The three successive attacks in less than three weeks on Indian students in Melbourne are shocking. Australia has become one of the most favoured destinations for overseas students but the attacks which smack of traces of racism reflects on its society and the government. The deplorable incident which has seen six Indian students being murderously attacked in 18 days, one of whom is battling for his life, has evoked outrage in New Delhi leading the External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to strongly condemn the attacks even as the Australian government has assured India that it would not tolerate discrimination against any international student.
The current series of attacks is not the first. For the last two years, there has been a steady increase in attacks on the Indian student community in Melbourne. Most of these incidents have gone unreported and the Victorian police has done precious little to do something about it even though the Indian Consulate in Melbourne and the High Commission in Canbarra have repeatedly been raising this matter with the Australian authorities. There are about 98,000 Indian students in Australia of which 47,000 are in Melbourne alone making it the second largest grouping of foreign students in this Australian metropolis. Most Indian students enroll in Australian educational institutions with the intention of settling there with an attractive job. Many Indian students, however, end up driving taxis and working at night as cleaners, in take away joints and petrol pumps mainly to pay for their studies. Thus students returning to their homes in not so safe suburbs that are relatively cheap on rent present vulnerable and soft targets to drug addicts, drunks and rowdy elements.The attacks have been due a mix of racism and opportunism. But there is still the question of why Indians are being selectively targeted and that too mostly only in Melbourne. Education contribution to Victoria economy, most of it by foreign students, was estimated at $ 4.5 billion last year alone. This year enrolment of Indian students has increased by 40 percent. Surely both the Australian and the Victorian government need to do more than issue condemnatory statements. Else, such attacks may have repercussions with that country being labeled unsafe for Indian students who may start looking elsewhere for studies abroad. At stake also in Australia image as a democratic country, free from racial prejudice.