Over the last few days, a series of attacks against Indians in Australia has dominated the headlines. Six Indian, predominantly students, have been attacked in less than a month.
The incidents reportedly left Rajesh Kumar, who was attacked with a petrol bomb in Sydney, with 30% burns, and Sravan Kumar Theerthala, who was attacked with screwdrivers by a group of teenagers in Melbourne, in critical condition.
Although Australia’s universities have attracted over 400,000 foreign students -- about 90,000 of which are Indians -- and is home to more than 200,000 Australians of Indian descent, the country has long held a reputation for being overtly racist. Until as recently as 1973, the Australian government had a White Australia Policy: only white immigrants allowed.
The recent attacks, which have been condemned by everyone from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Indian film icon Amitabh Bachchan, have sparked outrage in India as well as amongst Indian communities around the world. They have also seeded worry amongst Indian students who have accepted a place to study in Australia this year. “Everyone’s been telling me not to go to Australia. My family’s saying not to…I’m leaving only in February so I’m hoping it’ll die down by then,” says Prashan Thiapaiah, a recent graduate of Mallya Aditi International School in Bangalore who is headed to the University of Melbourne in February.
Overseas, Indian students have mobilized themselves in protest against the attacks on community sites like Facebook and Orkut, and over 300 protesters marched from the Royal Melbourne Hospital to Parliament House on May 31st.
However, among all the media hype that is increasingly equating Australia with racism, there are strong dissenting voices: primarily those of young Indians in Australia, and those who have recently returned to India after completing their studies in the world’s smallest continent.
“I am based in Perth, and the scene here is very safe. I have never felt threatened or unwanted during my stay here. I think the media portrays the impression that there is a war against Indians happening in Australia, which it is not. The more publicity you give goons, the more emboldened it makes people… Most of the Australians I’ve met are very politically correct and would not stoop to indulge in such tactics,” says an Indian studying in Australia who has requested we keep his identity anonymous.
“The coverage on the television has to be taken with a little caution and it is quite clearly over the top. While all of us should feel for those who have been victims, I am also certain that we know for a fact that it is unfair to call all Australians racists. It is not even clear that these were definitely racist attacks.” Writes Ravi Lochan Singh in an email to the Australian Alumni Association, an umbrella group consisting of Indian alumni of Australian universities.
To get a comprehensive perspective about how young Indians view the attacks, we talk to three individuals: Nasra Roy, member of the Australian Alumni Association and an alumna of Griffith University in Brisbane; Kaavya Krishnakumar, who is currently doing her PhD in studies at the University of Sydney; and Prashun Thiapaiah who is headed to Australia to begin his undergraduate degree in a few months.