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Tensions Mount as India, Australia Disagree on Student Safety

  • Phil Mercer

Recent killing of young Indian graduate in Melbourne re-ignites concerns about safety of foreign students in Australia

New Delhi has reacted angrily to a claim by Victoria's chief police officer that Indian students are safer in Australia than in India. India's minister for overseas affairs, Valajay Ravi, has labeled Victoria's Police Commissioner Simon Overland a "petty officer" for saying Australia is safer than India and for criticizing the Indian media's coverage of allegedly racist attacks.

The murder of a 21-year-old Indian graduate in Melbourne, earlier this month, re-ignited concerns about the safety of young foreign students.

The stabbing of Nitin Garg by unknown assailants followed dozens of attacks on Indian students, during the past year in Melbourne and Sydney.

Officials in New Delhi have decried what they have described as the inability of a "racist" country to properly protect students while they study at Australian colleges and universities.

Sections of the Indian media have also inflamed tensions between the two nations. This week, an Indian newspaper published a cartoon depicting an Australian police officer as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

It prompted a stern reaction in Canberra, where senior government ministers said the cartoon was "deeply offensive."

Australian police say that, although some of the assaults on Indian students may have been racially motivated, most were not and were probably the work of petty criminals.

Victoria Police Commissioner Simon Overland, whose jurisdiction includes Melbourne, says Australia is generally not a dangerous place.

"Indians are safer in this country than they are in their own country. If you have a look at the data, they are safer here than they are in India," Overland said.

These remarks have infuriated India's minister for overseas affairs, Valajay Ravi. He says that, instead of complaining about accusations of racism, the authorities in Australia should "show some results" into the recent violence.

This week, a man of Indian descent was allegedly doused in fuel and set on fire by a group of men in Melbourne. Detectives have stressed there was no evidence of a racial motive, although the attack has caused anger and dismay in New Delhi.

Bilateral relations may suffer more stress as the Commonwealth Games in India approach, later this year, with allegations made by a leading terrorism analyst that security in New Delhi might not be good enough to protect Australian athletes.

Professor Clive Williams, from the Australian National University's Strategic and Defense Study Center, says the event risks being hijacked by extremists.

"The games in Delhi will be held within the highest risk environment that has been the case for the Commonwealth Games up until now," Williams said.

The Australian government is warning its citizens of the high risk of terrorist activity in India, while senior officials have sought to allay fears about the security of Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne.

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