Thursday, March 4, 2021

After Billu's shooting, security concerns yet again in Harris Park

Reading Time: 4 minutesCommunity gets behind Billu’s after shooting incident

Photo: ABC News, Deborah Rice

Three days before the shooting incident at Billu’s, I walked out of a Harris Park Indian restaurant at about 10.30pm, having caught up with friends over a leisurely meal. A loud commotion was heard at the roundabout of Wigram and Marion Streets. Some 20 young people seemed immersed in a loud skirmish that sounded too aggressive to be regular Saturday night revelry. As I hurried to the shelter of a friend’s car, I must admit, I didn’t feel particularly safe.
I wonder what the diners felt the following Tuesday evening, 25 August, as a single shot was fired into the walls of the restaurant where they ate.
And so Harris Park has made the news again, after that traumatic night in June 2009 when tension between students and police spilled out on Wigram St.
Of course, a few security incidents have happened in the interim, but this time around, the community in and around the area are raising questions and speaking up for their safety.
Community groups gathered at Wigram St on Wednesday night to offer support to the restaurateur and speak to the authorities.
“We wanted to show solidarity to Billu Singh,” Aruna Chandrala, an Indian community leader, told Indian Link. “We meet there frequently to hold our meetings, whether for the Sub-Continent Friends of Labor or for the United Indian Associations. As well, it’s a popular spot for the community and those in the area. Billu was pretty shook up and it was our way of supporting a community member.”
Moninder Singh, who was also present at the dinner at Billu’s, said on Indian Link Radio, “We wanted to send the message out that it’s safe to come out here. It turned out to be a regular week night at Wigram Street. It was business as usual.”
But clearly, it was not a one-off incident.
Shots were fired near the same restaurant in April this year, and again at another business in the vicinity. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Police investigations on this latest incident are ongoing.

Ketan Patel who runs the Shree Pan Bhandar adjacent to the targeted restaurant, told Indian Link that they questioned his staffer Virender who was at the spot when the incident took place.
“Virender says he saw the man, in his light blue hoodie. He did not exactly see him raise his weapon as he was serving customers, but he heard what he thought was a vehicle backfiring. Soon after, the restaurant staff came out and began asking questions. It was then they discovered the shattered glass.”
It is alarming that such an incident can take place on a quiet midweek evening.
“You can’t have a gunman shoot randomly and walk off,” Chandrala said.
The community is abuzz with questions: was the perpetrator from within our community? Was the incident terror related?  Was it business rivalry? Personal enmity?
Or was it “hafta”-related, as one commentator, Yadu Singh of the Federation of Indian Associations of NSW, has claimed, using a term that even got on to ABC news, followed by a full definition.
Joyti Tuli of Tuli’s Jewellers on Marion Street, has been operating in the area for nearly eight years now.
“I haven’t heard of any ‘hafta’ activity,” she told Indian Link. “But there have been murmurings of some underhand activities, something fishy… who knows what to believe?”
Chandrala had a similar comment. “I have not heard that term in my discussions, but it has been mentioned that there are gangs in action trying to show dominance.”
At this point in time police are suggesting this was a directed, rather than random, attack.
Community turns up to support Billu (Photo courtesy Aruna Chandrala)

Ejaz Khan, the vice-president of the Harris Park Chamber of Commerce, has gone on record to state that he believes there are criminal gangs working in the area, and has called for police action to flush these elements out to allow businesses in the area to function peacefully.
“Security has always been an issue in the area,” Chandrala observed. “Something needs to be done before another incident happens this year, or before someone gets hurt.”
There are some hundred businesses in the Harris Park area, and the security concerns extend not only to them and their staff but also the clients that visit. The Prabha Arun Kumar case, not yet solved, is only too fresh in our memory. That perpetrator is still walking the streets, as is the gunman from the Tuesday incident. Police have indicated a 19-year-old male suspect in the first Harris Park shooting is currently before the courts on a firearms offence.

And while Joyti Tuli agrees that “we could be targeted as well”, the healer inside her comes to the fore as she notes, “We are all good neighbours here. It’s a big hub of commercial activity, not just Indian: we’ve all worked hard and invested our monies here. We want to grow and contribute to society. But we also want to feel safe, and have the larger community feeling safe.”
Perhaps it’s time for businesses in the area to band together and sort out the issue as one, like they did once before when they sorted out the parking meter issue with local council. The wider Indian community across the city will stand behind them.
Moninder Singh, who played a significant role in bringing harmony back to Harris Park in 2009, has the last word yet again in his characteristic let’s-find-solutions style: “We must be supporting of the targeted business, and others in the area. We must also help the police in cracking this case – if anyone out there has any leads, do come forward.”
Police are urging anyone with information in relation to these incidents to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000

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Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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