Thousands of Indian students protest attacks in Australia (Second Lead) (With Images)

May 31st, 2009 - 6:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Melbourne, May 31 (IANS) Thousands of slogan-shouting Indian students, joined by many from other countries, massed here Sunday to protest a spate of racially motivated attacks on them in Australia.
Chanting slogans against the Australian government and the police for failing to protect them, the Indian students gathered at the Federation Square in the heart of the city.

They then marched towards the parliament house, three kilometres away, filling up entire streets. Many carried hand-written placards while others kept shouting slogans against the Australian authorities.

Gautam Gupta, president of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA), which organised the demonstration, described as racist the attacks on young Indians studying in this country.

“We have told the police that these are racist attacks. The students have told us that the police told them not to speak in their native languages while using public transport,” he said. “Now that is clearly racist.”

Marching along with the Indians were hundreds of Australian students as well as those from other countries. Many members of the Indian community from Melbourne and Sydney also joined them.

Sunday’s massive protest follows mounting anger over the audacious attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney that has left one of the students grievously injured after assailants stabbed him in the head with a screwdriver.

Thiruvallam Bhasi, editor of Indian Student, a Melbourne magazine, told IANS that close to 15,000 Indian students took part in the protest, “certainly the biggest rally by the Indian community so far”.

“The atmosphere became tense when mounted police on horseback rounded up the protesters. Had not senior officials arrived to cool down tempers, it could have turned violent. But since better sense prevailed, matters were brought under control,” said Bhasi, who was at the protest site.

“Students of other nationalities expressed full support against the gruesome attacks on Indians. In Melbourne itself there are close to 48,000 Indian students in various colleges,” said Bhasi.

The Melbourne University’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) also lent support to the protest march, which began at 12 noon and continued beyond 5 p.m.

It halted traffic in the main central place of Melbourne. Leaders from the Liberal Party addressed the protest march.

GSA president Paul Coats called on the Australian government to immediately implement a policy aimed at curbing the “growing culture of racial intolerance”.

“I am opposed to calls for more police as it appears that the police have been part of the problem… They blame Indian students for ‘making themselves targets’ rather than blaming the climate of racism in Australia and racist governments that exploit Indian international students through the commodification of education,” Coats told the Herald Sun.

“The purpose (of the protest) is to create awareness about an increasing number of hate crimes within the state and to promote racial harmony and peace,” FISA said.

It urged Australians to support people from different ethnic backgrounds.

There have been four attacks on Indian students in quick succession. The first was reported May 9 and the most recent one a week ago.

Hospitality graduate Rajesh Kumar received 30 percent burns a week ago after a petrol bomb was hurled through the window of his Harris Park home in Sydney.

Three attacks on Indian students took place in Melbourne.

Sravan Kumar Theerthala, 25, was assaulted a week ago with three other students. The attackers allegedly hurled racist abuses at the Indians and hit Theerthala with a screwdriver.

Another Indian student, Baljinder Singh, was robbed and stabbed a week ago. The victim had left a railway station when two men approached him and demanded money. As he searched his bag, he was stabbed in the abdomen.

Sourabh Sharma, 21, was beaten by a group of young men as he travelled on a train May 9. Sharma suffered a fractured cheek bone and a broken tooth in the attack, captured on closed circuit television cameras.

Australian authorities have promised to make Australia a safe place for Indian and other foreign students, but already some Indians have said that the country is not a safe destination for higher studies.

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