Enraged Indian students rally in Melbourne demanding justice
Shaken by a wave of racial assaults, thousands of Indian students chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai on Sunday rallied in Melbourne demanding justice for victims of recent attacks as Australia scrambled to contain the rising anger and frustration within the community.
The 'peace rally' organised by bodies like Federation of Indian Students in Australia (FISA) and National Union of Students kicked off from outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where 25-year-old Shravan Kumar is in a critical condition after being stabbed with a screwdriver by a group of teens on Sunday last.
Kumar, who had slipped into coma after being stabbed, was "out of danger", but still critical, said a leading community member who visited him at the hospital.
"He (Kumar) has come out of coma and moved his hands," said TJ Rao, also a former Consul General of India in Melbourne who too participated in the rally. "Kumar is out of life support, but doctors are still not very sure about his full recovery," he told PTI.
The marchers numbering over 5,000 walked down to the Victorian Parliament House on Spring street, holding placards with slogans like 'We want Justice', 'We are the Economy Builders' and 'End Racist Attacks'. They also chanted 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'.
FISA founder Gautam Gupta, who led the rally, said "we believe in 'Gandhigiri'" and peaceful ways to present the demands of the student community.
The students had hoped to hand over their demands' list to the lawmakers, but it could not be materialised.
Their demands included a multicultural police force for Victoria, which houses 47,000 of the 95,000 Indian student community in Australia. They also demanded that crime statistics be made public and sought racial tolerance and awareness, and advertising campaign to welcome international students, highlighting their contribution to the Australian economy.
Facing flak over the spate of racial assaults, Australia government said it was doing everything it can to prevent further attacks on the community.
"We're doing everything that we can, both with the Indian community in Australia and India itself ... But also working very closely with the relevant state authorities," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was quoted as saying by AAP.
He assured the community that the Australian authorities are trying to bring the attackers to justice and ensure a safe environment for all international students.
Apart from Shravan Kumar, the Indian students attacked recently included Baljinder Singh, who has been discharged from hospital after being stabbed by two attackers, and Rajesh Kumar, who suffered 30 per cent burns after a petrol bomb was hurled at him in his home in Sydney.
In a bid to assuage the feelings of the Indian community here, Australia's first Asia-born Cabinet minister said that racism in this country was confined to "a minority of people" with extreme views.
"On the whole I think Australians are tolerant," Malaysia-born Penny Wong, Federal Climate Change Minister, was quoted as saying by AAP. "It is a minority of people in Australia who hold those sort of extreme and intolerant views."
FISA leader Gupta said the massive rally of the students proved that they were not "soft targets" and the situation may get out of hands if the community was attacked again.
Gupta expressed confidence that the Australian government would take some action now and punish the perpetrators of the attacks.
Some leading community members, including Australian Telco company Iprimus CEO Ravi Bhatia, also participated in the rally, apart from the state opposition leader Ted Baillieu.
State police personnel in large number were deputed to maintain law and order during the event, which went off peacefully. Traffic was diverted from Spring street, which was blocked for vehicles, during the rally which ended with a candle light vigil.
According to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), there were three arrests during the event. However it did not elaborate.
India's Consul General in Melbourne Anita Nayar said she had "no official confirmation" on the arrests. "There were apparently two rallies, one was a 'peace rally' that took off from Royal Melbourne Hospital to Parliament that was later dispersed and other was at Federation Square that remained there," she said.
FISA yesterday said the peace rally was being organised in response to the growing anger in the Indian community against increasing hate crimes.
"The purpose is to create awareness about an increasing number of hate crimes within the state (of Victoria) and to promote racial harmony and peace," FISA had said in a statement.