrown a can of some drink on my right eye.”
Part of the trauma for Sharma and others, though, has been feeling unsupported after the attacks.
Sharma couldn’t see out of the eye and panicked. Two hours later, the ambulance that passersby called hadn’t shown up, she says.
“That was the worst part, that was the point where I thought this is the worst country to be in, and I made a wrong choice to be here,” Sharma says.
She took a bus to St James’ Hospital, she says, where it took five hours for someone to take a look at her bloodshot eye and reassure her that she wasn’t going blind.
A spokesperson for the hospital said it doesn’t comment on individual cases but that emergency room patients are triaged and seen based on clinical priority. “We do our best to see patients as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Response from Gardaí
Sharma didn’t get the support and reassurance she needed from gardaí at Pearse Street Garda Station, either, Sharma says.
Gardaí had arrived at Stephen’s Green on that Monday evening, and spoke to her, she says.
When she went to Pearse Street to follow up, she was rudely told that the guard she had reported the assault to wasn’t working, she says.
But “they were working because I got a call from those guards, and he told me I was working that day”, says Sharma.
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said it takes any crime or any hate incident seriously.
“And incidents reported to us are professionally investigated and victims supported during the criminal justice process,” they said.
On-duty gardaí, who may be trained as Garda diversity officers, attend to such cases, they said. “An Garda Síochána currently has 281 frontline line officers trained as Garda diversity officers, located across the country.”
Pearse Street station has four diversity officers.
Sharma says the Garda National Diversity & Integration Unit called her twice since the incident and asked her to make a formal complaint.
Sambhavi Sudhakar, who wasn’t on the Zoom call on Saturday, says she is well used to being groped or called names in the city. She wants better support for victims, she says.
She was groped recently in Ranelagh by a boy who seemed to be in his early teens and blocked her way and grabbed her buttocks before running off, she says.
Sudhakar says that a garda did follow up when she reported it, emailing her a victim support booklet.
“There are victim of crime support service contact details at the back of the booklet. The booklet is a good source of information surrounding what happens when a crime is reported,” says the email from the garda.
Sudhakar has faced racist catcalls too in Dublin, she says. “I’m cat-called nearly on every street.”
“They assume my nationality from chica to Paki to everything else,” says Sudhakar. “Basically, if you have dark hair and brown skin you could just be from anywhere so people throw all sorts of assumptions.”
At the Zoom meeting, Sharans Kabra told how he had pebbles thrown at him in Monkstown and turned to ask what the kids wanted.
“And he’s like, ‘Yea, Habibi, we’re taking your bike, go back to your country, go back to your country, Ali Baba,’” said Kabra.
“Who are they trying to target? Is it us Indians? Is it Muslims?” he says.
Kabra says the only time he felt supported was when the Gardaí launched its online portal for reporting hate crime on 21 July.
He used it. “I wrote a formal complaint this time for the first time, and they actually contacted [me] and wanted to know more about my incident about three or four days ago,” said Kabra.
The Gardaí have introduced a series of new measures to understand crimes or incidents driven by hate better, said a spokesperson.
That includes introducing “a Hate Related tick box and the mandatory selection of discriminatory motives” on PULSE – the Gardaí’s computer system – in October 2020, they said.
The new online hate-crime reporting portal, the spokesperson said, aims to encourage victims of hate crime who are wary of coming forward to report the incidents.
Those reports are examined by the Garda National Diversity & Integration Unit and Training Unit members, “who will ensure appropriate action is taken to record and respond to reports”, they said.
Sanchi Tayal, who works at a law firm in the city, and also helps migrants with immigration queries, says she often gets messages from Indian Dubliners like herself, who don’t know who to turn to for support.
In recent months, she says, there has been an uptick.
Tayal says she wants the Taoiseach to acknowledge the issue publicly so that migrants know that the government has their backs.
She would like to hear the Taoiseach say the government hears them, and is going to work on it. “So that people at least have a hope,” says Tayal, who says she has been called “Paki” on the streets of Dublin several times.
Sudhakar says she would like to see tangible support rather than empty promises.
Hard to Reach
On Sunday, people who spoke on the Zoom call said the Indian embassy in Dublin does little to help or support its distressed citizens.
Roopesh Panicker, who joined the meeting from his car, said the embassy doesn’t bother answering its 24-hour emergency helpline.
If everybody on the Zoom call were to call the next day, or the day after, they wouldn’t get through, he says. “They will never pick up.”
Sharma says she called them twice the day after she was assaulted near St Stephen’s Green, but no one picked up.
The helpline only covers cases of death, medical emergency and distress, says the Indian embassy’s website.
A spokesperson for the embassy said they were surprised to hear that the “Indian community says the Embassy does not answer its emergency helpline”.
“Embassy has been answering distress calls 24×7, including throughout the pandemic and has helped a large number of community members from all walks of life,” they said.
Medical emergencies means visa-related ones, like when a family member has died or is very sick in India, and someone needs to travel back promptly, they said.
While they take concerns seriously, embassy staff can’t interfere with how Irish authorities do their job, they said. “We cannot intervene in their core jurisdiction.”
Several people on the Zoom call said they believed that the embassy should relay their concerns to Irish authorities and ask them to do better, but they weren’t optimistic that it was doing that.
Sharma, whose eye is still badly bruised, says her friend also got in touch with the embassy. “But he told me that it’s a waste of time. They won’t do anything.”
The spokesperson for the Indian embassy denied getting a call from Sharma on its helpline, saying she’d only emailed them.
“As Embassy was closed on 21.07.2021 on account of Id-ul-Zuha, the Consular Officer called her on 22.07.2021 and advised appropriately about further course of action. An email was also sent to her same day,” they said.
They asked for her PULSE number and a copy of her complaint, and she sent them that, they said.
“Embassy took up her case with the Garda, sharing all the details of the incident, along with her contact details. Ms Anjali was also intimated via email that her case is being taken up with Garda for further necessary action,” the spokesperson said.
The Way Forward
Chakerwarti, who had organised Saturday’s Zoom meeting, says he hopes to work toward building a system where victims are fully supported immediately after an incident.
Sharma, he says, was let down by everyone, and he doesn’t want victims to feel helpless like that.
She nearly lost her eye, he says. “You’re thinking that students are coming here for a brighter future, but what if they can’t even see that future.”
Meanwhile, Sharma has made up her mind, she says. She says she doesn’t plan on staying long in Ireland.