Page last updated at 23:28 GMT, Saturday, 13 June 2009 00:28 UK

Australia's Indian students vow action

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Indian students rally in Melbourne, Australia, 31 May 2009
Australia's South Asian community has promised to continue protests

Indian students in Australia have vowed to fight back against a series of callous attacks they have blamed on racists.

Furious demonstrators have rallied in Sydney and Melbourne, where dozens of assaults have been reported in the past year.

"People got stabbed in their houses, on train stations, on the street and there were petrol bombs thrown on people's cars," said Gautam Gupta, the founder of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia. He accused the authorities of being "too slow" to respond to the violence.

"We have no reason to believe they are not racist attacks," Mr Gupta told the BBC.

"Whenever they are attacking they always use the words 'Indians, go back'," he said.

"It would be insulting to all the good people of Australia to say the country is racist. There are racist elements and we will fight with them."

The federation is organising self-defence classes for worried students and, in at least one case, there has been violent retaliation, where rough justice has been meted out to those suspected of targeting young Indians.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned against vigilante action, and, while deploring the abuse of foreign students, he said it was "equally unacceptable for so-called reprisal attacks".

Diplomatic tension

In Melbourne, home to many of the 90,000 Indians who are studying in Australia, the police will intensify patrols at known trouble-spots, including a dozen train stations.

The retaliation attack got me a bit concerned because something like that can easily spiral into something a lot more serious
Ranjinee Dey, student

Senior commanders have insisted the beefed-up response is driven by crime in general, and not only the muggings and beatings of international students.

Australian authorities have conceded that some of the attacks on Indian expatriates were fuelled by racial prejudice.

But there is an official belief that most are the work of opportunistic criminals preying on easy targets, who often travel alone on public transport after dark.

"I think it would break the heart of any Australian to see an Indian student who has come to this country to get a good education the subject of a violent attack," said Julia Gillard, Australia's Welsh-born deputy prime minister.

Chief of Victoria state police Simon Overland (L) and Raj P Dudeja, the Chief Editor of the Melbourne-based Indian Voice newspaper - 9/6/2009
Indian newspaper editor Raj P Dudeja (R) has praised the police response

The identity, background and motives of alleged assailants remain sketchy. Certainly not all are white, but from a range of ethnic groups, and other foreign students have been victims, not just Indians.

While the debate rages, and the diplomatic stress between Canberra and Delhi continues to simmer, with India calling on Australia to do more to protect its expatriates, the violence shows little sign of abating.

"It is really very bad. Almost every day there is a case where an Indian is being bashed openly and aggressively," said Raj P Dudeja, the chief editor of the Melbourne-based Indian Voice newspaper.

He initially blamed young teenagers but believes more recently a hidden wave of hostility has been perpetrated by racists.

"Some people didn't report these matters with a fear that their names would appear in police records, which might affect their application for migration in the future," added Mr Dudeja, who has praised the response of Victorian police and its newly appointed chief commissioner, Simon Overland.


The spate of attacks, though, has damaged Australia's reputation and there are concerns the country's multi-billion-dollar education business that relies, in large part, on the fees paid by foreigners could suffer as a result.

For many youngsters from overseas, however, the Australian experience is positive and enriching.

"I've never come across any kind of racial discrimination," explained Ranjinee Dey, 25, from Calcutta who is studying for a Masters in organisational psychology in Melbourne.

Indian students rally against racism in Sydney on June 7, 2009
There have been large rallies against racism in Melbourne and Sydney

"One of my aunts [in India] felt that as soon as I stepped out the house someone would be jumping on me and attacking me, which I thought was ridiculous," she told the BBC.

"The retaliation attack got me a bit concerned because something like that can easily spiral into something a lot more serious. It is one violent incident leading to another," she said.

It was a drunken assault on Gautam Gupta on a university campus in Melbourne that led to the creation of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia.

"I was almost in a depression for a year. It took me a very long time to recover and the scars still remain and as a result of that attack we started what is now the federation," he said.

Community groups in Melbourne and Sydney have been working to soothe tensions but there are fears the situation may have reached breaking point and that Indian students will continue their noisy rallies, raising the prospect of further confrontations with those suspected of carrying out racist attacks.

"The level of frustration has gone beyond a manageable limit," Mr Gupta said of the young Indian protesters.

"They are angry. They don't know what else to do. How else can they get their voice heard?"

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