Worried India summons Australian envoy over attacks on Indian students


New Delhi/Melbourne : With more attacks being reported on Indian students in Australia Friday, its government assured India that the students would be protected from violence that is perceived to be racist and is leading to growing insecurity among more than 80,000 students.

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Indian students in Melbourne are deeply concerned over the spate of attacks that has left one of them battling for life while another recuperates from a stab injury.

The friends and acquaintances of Sravan Kumar Theerthala, who was attacked with a screwdriver over the weekend, expressed their concern outside The Royal Melbourne Hospital where he is admitted.

“We are not feeling safe basically in Australia, we are not feeling safe at all,” one of them told the Herald Sun.

Another Indian said: “They told us that it is a multicultural country you know, but after living here for three years, I will just say it is a multi-racism country you know.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith rang up his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna and assured him that Indians would be protected from violence.

“Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Francis Smith spoke to me this (Friday) afternoon. He assured me that Indians would be protected from such attacks and the culprits would be brought to justice,” Krishna told reporters in Bangalore.

“Australia is a peace-loving country. I think it is an isolated incident. I told the minister (Smith) to ensure the safety of Indians studying there. Measures are being taken to prevent such racial attacks against our students,” the new foreign minister added.

The latest incident which came to light is of an Indian student Rajesh Kumar who sustained burn injuries after a petrol bomb was thrown into his apartment in Sydney. This incident took the number of such assaults in Australia to four in the past three weeks.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also gave an assurance about the safety of international students.

“I am concerned about any act of violence in the streets and suburbs of Australia’s cities and towns and particularly when we are obviously hosts to students from around the world,” he said on Melbourne radio Friday.

“It is appalling in every sense. Any act of violence, any decent human being just responds with horror at the sorts of attack which have occurred recently.”

In New Delhi, India summoned Australian High Commissioner John McCarthy and urged him to take concrete steps to prevent repetition of such incidents that have cast a shadow over Australia’s reputation as a destination for foreign students.

A day after the attack on Theerthala, an Indian student was stabbed during what appeared to be a robbery. He was in hospital for four days. There were three more attacks in early May, including two on Indian taxi drivers.

N. Ravi, secretary (east) in India’s foreign ministry, met the Australian envoy and sought assurance about the safety of Indian students in Australia.

The envoy assured that the state government of Victoria has taken a number of steps to ensure that these attacks do not take place again.

The envoy, however, differed with the growing perception that these attacks were racist in nature.

“I have not seen the evidence that they were racist, but I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t discount it. Some racism exists in Australia, it’s appalling, we condemn it,” McCarthy told reporters after the meeting.

He added that the Australian police had made several arrests in the attacks.

Australian police officers have said these attacks were not driven by racial hostility, but India’s High Commissioner Sujatha Singh Friday said: “”Our students feel that the attacks on some of them have been motivated racially”.

“I do not think that Australia is a racist society. However there are certain elements who have attacked these students and some of these attacks have not been opportunistic.”

“They have been motivated by other considerations which is unfortunate because it does not reflect the true face of Australia.

There would be increased patrols around trouble spots in Melbourne to curb these attacks, she said after meeting the police officials in Melbourne.

She said that she has received several e-mails in the past few days asking whether Australia is a safe place to study. “That shows you that many prospective students coming to Australia do have this question on their mind.”

The recent attacks have sparked outrage in India. The Australian government sprang into action with a series of preventive measures after New Delhi mounted pressure on Canberra this week.

Sujatha Singh also met the premier of Victoria John Brumby and discussed safety and security of the Indian community in Victoria, the province of which Melbourne is the capital.

Brumby underlined that violence against the Indian community is “completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated”.