Australia on Sunday said the attack on an Indian, who was set afire here, was not “targeted” or “racially- motivated” amid reports that two men attempting to leave the country were quizzed and had their passports seized over the killing of another youth from the community in New South Wales.

The police said there were strange circumstances surrounding the attack on 29-year-old Jaspreet Singh, who was set ablaze by a group of four men in the suburb of Essendon in northwest Melbourne on Saturday – which led them to believe that it was not racially-motivated.

The police were yet to locate the charred clothes which Singh, who received 20 per cent burns, discarded shortly after the incident.

Two men, believed to be Indian seasonal workers, were questioned in Sydney and had their passports seized at the airport after they were briefly detained in connection with the killing of Ranjodh Singh (25).

Ranjodh Singh, who recruited Indian immigrants to work on farms in the Riverina, was living in the Wagga Wagga area and visiting Griffith in New South Wales at the time of his death. His partially-charred body was found on the side of the Wilga Road at Willbriggie on December 29.

Image hit: envoy

Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese has admitted that his country’s image was hit following the recent attacks of Indians Down Under but felt that relations between the two governments were strong.

“I certainly accept that our image in India has taken a beating. I don’t think that if you go through the intensity of the negative media coverage in India and not take damage,” he told Karan Thapar on Devil’s Advocate programme on CNN-IBN. “If the perception in India being conveyed is that Australia is an unsafe country that would surely do the damage. It worries me,” he said.

Racist spin on Australian attacks worries Indians

Unhappy with the media in their native country linking a slew of attacks on Indians here with racism, many community members in Australia have complained that they now feel threatened to move around freely. They fear a backlash.

“It’s not going the right way at all. We feel scared to move around alone now -- which was not the case earlier -- ever since the Indian media started giving blanket coverage to such attacks,” said Yogita Garyali, who has been living here for the past six years.

She said Indians are feeling a constant threat because of the media spin.

Her friend Shiny Mehta also voiced similar concerns, saying she used to take public transport at six in the morning and as late as 11 in the night till a few months back and never had any problem.

“It was pretty safe...But now I will not commute during these hours,” Ms. Mehta said.

“Law and order issue”

Another young computer engineer Amitan Naqaib said he was recently cornered by an old Australian lady in a tram and asked why he felt Australia was a racist country.

“I don’t think Australia is racist, it’s just a law and order situation. Indian media has exaggerated things,” Mr. Naqaib felt. He said every time an incident here is reported, his parents have to be convinced that he is fine and that Australia is a safe place.

“My parents want me back. They are worried about my safety here. But I don’t want to go back as I don’t have any such issues,” he said.

Many parents are calling their children back after the stabbing death of 21-year-old Nitin Garg made headlines. Two of Garg’s friends have already decided to go back after he was killed here a week ago.

Seven years back, Melbourne was rated as the world’s most liveable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit. However, this year it has been ranked number three.

In other surveys also, Melbourne is no longer in the top 10, and a rise in assaults is partly to blame, according to a media reports.

Commuters checked

On Thursday, Victorian police, for the first time, used their new powers under which they could search anyone for weapons without a warrant and checked commuters at hot-spots. They found 12 weapons, including knives and a machete.

Commuters did not complain, with most of them saying they were pleased that police were doing something to control crime.

“All we need here is strong policing,” Ms. Mehta said.

“There are many examples of highly successful members of the Indian community here. Just like any other society, there are a few miscreants and malcontents,” Ravi Bhatia, Prime Telecom chief, had said earlier.

“The voice of Indian students has been heard at the highest level of the country. I would request them to give government time to address their grievances,” Ravi Bhatia said.

Rakhi Kaul, another Indian here, expressed her concern over the attacks and asked: “When will all this come to an end?” She said she was scared to send her two kids to school.

“In a recent write-up, Sam Varghese, an Indian-origin journalist of The Age, wrote: “A large number of minor incidents, of which the Indian community is aware, have not been reported because students are fed up with the lack of response from the police. They are also scared that reporting such incidents may lead to a backlash.”

However, the Federation of Indian Students in Australia (FISA) has maintained that racism was “still alive and being reborn in a new generation.”

“What is clear to those of us dealing at the coalface of this problem is that a section of Australia has embraced curry-bashing and that institutional racism in the police force and the media and political elites means Australia is ill-equipped to deal with the problem in an open, honest manner,” FISA founder Gautam Gupta said.