Australian government assures safety after attacks on Indian students (Lead)

May 28th, 2009 - 7:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Melbourne/New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) A series of attacks on Indian students in Australia - one of which left a student battling for life - has led to outrage in India and an assurance of safety by the Australian government. Two teenagers were arrested Thursday for badly beating an Indian student on a train.
Three attacks on Indian students have taken place in quick succession, with the first incident being reported May 9 while the most recent took place Monday.

Sravan Kumar Theerthala, a 25-year-old Indian student who was assaulted Sunday in Melbourne along with three other students, is battling for his life in intensive care unit in a hospital.

Theerthala, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, went to Melbourne to study two years ago.

The attackers allegedly hurled racist abuses at Indian students and hit them with a screwdriver.

Another Indian student Baljinder Singh was robbed and stabbed in Melbourne Monday.

Singh had left a railway station when two men carrying weapons approached him and demanded money. As he searched through his bag to hand over his wallet he was stabbed in the abdomen, Herald Sun reported.

“They just laughed when they stabbed me in the stomach. They laughed at me…I was screaming ‘don’t kill me, don’t kill me’.

“Now there are lots of attacks. You can see that in the western suburbs,” he said.

Australian police Thursday arrested two teenagers over the beating of yet another Indian student on a Melbourne train.

Sourabh Sharma, 21, was beaten by a group of young men as he travelled on a train May 9, Herald Sun reported.

Sharma suffered a fractured cheek bone and a broken tooth in the attack, which was captured on closed circuit television cameras.

He said he was also racially abused and robbed during the attack.

In the wake of the attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, an Australian police officer is also planning to travel to India to give safety strategy tips to prospective students on avoiding street violence in Australia, media reports in Australia said.

“I want to send a message loud and clear that international students are very welcome in this nation and Australia will not tolerate discrimination against or victimisation of any of our international students,” Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education Julia Gillard said in a statement in Australian parliament.

The minister also unveiled the plan to hold a round-table of international student representatives to discuss with government issues affecting their study experience.

“The government will invite international student representatives to participate in a round table to discuss issues affecting their study experience such as accommodation, welfare and safety. With over 430,000 international students visiting Australia annually, it is important to me that their views and concerns are heard and addressed by government,” she said.

“As foreign minister, I’m appalled by these attacks and I condemn them absolutely. Australia takes very seriously its reputation as a safe destination for Indian students. Action is being taken.”

Australian High Commissioner to India John McCarthy underscored efforts by the Australian government to ensure safety of Indian students.

“The top level of the Australian government is seized of this matter (attack on Indian students) and working very hard to ensure the safety and well-being of Indian students in Australia,” he said.

“We will do our utmost to ensure Indian students continue to enjoy a positive experience in Australia,” he said.

The Australian government has launched a hotline, staffed by volunteers who are fluent in English and Hindi to provide support, information and advice to Indian students.

The Australian government was responding to strong condemnation of the attack on Indian students by India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

“I have been appalled by the attack on our students in Melbourne,” Krishna had said Wednesday.

“Our high Commissioner in Canberra has rushed to Melbourne to take stock of the situation and to ensure that the student who has been seriously injured receives the best possible treatment and that the authorities ensure that the culprits are brought to book,” he further said

There is some confusion over whether the attack was racially motivated.

Andrew Holloway, Victoria University’s vice-president for international students, has been quoted as saying that the attacks were not racist, but reflect the fact that Indian students often have part-time jobs and hence have to use public transport late at night.

Representatives of Indian students in Australia met Indian High Commissioner to Australia Sujatha Singh Thursday.

Incidents like these are set to affect the popularity of Australia as an education destination for Indian students.

According to Australian Education International, the enrolment of Indian students in Australian universities showed an increase of 38.9 percent from last year as on March 2009, when Australian universities had 75,000 Indian students enrolled in various courses.

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