Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on January 3, 2010
Just days after officials warned against growing anti-Australia sentiment in India comes news of the latest fatal attack on a young Indian in Australia. A 21-year-old Punjabi, Nitin Garg, was stabbed on Saturday night in a Melbourne park while on his way to work at a Hungry Jack’s fast-food restaurant. Police say there’s no evidence the killing was racially motivated, but that’s unlikely to reassure Indians angered by a series of attacks against students from India in the country last year.
The stabbing now threatens Australia’s relations with one of the world’s rising economic powers. Many Indians are convinced the attacks are signs of racism in a country that for decades in the 20th century had a White Australia policy designed to keep out Indians and other Asians. One reflection of the anger: India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, issued a harsh statement yesterday demanding Canberra “take necessary action and not force India to look to other ways,” adding in most undiplomatic language that “we will not tolerate it any more.” It’s unclear what New Delhi can do to back up the foreign minister’s tough talk, but individual Indians seem to be responding on their own: According to a report by Australia’s Tourism Forecasting Committee, the number of Indian students studying Down Under is likely to fall 21%, or 4,000 students, this year because of the attacks and the media attention they generated.
Australia can’t afford strained relations with India. Aussie universities depend on recruiting Indians, who account for about 20% of international students in Australia. Australian companies need Indian customers, too. Thanks in large part to sales of local minerals and other resources to India and China, Australia managed to avoid falling into recession last year. Expect Australian officials to respond quickly to show Indians this latest attack is still just an isolated incident.