Two injured in brawl over Khalistan referendum in Australia; India raises concerns

Tensions have risen within Australia's Indian diaspora since the campaign among local secessionists intensified, and a spate of graffiti attacks on Hindu temples in Melbourne were reported.
Representational image (Express Illustration| Soumyadip Sinha)
Representational image (Express Illustration| Soumyadip Sinha)

MELBOURNE: Two people were injured and as many Sikh men were detained when two separate brawls broke out between Khalistani activists and pro-India demonstrators here during the so-called 'Punjab independence referendum', the police said on Monday.

India has already asked the Australian government to curb the anti-India activities of the Khalistani separatists and also attacks on the Hindu temples in the country.

"Signals that pro-Khalistan elements are stepping up their activities in Australia, actively aided and abetted by members of proscribed terrorist organisations such as the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and other inimical agencies from outside Australia, have been evident for some time," the Indian High Commission in Canberra said in a strongly-worded statement on January 26.

Two men were treated for minor injuries by paramedics on the scene as the police at Federation Square broke up two brawls between crowds during the voting for the referendum on Sunday.

The Victoria Police in a statement said it responded to two incidents throughout the day, one at 12.45 pm and another at 4.30 pm (local time).

The police responded quickly to "separate and disperse the crowd" by using pepper spray in the second incident "to separate the fighting men".

"As a result of each incident a 34-year-old man and a 39-year-old man were arrested, and each issued with a penalty notice for riotous behaviour," it said.

According to The Age newspaper, the fracas occurred at 4.30 pm after a group of pro-India supporters waving national flags arrived at the voting site.

Sikhs for Justice, the US-based group spearheading the non-binding referendum, is a banned organisation in India.

Tensions have risen within Australia's large and growing Indian diaspora since the campaign among local secessionists intensified recently, and a spate of graffiti attacks on Hindu temples in Melbourne over the past fortnight have been reported.

The Hindu Council of Australia condemned graffiti found on three Hindu temples across the city, including the ISKCON Hare Krishna Temple in Albert Park, which serves as the hub for Melbourne's Bhakti Yoga Movement.

Temple management discovered last Monday that the front wall had graffiti saying "Hindustan Murdabad", which can be translated as "Death to India"; and "Khalistan Zindabad", or "Long live the Sikh homeland".

"This cowardly act is unacceptable in the strong multicultural Australia where every religion is respected, and communities live in peace and harmony," the council said in a statement.

Indian High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra on Monday in a tweet said he discussed with authorities at the sacred BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Melbourne - a place of spirituality and service - the peaceful community's concerns over the recent attack by vandals, and the disturbing violence witnessed in Melbourne.

Vohra also called on Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews and discussed the strong and growing bilateral relationship between India and Australia, the violence in Melbourne on Sunday, and how to stop extremist Khalistani groups from engaging in further activities prejudicial to peace and harmony.

The High Commissioner also visited the iconic ISKCON Krishna Temple in Albert Park which was vandalised recently by pro-Khalistani elements.

"Their hate-filled graffiti was threatening to the peaceful Indian-Australian community in Melbourne and must be stopped," he tweeted.

In its statement on Thursday, the Indian High Commission said that in addition, India's concerns about the so-called referendum in Melbourne and Sydney, announced by the proscribed organisation, the Sikhs for Justice, have been conveyed to the Australian Government.

"It has been highlighted to the Australian Government to ensure the safety and security of members of the Indian community and their properties in Australia, and to not allow the use of Australian territory for activities detrimental to the territorial integrity, security and national interest of India," the statement said.

The 2021 census found there were about 210,000 Sikhs in Australia - up from 130,000 in 2016 - with almost half this cohort living in Victoria.

The number of Hindus in Australia grew from 440,300 in 2016 to 684,000 in 2021.

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