Indian students fear more attacks

The problems faced by Indian students in Australia brought thousands of students to the streets in June 2009. International, as well as Australian students, were marching against violent attacks against Indians in Melbourne and Sydney.
But it is another international racism row that is dominating the headlines these days. It surrounds the knife murder of 21-year-old Indian university graduate Nitin Garg in Melbourne. Garg was stabbed on January 2nd on his way to work at a restaurant. Additionally, farm labourer Jaspreet Singh (29), was attacked by four men who poured a flammable liquid on him and ignited it in the early hours on January 9th. These attacks have led the Indian government to issue a travel notice, warning its nationals to take extra precautions when travelling to Australia. Never before has such an advisory been issued by an Indian government targeting a developed country, particularly for students.
SM Krishna, India’s External Affairs Minister denounced the murder as a “heinous act against humanity” and she urged the Australian government to act over the “uncivilised and brutal attack on innocent Indians”. Indian newspapers have overcompensated for the lack of in-depth reporting in the Australian media. A cartoon in New Delhi’s English-language Mail Today newspaper depicted an Australian policeman in a Ku Klux Klan outfit saying: “We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime.”
The Indian media and expat community claimed that the attacks were racially motivated, while the Australian government have attempted to downplay the attacks. Australia’s acting Foreign Minister said, “Melbourne is not the only place that deaths happen. They happen in India. They happen in Mumbai. They happen in Delhi. It’s an unfortunate fact of life.”
Activists of the All-India Students Association protested against attacks on Indian students in Australia in front of the Australian Embassy in New Delhi on January 12th. They carried placards that read “Down with Aussie” and “Stop racial attacks”. Official figures state 1,447 people of Indian nationality were victims of crime in Victoria in the 12 months to July 2008.
Educating students from overseas earns Australia $AUS15.5 billion per year, with Indians representing the second-largest source of students. Last year the Australian government sent a delegation to India led by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard to improve bilateral relations. Nevertheless, reports that the number of Indian students studying in Australia is projected to fall by about 20% in 2010. This is the first assessment of the impact of negative publicity over alleged racial violence and exploitation of Indian students last year.
Some critics like Guardian journalist Tim Soutphommasane acknowledge that there are in fact two sides to the story: “The reality is rather messier than either side of the debate might like to concede. Both the Indians and the Australian authorities are right, to some degree.” Also, FISA, the Federation of Indian Students in Australia that stands for “Integrating, Representing and Empowering Indian Students in Australia”, expressed concerns at the manner in which the present crisis is being managed. Mr. Gautam Gupta, FISA spokesmen said, “It is too early to rule in or rule out any cause for the death of Mr. Nitin Garg. We must make an environment that is conducive to let the police do its job in the best way possible.” On the current media hype he comments, “We do not condone or control any action of the media in India or Australia.”
Nevertheless, many Indians remain terrified, as blogger Soutik Biswas writes: “If Australians believe that sections of the Indian media are hyperventilating over the attacks and behaving irresponsibly, Indians believe that there is not enough information coming from the Australian authorities … many Indians I have spoken to find the discourse in the Australian media on the spate of the attacks superficial.”
Other Indian organisations like the Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria plan to hold a media conference in India to say that the murder was not a racist attack. The Association’s president, Vasan Srinivasan said, “To characterise such a criminal act as ‘racist’ inflames unnecessarily community sentiments and fears and presents a totally misrepresented picture of life as it really is in Melbourne. Sadly, on the same evening a young Australian man too, was the victim of a random stabbing.”
Despite the current debate, the problem of racism remains a real one in Australia. In November 2009 Amnesty International issued a report that the “Australian government must end state-sponsored racially discriminatory measures.” Moreover, racial struggles were evident in “White Australia” immigration policies, which limited the immigration of non-white individuals to Australia up until 1985, and also the prevention of citizenship for Aboriginal people until 1973. Only in 2008 Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised to the Indigenous people who were members of the Stolen Generation and their families in Parliament.
It is student demonstrations like those in 2009 and FISA’s activism, which has already called on the Australian government to stop student killings in September 2009, that seek to work against racism in a much more constructive way.
On a way forward Gautam Gupta said, “It is on us, the silent majority that is tolerant and inviting to not let a small minority of bigots and zealots to ruin it for the majority. It is high time that we come together and stand united behind every newly-arrived in Australia and say yes to a ‘fair go for all’.”