Australia’s government said on Wednesday that racism was not behind a string of violent attacks on Indian students, including the latest slashing of a man in Melbourne by a group of five unidentified youths.
“There’s no allegation, no substantial allegation that these are racially motivated. I don’t believe so, and neither does the Indian government,” trade and acting foreign minister Simon Crean told local television.
The latest attack has redoubled fears that violent bashings and robberies of Indian students could seriously damage Australia’s third-biggest export earner, the A$15 billion ($12.16 billion) market for overseas students.
Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh raised concerns last week with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd, several senior ministers have been wheeled out by the centre-left Australian government to avert a foreign student exodus.
Rudd and foreign minister Stephen Smith also formed a new task force to deal with the problem, led by former special forces commander turned National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis.
Crean said while Australia would do everything possible to stop the attacks, he believed the issue was being sensationalised in both Australian and Indian media, potentially making the problem worse.
“Australia I believe is an inclusive, welcoming, tolerant society. It’s easy-going. That is a brand worth preserving,” Crean said.
Crean’s defence came after 21-year-old Indian student was attacked by a group of five males and slashed across the chest with a box-cutter knife in suburban Melbourne after they stopped him on Tuesday and demanded cigarettes and money.
Australia’s government said that hate crimes would be made and offence in the state of Victoria where most of the attacks occurred.
Police said the latest in a string of assaults on Indian students was not racially-motivated, as has been claimed in sections of India’s media.
“I would say this is an opportunistic fight. It could have happened to any individual of any nationality,” police senior constable Karla Dennis said.
There are around 93,000 Indian students in the country, up from around 30,000 only a few years ago.
Crean said no one senior in India’s government had alleged racism as a motivation for the attacks, which some Indian students said were also occurring in Sydney.
“They all are aware of the very conscious efforts that the Australian governments are taking to address this problem. They know we are sincere,” Crean said.