Violence breaks out over Khalistan referendum in Australia; India raises concerns with authorities
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.
Senior officials on Monday (January 30) said that 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'.
India has already requested that the Australian government put a stop to the Khalistani separatists' anti-Indian actions and attacks on the nation's Hindu temples.
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In a strongly-worded statement on January 26, the Indian High Commission in Canberra said, "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 Victoria Police said that 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. In a statement, the police 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".
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"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.
It is reportedly said that 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.
Since the campaign among local secessionists intensified recently, tensions have risen within Australia's large and growing Indian diaspora. A spate of graffiti attacks on Hindu temples in Melbourne over the past fortnight have also been reported.
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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.
In a tweet, Indian High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra on Monday 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.
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.