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Racial attacks on Indian students in Australia



Racial Attacks on Indian students in Australia

Los Angeles, July 02, 2009
By Inder Singh

During the last few weeks, about 19 students have been beaten or attacked with a screw driver or similar weapon, mostly in Melbourne (Victoria) and some in Sydney (New South Wales). Some attackers allegedly hurled racist abuses which were initially denied by the Victorian police but later confirmed that some of the attacks were "clearly racist". One student has died while another is still in critical condition. The continued violence forced the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner to launch a new sweep against crime in the worst-hit areas in Melbourne, using helicopters, mounted police, dogs and transit police. However, Police Chief’s well meaning action has not brought an end to the random attacks as yet. The latest victim is a 22-year Resham Singh whose attackers tried to remove his turban and cut his hair.

The repeated violent attacks caused major concerns at the highest governmental level. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his deep concern in a telephone call with the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd who later said that he would do "everything possible to maximize security" and step up safety measures for international students.

The attacks on students became a major cause of worry for parents in India. Many students have been pressured by their parents to return to India. Some have preferred safety over education and have decided to quit their studies and go back to join their families in India. Several students from India who had secured admissions have sent their cancellations.

Australia's education industry has boomed in recent years to become the country's third largest export earner after coal and iron ore. According to Forbes, Australia has a $15.5bn business with foreign students. There are over 450,000 international students in Australia enrolled in universities and vocational institutes of which 75,000 students are Indians - the second highest after the Chinese. Indian student enrolments in vocational education and training (VET) have shot up during the last three years. They are widely using admission into vocational courses to gain permanent residency (PR) status. As per the data compiled by the Australian Education International, over 52,000 Indian students are enrolled in these programs, the highest number from any country. The number of Indian students pursuing higher studies in Australian universities has, however, not changed much.

The violence against the students and lack of protection from the law enforcement agencies can affect the popularity of Australia as an education destination for Indian students. The Australian education officials are becoming increasingly concerned at the potential damage the ongoing violence could cause to the third biggest export earner for Australia, after coal and iron ore. Following a wave of savage attacks on Indian students that have caused global outrage, the Australian government has set up a taskforce comprising of senior officials from the department of foreign affairs and trade, the department of education and workplace relations, the department of immigration and citizenship and the attorney-generals' department to deal with the problem. Universities Australia, a body comprising of 38 Australia's universities, has adopted a 10-point action plan for student safety.

The Australian authorities plan to launch a telephone helpline for Indian students facing discrimination and violence. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, with the help of Indian missions, is planning to formulate a data bank on the students. Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi said that the data bank would include details on the total number of Indian students in a country, their place of stay and job conditions of the part time employed students, etc.

GOPIO Australia Coordinator Amarinder Walia, GOPIO Regional Vice President Noel Lal and GOPIO chapter presidents Harry Walia and Jagidh Lodhia met Mrs. Sujata Singh, India’s High Commissioner in Canberra and discussed the ways of helping students. They have organized fund raising for Rajesh Kumar who suffered 30% burn wounds in Harris park petrol bomb incident and are also providing legal aid where necessary. They are in communication with the local MP’s, office of the Prime Minister and Premiere of New South Wales and are involved with community confidence building exercises. They are in the process of setting up a GOPIO website to facilitate job network for the students and employers. The website can also be used for reporting incidents which GOPIO volunteers would follow up with the police and authorities.
Australian government has now started measures to control the damage. Australia's secretary of the department of education, employment and workplace relations, was in India in June and met with high ranking officials and Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and assured him that a regulatory mechanism would be in place to ensure proper wage for students engaged in part-time jobs. A high-level delegation comprising of representatives from Australian universities, vocational institutes, state governments, state police and foreign office will reach New Delhi on July 4. The delegation will be led by the head of international education Colin Walters and will do an extensive tour of cities. They will meet state governments, students and parents to reassure them that Australia is really a safe destination for Indian students. This will be the biggest such delegation from Australia, indicating the importance this issue has taken.

Australia had instituted “White only” policy in 1901, at the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Asians and colored races were considered aliens and subject to deportation. After WWII and particularly since the 1970s, immigration to Australia was no longer based on a person’s color, nationality, or creed. A large influx of Indo Fijians migrated to Australia after the coup in Fiji. About 45,000 Anglo-Indians made Australia their home after India gained independence in 1947. According to the High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora, Indian population in Australia in 2001 was 190,000. The current population of NRI/PIO community is estimated at 260,000.

Inder Singh regularly writes and speaks on Indian Diaspora. He is President of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and chairman of Indian American Heritage Foundation. He was president of National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) from 1988-92 and chairman from 1992-96. He was founding president of Federation of Indian Associations in Southern California. He can be reached at