Indians attacked: time for action vs need for calm
Days after accounting graduate Nitin Garg was stabbed to death in Melbourne, the incident has not just triggered anger but also speculation of strained diplomatic ties between India and Australia.
Australian authorities have repeatedly maintained the attacks were not racially motivated, an argument spurned by the Indian press that cited past incidents of a similar nature, targeting mainly Indians on a student visa.
From the point of view of Australian authorities, terming the attacks as racial will have larger ramifications for a country whose economy depends on the international student sector to a great extent.
It is Australia’s third largest export earner, worth A$13 billion ($11.86 billion) in 2007-08.
Once it is branded as a destination where students of ethnic origin are unsafe, the education sector can expect a large loss of revenue which may also spill over on its tourism industry.
Australian newspapers were cautious in their condemnation of the incident.
“Australia must be able to present as a secure environment for visitors who come here. And while our concern ought not be motivated by economic gain, the reality is the dollars involved in higher education and trade training mean it is essential that Indian worries are adequately dealt with.
“However, calm assessment, not hyperbole, is what is needed from both nations at this moment,” The Australian newspaper wrote.
The Indian civil society has been baying for blood, and television debates revolved around the need to see firm action either in form of travel advisories or sanctions that would force Australian authorities to take preventive action to protect the 100,000 Indian students in Australia.
Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna condemned the “brutal attack”.
Both countries have scheduled diplomatic meetings to address the issue. On the streets, people have held candlelight vigils and taken out processions.
Whether the need of the hour demands diplomatic intervention, civil society action or a combination of both, is yet to be decided.
Diplomatic steps might assuage immediate feelings of hurt and anger, but will they ultimately be effective in addressing a malaise which has its roots deep in a society struggling with unemployment during tough economic conditions?
What do both states need to do about stemming the rot which India insists is racial discrimination?
Whether the attacks are racial or criminal, the motivating factor behind it, analysts feel, is the growing unacceptance of national jobs going to foreigners.
Unless quid pro quo measures, whether in the form of scholarships in Indian universities or job opportunities in India’s burgeoning economy, are taken, the prejudice will continue to grow until another incident like that of Nitin Garg comes back to haunt India.