Indian students in Australia rally to protest attacks

By Neena Bhandari, IANS,

Sydney : About 200 Indian students and their supporters marched from the Town Hall to Hyde Park in Sydney to protest against the wave of allegedly racist attacks targeting them, which have created outrage back home, threatening Australia’s $16 billion education export industry.

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Carrying the Indian tricolour and chanting slogans, students rallied and later related their experiences of being robbed and assaulted.

They demanded action from authorities after what some insist are racial attacks. They also called for swift police action to bring perpetrators of crime to justice.

“Now we can stand together, domestic and international students – all together, to try and get an education that’s not based on exploitation, on racism, on violence and discrimination,” Rashmi Kumar, president of the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, told the rally.

Navjot Singh, overseas student and part-time taxi-driver, related how he was recently slashed in the face, saying police were powerless to deal with the violence.

Prashant Venuvadi from Hyderabad, who has just completed a diploma in business management from the International Institute of Business and Information Technology here, told IANS: “I was robbed and punched while walking home from suburban Campsie station past midnight after work. The police van was standing right there, but when I approached them, they asked me to go and file a complaint at the police station. They didn’t help.”

The students are demanding Australia’s education and immigration policy be overhauled to provide proper protection for overseas students.

“For too long, the education sector and the government have treated international students like cash cows, not like human beings,” National Union of Students president David Barrow was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

Most overseas students can only afford to live in far away suburbs, thereby compelled to travel on public transport late at night after work.

“We become victims of drug addicts and drunk people seeking petty cash, especially on weekends,” says Karan Bir from Moga district in Punjab, who has done an 18-month commercial cookery course from the Carrick Institute of Education in Sydney.

He would like to get a permanent residence visa, work here for some years to repay his bank loan, and return home.

The rally follows a massive demonstration last weekend in Melbourne, where there has been a spate of assaults, including stabbings, in the past year.

The Australian government has set up a task force under National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis to coordinate its response to the spate of attacks on Indian students in the country.

There have been at least 10 attacks on Indian students in the past one month. The latest came when a car belonging to an Indian student was torched in Melbourne Saturday night by suspected drug addicts. While police have ruled out a racial motive, the student has said it was a racial attack.

Vikrant Rajesh Ratan, 22, told police that his car and two other cars belonging to Indians in the apartment complex where he lives were burnt by some drug addicts whom he had refused to give money.

“They asked me for money, but I refused them. Next night they burnt my car because of that,” Ratan told a news channel.

He said there were 40 Indians living in his area and “we are all toppers”.

When told that police had ruled out any racial motive, he said: “They (attackers) only picked on my car. It is racially motivated.”

He said the drug addicts had first tried to unlock the car, and being unable to do do, set it on fire using petrol.