Indian government has expressed its concerns over a recent attack on four Indian students in Melbourne, Australia. Even otherwise the state of Victoria seems to be becoming an increasingly unsafe place for Indian students.
Shravan Kumar Theerthala, 25, from Andhra Pradesh in southern India is battling for life in a hospital in Melbourne. He and three of his friends were set upon earlier this week.
"Doctors are still unsure if Kumar will survive and if he does, he will lose his vision or memory," his friend Sinivas Gandhi, said.
Sinivas said the attackers abused them in a party and said they should go back to India. They were hit with a screwdriver by the attackers who apparently were in drunken state. While three were discharged after medical treatment, Theerthala is still fighting for his life.
Theerthala came to Australia two years ago and was a student of automotive engineering at Cambridge International College. Sinivas said, the police had asked them to take care of their own security and even said that they "can't go on protecting each and everyone."
He said they were also asked to change their residence in a bid to protect themselves.
India Wednesday condemned the alleged "racist" attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, and urged the Australian authorities to stop such attacks and punish the attackers.
"I have been appalled by the attack on our students in Melbourne. Our consulate general in Melbourne has been in touch with the students affected and with the state police," External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters.
"We will also impress upon the Australian authorities that such attacks should not be permitted and that it is their responsibility to ensure the well-being and security of our students in Australia," he said.
India's High Commissioner to Australia Sujatha Singh has rushed to Melbourne to ensure that Sravan Kumar Theerthala receives the best possible treatment, said Indian officials.
Police estimate Indians make up 30 percent of robbery victims in Melbourne's western suburbs and set up a community liaison group in January to examine the issue after an armed robbery in a convenience store left an Indian man in a coma, MSN reported.
They have also boosted numbers on a robbery taskforce in Melbourne's western suburbs and are considering sending officers to Indian cities to educate Australia-bound students about how to minimise the risk being attacked.
But police have played down any racial motive for the attacks, saying the Indian students, who often work late shifts to support their studies, were often in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"While Victoria Police acknowledges the Indian community are over-represented as victims, there is no evidence to support Indians are targeted or vilified because of their ethnicity," Inspector Scott Mahony said at the launch of the community liaison group in January.
"Sometimes, it is just a combination of timing and chance.
"A number of offenders are opportunists who take advantage of time, circumstances and opportunity. An example of this is targeting people when they are alone, particularly late at night."
Mahony angered Indian students in February, when he suggested they should not talk loudly in their native language in public or travel around with expensive items such as mp3 players on display.
They noted that the comments implied Indian students brought the attacks upon themselves and accused police of failing to do enough to curb the assaults.
Authorities have also launched a telephone helpline for Indian students who have been the target of a wave of violent attacks in the southern city of Melbourne.
Victoria state police said the helpline, which will have operators who speak both Hindi and English, had been established after consultation with the local Indian community.
Train stations, bus stops, even pavements in and around Melbourne, the Australian city in Victoria which is home to thousands of Indian students, have increasingly turned unsafe with a good number of attacks on migrant youth being reported from the suburbs.
The number of Indian students migrating to Australia has seen a continuous rise and over 35,000 boys and girls arrive in the island country every year as securing admission in most of its universities, including 39 run by the government, is much easier.
"We have been approaching the Victorian government and Australian federal government for assistance. They have till date played a cat-and-mouse game. Even Indian officials have mostly been silent and reluctant to take a decisive stance," said Gautam Gupta, secretary of the Federation of Indian Students in Australia in a letter to overseas Indian affairs minister Vayalar Ravi.
"Most (Indian) students are doing well and feel secure. But a significant number are at the receiving end. This is leading to huge problems, including some students being forced to the edge of the society. We have seen the emergence of Indian students' vigilante groups, an increase in suicides, depression, other health problems and students failing due to extraneous factors," he said.
Gupta told Times of India that FISA has suggested the Indian government to ask every migrating student to contribute a nominal Rs 1,000 towards a "welfare fund". This fund, he said, could be used to establish a resource centre with nodal points across Australia that can be used as safe houses for victims.
"I would advise Indian students to be aware of what they are getting into. Once there, they should get involved with community groups and avoid unsafe suburbs, universities and institutes. Many private agents in India misguide students and the Australian government doesn't monitor the inflow," he said.