Nasrin pulled on her long black abaya and pinned her hijab in place. She did it despite knowing that this day, more than ever, her Islamic dress would make her a target.
It was the Tuesday morning after the Sydney siege at the Lindt cafe in Martin Place and Australia had woken to horror headlines of the death of two hostages. While Nasrin grieved for the victims, she also steeled herself for the worst.
As she left her house in the outer Melbourne suburb of Fawkner, she decided that she would remove the password lock from her mobile, to save her a few seconds if she needed to call police.
Sure enough, the mother-of-three would later dial triple zero after a man allegedly began shouting expletives at her as she travelled into the city to work. More than a week later, the police investigation remains ongoing after a 40-year-old Merlynston man was spoken to and released.
Since October, the IT professional says she has been abused three times by strangers who have taken offence to her Islamic dress.
Two of the episodes took place on the Upfield train line during or shortly after the fatal cafe siege. The other was in October, when Nasrin, who wished to use just her first name, said some politicians were advocating banning the burqa in Australia, fuelling anti-Islamic sentiment.
“The government isn’t doing anything to address these issues and I’m an innocent victim of their ignorant bigoted comments by the parliament members,” she said. “We need to hold people accountable from the top.”
There has recently been a surge in reports of violence and harassment against Australian Muslims. In the six days to Tuesday there were 27 reports made to the Islamophobia Register, including at least three in Victoria.
The register’s spokeswoman, Lydia Shelly, suspects there may be many other cases that have gone unreported. She said the majority of public attacks were against women and often in the presence of children.
Victoria Police confirmed that more Muslim people were reporting public assaults. A spokeswoman said it was concerning to hear that incidents of racism, discrimination and crimes motivated by prejudice were occurring.
“All members of Victoria Police take all incidents of racism, discrimination or vilification based on religion, culture or nationality seriously and will be investigated and met with the full force of the law,” she said.
Yet despite this tough rhetoric, Islamic Council of Victoria executive member Monique Toohey said there remained a “pervasive understanding” within the Muslim community that complaints about abuse would not always be taken seriously.
Ms Toohey said although the top ranks of Victoria Police had been excellent in their attempt to address discrimination, she said the message did not always seem to be filtering down to some front-line officers.
Nasrin has reported all her recent incidents of alleged harassment to police, but said officers had often seemed unwilling to pursue them. It was only this week that she discovered the October case had been closed after calling Victoria Police.
“In the past I have heard other women don’t report all these cases because they think it’s a waste of time talking to the police because they don’t do anything,” she said.
Police are still appealing for information about the most-recent assault, when fellow commuters stood up for Nasrin as she was allegedly abused, forming a protective barricade with a bicycle and shouting down her attacker.
But investigators have decided not to pursue claims Nasrin was targeted by a blonde woman as she travelled home from work in the midst of the hostage siege on Monday last week because they found “no offence detected”.
Nasrin said she was reading her prayer book on the train about 6pm when the professionally-dressed woman with a foreign accent started pushing her with her bag and repeatedly yelling at her to “go to Sydney and pray over there”.
“Her facial expression was just aggressive,” she said. “She told me to go back to the Middle East, even though I was not born there. I told her that I am as much an Australian as her and that you cannot abuse me like this, and you cannot harass me like this.”
Nasrin intends to pursue the two dropped cases despite the decision from police. “You can imagine what it would be like to go through the hassle of reporting an incident to the police only to find out that it will just turn into an ‘information only’ case and not a criminal offence,” she said.