Australia is finding it difficult to put down attacks on Indian students even a fortnight after such incidents attracted worldwide condemnation. Now there are isolated instances of racist attacks on Indians in Canada as well as racist discrimination on Indian flyers in a couple of French flights. These are isolated incidents but disturbing.
The incidents in Australia, however, are taking alarming proportions with the authorities there not doing enough to stop their recurrence. The Government of India has also not done enough to reassure the Indian students. There is no use repeating that Australia stands to lose if attacks on Indians there are not stopped. That country should know it better.
Education is Australia’s third-largest foreign exchange earner. It generated over $15.5 billion last year with over 4,30,000 students getting enrolled of which as many as 96,739 were Indians. Australia is the second-preferred destination after US for Indian students. Now they have been forced to set up vigilante groups to protect themselves. This is a disastrous situation. This only underlines the general feeling that the local authorities have failed to instil confidence in the Indian students of their determination to crush racist violence with an iron hand.
Matters could have been better resolved had the Indian government been more sensitive to the problems of the Indian diaspora. The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh who reportedly lost sleep when a single Indian charged with terror link was arrested in Australia last year is extremely coy about the plight of thousands of Indian students in that country for the only reason that they happen to be there as students. The Indian Tourism Minister Ms Shelja cancelled her official visit to that country as a protest to the crime against Indians there. This is rather a kneejerk reaction. In fact, the victimised Indian students would have been reassured had some senior minister visited that country and spoken to the Australian authorities and the Indian students. There is a clear sense of official apathy here, to put it very mildly. Fortunately, there are reports that the Indian community in Australia is coming together and making some organised efforts to ensure the safety and security of its members. Some Indians who have been residents of Australia have taken an initiative to arrange for car pools in their localities to pick up and drop off Indian students returning home late at nights.
Australia cannot afford to be seen as a hostile country for foreign students if it is to continue attracting talent and money from other countries. Already there are reports that many Indian students are rethinking on their plans to study abroad. Indian students annually spend $30 billion on foreign education. It is now time for India to rethink on its education system to cope with its intellectual capital. Last week in these columns we spoke about the poor record of the UPA-1 in the field of education for the new age. Can the UPA-II make a difference? It is because the quality of education in most Indian universities is so lamentably low that there is this rush for foreign degrees. There are world-class institutions here. But they are not sufficient and there is a huge scope for a big bang in higher education through a combined effort of the private capital and public spending. The Knowledge Commission said that we need 1500 more universities of higher quality. In fact at this stage of development India should be attracting students from outside its shores rather than forcing Indian students spend billions of dollars abroad in pursuit of better education.
The general impression is that Indians are becoming easy targets of racial discrimination, though Indian diaspora is one of the largest, most productive, peace-loving and docile compared to any other community in the world. To make it sound as the White envy against the prospering, hardworking Asians is not to see the real reason behind these attacks. We cannot also generalise it as the frustration of the former colonisers because of the economic meltdown that has shrunk their economy. Closet racism is a fact of life and it has to be seen as just that and dealt with as such.