Indian students recall horror of attacks down under

By Murali Krishnan, IANS,

Melbourne : Saurabh Sharma, a 21-year-student of Carrick Institute of Education, one of the largest vocational institutes in this Australian city with a strong Indian contingent, says he is lucky to be alive after being smashed up by a group of five lager louts while returning home last month.

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“I had finished bartending after college and took the train. Two stops before mine, these guys walked in and sat next to me. They asked me for cigarettes first and then money. When I said I did not have either, they began hitting me up,” said the soft-spoken lad from Chandigarh who has taken up a hospitality course, one of the most popular programmes being offered by the 400 vocational colleges in Victoria state.

On that May 9 night, they pummelled him for nearly five minutes before escaping with his backpack that had all his personal belongings, leaving him bleeding. With a fractured cheek bone and broken teeth, he staggered out of the train and was rushed to the hospital where paramedics attended to him.

“The experience has obviously shaken me. I am more careful now of how and when I travel after classes. I do not take on more work as well. I need to get through,” Sharma told IANS here Friday, still undecided if he wants to stay on after finishing his programme.

“There are bad eggs everywhere, it is unfortunate that it had to happen to me,” he said, almost impassively.

Police registered a case and picked up one of the five but Sharma did not get back his belongings.

Police estimate Indians make up 30 percent of robbery victims in Melbourne’s western suburbs, where many of the students live.

Over the last few weeks there have been at least 16 such incidents – a disturbing side to Indian students’ life down under.

Sharma’s colleague Jalwinder Singh, 24, from Karnal in Haryana, was one of those.

Like Sharma and many other Indian students, Singh had to work in the night doing odd jobs at low wages to save money for house rent and food.

The two-year education programme costs nearly $24,000 and most students pay this amount upfront. That is why so many students, especially in the vocational sector, work extra hard to send back money and also earn for their own livelihoods.

On the night of April 29 last year, Singh, who had picked up a driving licence while studying, was driving around looking for passengers in Clifton Hill, four km from the city’s business district.

“It was past midnight. A stocky 40-year-old man hailed me down. After driving him some distance, he told me to stop which I promptly did. When I told him the fare, he reached out for his pocket and I thought it was his wallet,” said Sharma.

Instead, the passenger pulled out a knife and stabbed Singh five times. He does not recall what happened after that but just remembers seeing a pool of blood before passing out.

“A week later I woke up in a hospital and saw my brother beside my bed. After he stayed for a few days with me, my mother came to attend,” he recalled.

His attacker was arrested as the camera in the taxi had captured the sequence of events on that fateful night. It is mandatory for all cabs in the state to install clap cameras. But Singh says the attacker is now reportedly out on bail.

Both Sharma and Singh say they will not forget in a hurry their experiences, which often come to haunt them. Singh in fact is still on medication and attends counselling classes.

“For now, both of us want to finish our courses. It’s going to be tough but we will do it. Aage dekhenge (We will see what happens later),” said Sharma.

The physical assaults have roiled the Indian community here and in India and forced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government to step up protection in suburbs where many of the nearly 100,000 Indian overseas students live.