The Fury Back Home: Are Indian Students Safe?

“Thank God I’m with an American group,” the young brunette spoke with a sigh of relief.

“Why?” I asked quizzically.

“It’s a bad time to be an Aussie in India. With the attacks on Indians back in Australia. I’d be a little woozy if I were to walk about here (in India) telling everyone I’m an Aussie.” She mouthed between sips of coffee.

A little smile spread on my lips. It was but natural for the mind to suspect a backlash. This is a country where a petty incident, which does not suit the tastes of a certain section, is all it takes for crowds to flog the streets with jingoistic jingles. And here we are talking about our own blood spilt on foreign land, in what is not even a war situation.

Out came students in large numbers, the summer scorch adding to the heat in their blood, wielding banners and launching slogan attacks. The issue found its way into the election mandate of every political party in India which was in the throes of its general elections – to place that hard toned call to Kevin Rudd about ensuring safety to Indian students in Australia. Diplomats from both nations came on air condemning and commenting on the matter. The universal colour of blood again relegated to the backseat with the colour of the skin getting behind the wheel. Across the country (India), T.V news channels panned their cameras on the disturbing image of a young Shravan Kumar on his hospital bed, his head heavily bandaged to plug the wound left behind by a screwdriver. The man was in a coma completely oblivious to the furore his plight had stirred. Even as Aussie cricketers came on camera swearing by Australia’s commitment to the cause of international students and slamming the attacks (and trying to undo the damage caused by the attacks on the reputations of the universities they endorse), the blogosphere went live with blogs springing up on the differential treatment meted out to Indians in the Land of Oz . ‘Curry bashing’ became the cringe factor for every curry-eating Indian worth his curry. Frenzied chills ran down Indian spines back home hearing of incidents where a handful of Indians bore the brunt of bottle and baseball bat attacks by over seventy Australians in a nightclub. The fact that elderly women were involved in the racist attacks proved that it is an emotion which age fails to mellow.

At the other end of the spectrum, we had not so pretty blogs by some Australian students. Their version took a disapproving look at the Indian (more generally ‘Asian’) students’ routines of hurdling in large groups blocking college aisles, reluctance to converse in English or to associate themselves with the local crowd and thronging the sound space with conversations in their loud native tongues. Though most of the blogs only frowned on Indian ‘habits’, some unambiguously brought to light the writers’ ‘not so excited’ outlook of having Indian feet on Australian shores. As a response to these, corpses were dug up in the Indian subcontinent and the instance of a Monty Panesar having been mocked at by a predominantly Aussie crowd for being an odd Indian in the English cricket team was quoted. Every old isolated case of Indians’ cars burnt down and houses burgled was re-reported. A celebrity of the stature of Amitabh Bachchan refused an honorary doctorate from a premier Australian university as a condemnation of the attacks on students. Anxious angry parents were calling back their children studying in Australia in a frenzy. Freshly shipped back Indian teenage students recalled how their Indian friends got outnumbered and roughed up by whites in Australia. On being asked about camaraderie, these teens quickly floated back into a time, not so long ago, recounting their great experiences with Australian friends back at college. Some looked fondly at photographs taken in Australia, that were coloured with smiling faces of whites’ and coloureds’ buddy banter.