Shaken by a spate of assaults, thousands of Indian students on Sunday held a protest march in Melbourne on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament.
Holding placards such as ‘Racism Down Under,’ ‘We are economy builders’ and ‘United Colours of Australia,’ the march, organised by the Federation of Indian Students in Australia, wanted to draw attention of the Australian and Victorian governments to the security of Indian students in Melbourne.
There are close to 95,000 Indian students studying in Australia. Of these nearly 50 per cent study in Victoria province, where the capital city, Melbourne, has been the centre of the latest attacks.
The march began from outside the Royal Melbourne hospital, where stabbing victim Sravan Kumar Theerthala is fighting for his life and moved to the central business district.
“We (Indians) won’t ask for conflict but that doesn’t mean we are soft targets,” Karan Gupta, 29, told protestors outside the Parliament.
“I urge the Victorian police to stop acting impotent. If they don’t we will get together here again,” warned former international student, Sanjay Gill, 30.
Tim Lawrence Singh, a local Melbourne councillor whose father was an international Indian student 60 years ago said Indian students face many challenges, in addition to security.
“I’m getting flooded with complaints from Indian students and workers about underpayment of wages, as low as $3/hr when the federal minimum is $14/hr,” he said.
“On top of that, the police neglect racist violence,” he added.
In India, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vyalar Ravi said Australian universities tempt students with advertisements, inviting students for lucrative courses with assurances of employment there.
“Our students are drawn towards such tempting advertisements and go to Australia either on loans or on the basis of their parents’ hard-earned money. Why should they be attacked when they are going there legally and have a good track record in dignified living?” Ravi said.
The march attracted not just Indian students but a number of Australian student groups who came to express their outrage at the perceived racist attacks.
Andrew Mellody, a 24-year-old Melbourne graduate said he came to the march to change the international image of Australians, in the light of the attacks.
“With Australia’s history being such a horrible one, immigration is a massive part of our history.... I’m here to state that it’s not okay for this to happen,” he said.
FISA’s representatives urged Indian students to inform the police after attacks assuring them that “this will not have any impact on your permanent residency application.” (With inputs from Nagendar Sharma in New Delhi)