Attacks overblown as racist, says India’s first student to Oz

June 2nd, 2009 - 11:07 am ICT by IANS  

By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, June 2 (IANS) The recent attacks on Indian students have been overblown as racist, says the papa of the Indian student community in Australia.

Eighty-two-year-old Gurcharn Sidhu, who in 1951 was one of independent India’s first students to come here under the Colombo Plan, says these attacks are not “overly blatant acts of racism” by Australians.

“Maybe there is some racism, but there are other considerations behind these attacks,” Sidhu told IANS on phone from Sydney.

He said, “Many Indian students tell me they are often attacked by lumpen elements and drug addicts, mostly at night on subway trains. There is nothing systematically racist about these attacks. There are other reasons as well.

“Economically, these are tough times. Jobs are disappearing, and people are frustrated. Some of them might do crazy things,” said the long-time Sydney resident.

During all his years in Australia, he said, he never saw any Indian being assaulted.

“Yes, some people used to target Italians and Greeks with racist comments in the 1950s. That’s all people ever faced even when Australia followed ‘whites-only’ policy.

“There were no blatant racist attacks. Mind you, Australia followed ‘whites-only’ policy at that time,” said Sidhu, who was one of the four Indian agriculture students selected for higher studies in Australia under the Colombo Plan in 1950.

Formulated by a meeting of the Commonwealth foreign ministers in Colombo, the plan aimed to develop education levels of the Asia-Pacific countries.

“I was among the first to be given the scholarship under this plan, and Australia welcomed us in 1951,” said Sidhu later became one of the pioneers of the green revolution in India.

He said India has benefited immensely from educational ties with Australia and a few incidents should not be allowed to sever them.

“Please remember, the green revolution in India was pioneered by scientists educated in Australia. We - the first batch of five -finished our Ph.D. here and returned to Punjab to set up Punjab Agriculture University and usher in the green revolution,” said Sidhu, who returned to Australia in the early 1960s.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at

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