Fellow Indians held in Australia over gruesome slaying
Friday 29th January, 2010

An Indian couple was scheduled to appear Friday in a Sydney court over the death of fellow fruit-picker Ranjodh Singh in a case that has helped stoke tension between Delhi and Canberra over the safety of Indians in Australia.

Police allege Singh, 25, was still alive when he was set alight and left to die last month in the New South Wales farming town of Griffith.

On the night of his death, he attended a party with fellow Indian fruit-pickers.

The husband and wife, ages 23 and 20, were arrested in Sydney and have been charged with murder. A third suspect, a 25-year-old man, was arrested in Wagga Wagga, where Singh was living, and is also set to appear in court Friday to be charged with murder.

Singh arrived a year ago in Australia and was working in the same harvesting business as the couple charged with his murder.

The arrests come after Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna met Australian counterpart Stephen Smith in London to urge more action over a series of attacks on Indians living in Australia.

Preneet Kaur, a spokeswoman for Krishna, said the attacks were 'particularly worrisome as the Indian community individuals appear to be singled out, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to accept these attacks as mere opportunistic crime devoid of any racial motives'.

Last month there were demonstrations in Melbourne, home to the bulk of the 90,000 Indians studying in Australia, after Nitin Garg, a 21-year-old accounting graduate, was stabbed to death while walking to his job at a fast-food restaurant.

Police investigating the killing said they had no reason to classify it as a hate crime, arguing that street crime disproportionately affects Indian students.

Most Indian students pay for their educations - which they hope will qualify them for permanent residency visas - by working parttime in convenience stores, petrol stations and fast-food restaurants.

They tend to work overnight shifts and use public transport, which puts them in proximity to drunken youths out on the street at those hours.

Australian officials admit that the attacks are one reason for a steep decline in applications for student visas from Indians. Figures for the four months to October 2009 show the number of visas issued to Indians down by almost half from the same period in 2008.