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Enraged Indian students rally in Melbourne

May 31, 2009 15:05 IST

Shaken by a wave of racial assaults, thousands of Indian students chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai rallied on Sunday  in Melbourne demanding justice for victims of recent attacks as Australia scrambled to contain the rising anger and frustration within the community.
    
The 'peace rally' organised by bodies like Federation of Indian Students in Australia and National Union of Students kicked off from outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where 25-year-old Shravan Kumar is in a critical condition after being stabbed with a screwdriver by a group of teens.
    
Kumar, who had slipped into coma after being stabbed, was "out of danger", but still critical, said a leading community member who visited him at the hospital.
    
"He (Kumar) has come out of coma and moved his hands," said T J Rao, also a former Consul General of India in Melbourne who too participated in the rally. "Kumar is out of life support, but doctors are still not very sure about his full recovery," he told PTI.
   
The marchers numbering over 5,000 walked down to the Victorian Parliament House on Spring street, holding placards with slogans like 'We want Justice', 'We are the Economy Builders' and 'End Racist Attacks'. They also chanted 'Bharat
Mata Ki Jai'. 
    

FISA founder Gautam Gupta, who led the rally, said "we believe in 'Gandhigiri'" and peaceful ways to present the demands of the student community. The students had hoped to hand over their demands' list to the lawmakers, but it could not be materialised.
    
Their demands included a multicultural police force for Victoria, which houses 47,000 of the 95,000 Indian student community in Australia. They also demanded that crime statistics be made public and sought racial tolerance and awareness, and advertising campaign to welcome international students, highlighting their contribution to the Australian
economy.
    
Facing flak over the spate of racial assaults, Australia overnment said it was doing everything it can to prevent further attacks on the community.
    
"We're doing everything that we can, both with the Indian community in Australia and India itself ... but also working very closely with the relevant state authorities," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was quoted as saying by AAP. He assured the community that the Australian authorities are trying to bring the attackers to justice and ensure a safe
environment for all international students.
    
Apart from Shravan Kumar, the Indian students attacked recently included Baljinder Singh, who has been discharged
from hospital after being stabbed by two attackers, and Rajesh Kumar, who suffered 30 per cent burns after a petrol bomb was hurled at him in his home in Sydney.

John McCarthy, Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi, said "we should cooperate to ensure that incidents of atrocities don't occur." "We should ensure Indian students are well-informed about Australia which is generally a very safe country. We are proud of our record as a multi-cultural country," he told NDTV

"We abhor racism and we are going to maintain a policy to make sure that Melbourne and other cities remain safe for all foreign students," McCarthy said, adding additional police had been deployed to protest the areas in question. He said the Australian government was determined to ensure that such incidents did not take place again. "Any country in the world has an amount of racism. We think, however, that our record is a good one. we have about 200 different nationalities in Australia. To be a tolerant country, to be able to handle different races, that's what we are about. But like anywhere in the world we have to manage racism - we have laws against it," McCarthy said.

Natasha Chaku in Melbourne
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