Melbourne: About 200 Australian police Monday broke up a sit-in protest against violent attacks on Indian students, detaining 18 and drawing accusations of excessive force.
Trouble flared when police moved in to clear the protest in Melbourne’s city centre before the morning rush hour, punching and dragging away individual protesters, according to activists.
Several hundred students protested overnight to draw attention to “curry bashings” — alleged racial violence against Indians which has left one victim in a coma and strained relations with New Delhi.
“There was definitely an amount of excessive force by Victoria police,” protester Yogesh Malhotra told ABC radio.
“Six (police) to one guy who was sitting down peacefully, who was punched and dragged.”
Victoria police commissioner Simon Overland said using force was justified because the protesters had ignored a final order to leave a busy street.
“There were blows, as I said because arms had been linked, and there was a lot of resistance going on,” he told reporters.
“If someone inadvertently got hit in the mouth and got injured I regret that, but that came about on the part of the actions of the demonstrators after they’d been given every opportunity to leave the area.”
The students were demanding action after more than 70 assaults on their peers in a year in Melbourne, including at least four in the past fortnight, attracting prominent coverage in newspapers here and in India.
The issue has tested diplomatic ties between Canberra and New Delhi, as well as leading to Australia being labelled racist in the Indian media, which coined the term “curry bashings.”
Police say that 30% of assaults in Melbourne’s western suburbs are against Indians, a grossly disproportionate figure in a city of almost four million with an Indian student population of less than 50,000.
But they deny any racial element to the attacks, arguing Indian students are often simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as they travel home late with items such as mobile phones and MP3 players.