A series of bashings and stabbings on Australia’s Indian students has come to a violent head, after a protest over the treatment of Indian students in Melbourne on Sunday.

Images of angry Indian students on Swanston Street have been beamed over the world, from Hong Kong to Edinburgh, and Al Jazeera, sparking fears our international reputation has taken a battering of its own.

Attacks on Indian students have been increasingly reported overseas recently. The BBC reports there have been 70 assaults in the past year, and at least 14 in the past fortnight.

But the issue came to the fore last weekend, when 25-year-old Sravan Kumar Theerthala was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. He remains in a serious condition in intensive care, reports The Age.

Last week, Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan refused an honorary doctorate from Queensland University of Technology, saying: “there seems to be a moral disjuncture between the suffering of these students and my own approbation.” He explains why on his blog.

Friday’s edition of the Hindu Times covered the article on the front page, in an article which opened,”“racial attacks against Indians continued unabated”.

The front page of Saturday’s Hindu Times reported Friday’s discussions between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh. India Today reports that 30 members of political party BJP staged a protest outside the Australian consulate in Mumbai yesterday.

The top four stories in the Times of India’s “Indians Abroad” section cover the story, featuring Rudd’s assurance that the violence will be “met with force”.

The spotlight on Australia’s racist underbelly comes amid fears our reputation as a destination for Indian students is on the line. ABC Radio Australia reports the incidents concern not only Australia’s reputation as the land of milk and honey, but also one of our largest exports – education.

Age online subeditor Sam Varghese writes of his experience as someone whose “appearance is distinctly subcontinental”. He argues Australia’s denial of what is simply racism will only make things worse, writing, “Nobody, but nobody, is willing to call a spade a spade and slam the perpetrators for what this is — latent racism in society coming to the fore. Everyone, the police first and foremost, is pussyfooting around the problem and trying to characterise the naked violence as anything but an expression of racial hostility.”

But another subeditor, Akash Arora, chief sub-editor for the British design magazine Wallpaper, says the issue of racism in Australia is being blown out of proportion. “In fact, I have encountered the worst form of discrimination, and most varieties of it, in my own country, India, where people are discriminated against on the basis of almost every difference: race, cast, class, gender and sexual orientation,” Arora writes. “So it is indeed puzzling that news about Australia being racist is reaching epic proportions in countries that can hardly claim to be any better. After all, charity begins at home. And so should social reform.”

Business leaders such as Primus CEO Ravi Bhatia agree, warning readers to let the government deal with the attacks before branding Australia racist, according to Express Industry.

Meanwhile, students at the University of Melbourne yesterday recieved this email under the subject line “University community condemns attacks on Indian students” from their Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis:

Dear students,

The University of Melbourne community has been greatly distressed to learn of the recent incidents of violence against Indian students in the city of Melbourne. With our own Indian students and staff, we join with the broader Indian community in condemning such incidents and any racially-motivated violence as repugnant to our city.

Melbourne has always been regarded as a safe destination for international students, a culturally diverse and urbane place which welcomes students from all nations into an environment of civility and respect. This is a reputation of which all Melburnians are rightly proud but recent events show that we must all work hard to maintain it.

Today we have consulted with student representatives of the Indian student organisations at the University of Melbourne, who confirm our own security records that Indian students at our campus thankfully have not experienced racially-motivated attacks of the kind reported elsewhere at present.

We are sending a message to all our Indian students and staff highlighting the support we offer to ensure student and staff safety in our precinct. A security escort service is available on campus and in the surrounding areas to accompany any student who feels at risk, to provide safe passage from University buildings to public transport. Emergency (blue) telephone points are installed across the campus, and University Security is available 24 hours a day.

In preparation for our Semester 2 intake, the University is delivering pre- departure briefings to our students in five cities in India — Hyderabad, Chennai, New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Personal safety will be a priority topic in these briefings. As part of the Orientation program on arrival, students will receive guidance from our security staff and from representatives of Victoria Police on personal safety, including advisory information on using public transport at night.

Last week the University of Melbourne joined with other universities in asking Victoria Police universities could take to improve the situation.

I would like to draw the attention of all our students and staff to our Safety on Campus webpage — and also remind students and staff that University Security can be reached at any time at Freecall 1800 24 6066, and that free security escorts can be arranged by contacting Security on 8344 4674.

No student or staff member should ever be denied the right to feel safe and secure on our beautiful campus — or anywhere in our city, state or country.

I am sure that the University community joins with me in wanting to ensure that all visitors to our campus and our country return home with only good memories of their experience in Australia.

Glyn Davis