An Australian teenager who fatally stabbed an Indian graduate, during a spate of attacks that fueled a bitter diplomatic row with New Delhi over racist violence, was yesterday jailed for 13 years.
The youth — whose identity has been suppressed — was just 15 when he attacked Nitin Garg, 21, as he walked through Melbourne parkland to work on Jan. 2 last year, stabbing him during an attempt to steal his mobile phone.
Garg, an accounting graduate, managed to stagger to his workplace, a nearby burger restaurant, before collapsing with fatal stab wounds to the abdomen.
He died early the next day in hospital.
The highest-profile act in a string of attacks on Indian students in Australia, Garg’s murder made international headlines and outraged public opinion in India, leading to accusations of widespread racism against migrants.
Diplomatic ties were tested, with New Delhi condemning the killing as a “heinous crime on humanity” and “an uncivilized brutal attack on innocent Indians.”
It followed a spate of muggings and beatings, accompanied by migration scams and colleges charging for substandard courses, which prompted street protests by Indians in Melbourne and Sydney in 2009.
Australia’s reputation as a safe and welcoming destination for international students was badly damaged, leading to a drop-off in enrollments and sparking a government review of the tertiary education sector.
A study published in August found Indian students were more likely to be robbed than the Australian average and more likely to be assaulted than other foreign students, but said circumstances rather than race were to blame.
For example, because of their greater proficiency in English, they were more likely to have retail or service sector jobs that involved working late.
Canberra has conceded that some of the violence was racially motivated and damaged Australia’s image abroad, with former Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith saying that the attacks had been “widely noticed beyond India and South Asia.”
Judge Paul Coghlan yesterday described Garg as an “innocent and random victim,” but said the crime was spontaneous and accepted that his attacker, now 17, was -remorseful and had no intention of killing when he went to the park.
He had never before been in trouble with the police and was carrying a flick knife that day for “reasons never explained.”
The judge also ruled that it was a crime of opportunity rather than race.
“The community abhors the use of knives because of the consequences such as this,” Coghlan said, adding that he had found the sentencing a “very difficult” exercise.
“In circumstances such as this there are just no winners. One able young man is dead and your life is affected forevermore,” he said.
The teen, who pleaded guilty to murder and attempted armed robbery, must serve at least eight years of his sentence before being eligible for parole.
International education is Australia’s top services export industry and was worth A$16.3 billion (US$16.4 billion) in 2010-2011, a 12 percent decline on the previous year.
A strong Australian dollar and reputation damage has seen student numbers slide, with 542,000 enrollments in the year to October, a decline of 9.1 percent year on year.
Though they continue to account for 13 percent of all foreign enrollments, second only to China, Indian student numbers have dropped especially sharply, down 27.3 percent year-on-year at 69,702.