Saturday, May 30, 2009

Indians rethink Oz option

“I was screaming, ‘Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me.’”

As the Australian government struggled to calm growing anger in India, a fatigued Baljinder Singh — the third Indian student to be stabbed in a week in the south-eastern Australian city of Melbourne — told Hindustan Times on Saturday that he was “very scared” to leave home.

The 25-year-old hospitality graduate was stabbed in the stomach after handing over his cash to two attackers, who took the money but knifed him anyway.

Singh, who spoke to HT from a small Melbourne flat he shares with three other Indians, is one of 93,000 Indians who contributed Australian $2 billion (Rs 7,500 crore) to the Australian economy in the last financial year.

As Singh recovers, Sravan Kumar Theerthala (25), is fighting for his life, after being stabbed in the head at a party last weekend in Melbourne, where Sourabh Sharma, 21, fractured his cheekbone and broke a tooth after being beaten on a train earlier this month.

In March, HT reported that there have been as many as 60 attacks in Melbourne — a city of 3.9 million, Australia’s second largest — over the past six years on Indian students, who suffered broken bones and required stitches.

The Indian student community in Melbourne, capital of the province of Victoria, was “apprehensive” and the atmosphere “tense” according to Amit Menghani, president of its national student body, the Federation of Indian Students in Australia.

Many Indian students HT spoke to said they were scared.

Pooja Thaker, a Masters student at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, said she was “feeling insecure” about going out, meeting people or using public transport.

Thaker said three of her friends had experienced physical violence, including one who was attacked by a group of men and women while waiting for a tram.

“It makes us think for sure that it’s not safe to live in this country in the future,” said Puneet Gulati, a student in community welfare at a private Melbourne college. “We don’t see ourselves settling down in this country for a long period with our families.”

Gulati said many parents in India were asking their children to return home.

With many cases unreported, former Australian Trade Commissioner in Mumbai, Shabbir Wahid, said the issue was “quite complex”; with Indian student-recruitment agents providing inadequate briefings.

“Students come from a different culture to the one in Melbourne and they have a poor knowledge of the role of authorities,” Wahid said.

The Indian mission is preparing an advisory to inform future Indian students about living, studying and working in Australia, said Indian consul-general Anita Nayar. The advisory will be posted on all relevant websites “as soon as possible”.

Wahid said while Indians have featured “highly in the statistics of assault”, physical violence of the kind that injured Singh, Sharma and Theerthala, “is not restricted to Indians.”

Indian students will march for peace and harmony from the Royal Melbourne Hospital to the Victorian parliament on Sunday.

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