Recurring incidents of violence by individual elements against Indian students in Australia have understandably given rise to concern in India as well as in the Indian student community in Australia about the physical security of the Indian students. This is a matter which needs the well-considered attention of the Australian authorities as well as the Indian diplomatic and consular missions in Australia.
2. While reflecting the concern felt in India over these incidents, sections of our media----particularly the electronic media--- and public opinion moulders unfortunately tend to lose a sense of balance and knowingly or unwittingly demonise the Australian society by projecting it as racist and arrogant. Such projections and a hysterical portrayal of the attacks as racist could prove counter-productive and will not be in the interests of the students themselves. They have gone to Australia for higher studies. During their stay in Australia, they are the guests of the Australian people. They should not allow attacks by individual elements in the Australian society to colour their attitude to the Australian people and authorities and affect the comfort level which has always prevailed between the Indian student community and their Australian hosts. Actions taken by some sections of the Indian student community such as organising huge demonstrations and creating a confrontational situation with the police are unwise and would not help in solving their concerns.
3. Australia is not a racist society today. It treats its foreign immigrants----wherever they are from--- with decency and dignity provided they have immigrated legally. It has been taking strong action against illegal immigrants not because it is racist but because it is worried over the security implications of unchecked illegal immigration ----particularly in the post-9/11 world. There are political organisations and figures in Australia, who demand strong action against illegant immigrants. By doing so, they do not become racists. In our country too, there are growing demands for strong action to stop unchecked illegal immigration of Muslims from Bangladesh. It will be as atrocious to project those opposing illegal immigration from Bangladesh as anti-Islam as it will be to project those opposing illegal immigration into Australia as racist.
4. There is no evidence to show that the attacks on some Indian students in Australia were motivated by racist prejudices. No study has been made of the causes for such attacks. From whatever little details are available, the attacks seem to have been due to feelings of jealousy and resentment arising from economic reasons. I have heard from Indian students in Australia that their university faculties look after the foreign students quite well and help them in getting part-time jobs while pursuing their studies so that they do not have to depend on their parents for pocket money. As a result of the economic melt-down, which has affected Australia too, the number of such part-time jobs available for students has come down. There is an intense competition between Australian and foreign students as well as among foreign students of different nationalities for the declining number of part-time jobs now available. This gives rise to friction in the students' community, which sometimes leads to a violent expression of the resulting jealousy and resentment. Hopefully, this will be a passing phase.
5. In some of our TV debates all sorts of meaningless arguments and unwise threats figure --- some of them coming even from retired bureaucratas, who should know better. One of such threats which one heard recently was: "The Australians should remember that their educational system will collapse if Indian students stop going there." Nothing can be more absurd. Yes, the Australian educational system has benefited from the large number of self-paying Indian students from upper middle class families who have gone there. With nearly 100,000 students from India studying in the Australian higher educational institutions, the Indian students constitute the largest single group of foreign students. But the benefit is not just one way. The Australian educational system has benefitted. So too the Indian students. India too will benefit from the knowledge and skills acquired by them. Many Indian students, who studied in prestigious Australian universities such as the Australian National University of Canberra, have done India proud by shining in whatever jobs they took up anywhere in the world after their education. We should not drop a huge boulder on our own feet by holding out such stupid threats.
6. Yes, the physical security of the students should be a matter of common concern to the authorities of the two countries. How to prevent such incidents has to be considered by the police and university authorities of Australia. The Indian students should discuss with them the measures required for enhanced security and help them in their implementation instead of creating bad blood through actions such as public demonstrations.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (red), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:email@example.com)