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Life not the same for Indian students in Australia

world Updated: Jul 06, 2009 14:38 IST

A change in lifestyle has been the fallout of the attacks against Indian students in the southern winter of 2009 in Australia. They have learnt an important lesson - get home early.

Mir Qasim Ali Khan, 24, the student of a two-year programme in hospitality at the Victoria Institute of Technology, was one unlucky victim.

A fortnight back, while returning home after a haircut near the eastern suburb of Box Hill where he stays with two other Muslim friends, the student from Andhra Pradesh was accosted by two beefy white teenagers.

"They were coming up from the opposite end of the road. It was around 5.30 pm and there were people milling around. Suddenly, they crossed over and came towards me. They landed a few tough punches and fled. It all happened so fast," Khan told IANS.

Lying on his bed with a hairline cheek fracture and seven stitches, he says that he has been visiting the doctor regularly since the attack.

"I was wearing spectacles and in the punch-up, there was damage to my sight. My vision in the right eye is still blurred and I hope it becomes better."

His roommates Anees Modi, a student of design, and Abbas Raza, who is pursuing a diploma in management, are both 25. They admit that they have been shaken by the incident as there had been no provocation for it.

"I have been sledged at sometimes while travelling in trains but have never been hit. Once in a while I have retorted, but that too only when people are around but have always walked away when I sensed trouble," said Modi, who hails from Bangalore.

Some extraordinarily brutal incidents coming so close together have jolted Indian students to action and shocked the authorities.

"After what has happened to Khan we are taking precautions in our lifestyle. We try to get back early and if we have to stay late sometimes we borrow our friend's car or get dropped," said Raza.

In most of the 19 such incidents of students being either attacked in public transport or waylaid near their houses in recent weeks, victims claimed that perpetrators were let off as the liberal Australian juvenile law prohibits the arrest of those below 18 years.

On the other side of the city in Coburg, which is one of Melbourne's oldest suburbs, the friends of Sravan Kumar Theerthala are angry and keeping a close eye on what is happening in his case.

The student from Andhra Pradesh is currently in rehab after being stabbed with a screwdriver by gatecrashers at a party in May end. For almost two weeks after the incident he was in a coma.

"This is not the best of neighbourhoods, but we have to stay here as this is what we can afford," said Anil Gogiveni, a vocational course student.

"We want to be safe and have decided to move in groups after the attacks if we have to come back home late. Ideally we want to be in early."

"Look, we too can be aggressive and hit back as we can muster the numbers. All of us are from Andhra and we are in strength. But what's the point?" exclaims Swati Kiran, in the midst of his nine friends.

According to the police, there was a huge altercation between the students and two gatecrashers who landed up at Sravan's party.

"I can't remember the exact sequence of events that evening. But when I saw Sravan lying on the ground and bleeding after being chased down by the two white boys, I was angry and knew that he was a victim of a hate crime," says Sreenivas Reddy.

The sense of unease and insecurity among Indian students in Australia persists despite assurances from the government that it will curb the hate crimes.

"If these attacks continue it will have an adverse effect. Australia will suffer more than India if these attacks go unchecked, unpunished and Indian students look elsewhere for higher studies," said Madhukar Acharya, another student.