UPDATE: Since the publication of this story, Australian authorities have charged Jaspreet Singh with lodging a false report for financial gain. Police allege that Singh was not set on fire in a racially motivated attack, but that he instead accidentally burned himself while torching his car for an insurance claim.
When it was reported last spring that dozens of Indian students attending university in Melbourne and Sydney had been attacked, Australian authorities dismissed racism as a motivating factor. Instead, they suggested the students were “soft targets” because they often travelled alone and carried valuable items, such as laptops. That response sparked Indian-led rallies in Melbourne and Sydney to raise awareness and promote greater safety measures, yet the attacks continue and India is now accusing Australia of sitting idly by as they occur.
In January, an Indian accounting student named Nitin Garg was stabbed by unidentified assailants in a Melbourne suburb. While his funeral was taking place in India, another Indian man by the name of Jaspreet Singh was lying in a hospital bed after reportedly being doused with gasoline and set ablaze by a group of four males. (Investigators are also looking into the possibility that he might have set himself on fire.) Adding to the controversy, a KFC commercial was yanked off the air after being labelled racially insensitive. In the commercial, which can still be seen on YouTube, a white Australian man watching a cricket match calms the rowdy group of West Indians he’s sitting with by offering them fried chicken. The tag line: “Need a tip when you’re stuck in an awkward situation?”
India’s government has issued a travel warning for Australia. Its overseas affairs minister, Vayalar Ravi, asks of the alleged culprits behind the attacks, “Why cannot they arrest them and put them behind bars and prosecute them?” Australia’s acting foreign minister, Simon Crean, responded by saying that Australia “is a tolerant and anti-racist society, but there is no guarantee everyone subscribes to those values.”