Church leaders have taken to eating curries to support campaigns to overcome violence and racism against Indian students living in Australia - writes Kim Cain.
"Vindaloo against Violence" was a recent event where Australians were invited to have a curry lunch or dinner as an act of appreciation and peace between local citizens and the Indian student community.
The Rev Alistair Macrae, leader of Australia's largest Protestant Church, the Uniting Church in Australia, had urged church people, "to head out for a curry … to the local Indian restaurant and order a vindaloo or a curry and while giving thanks for the food, pray for Indian students in this country and pray for the generous Spirit to soften our hearts".
Macrae told Ecumenical News International, "The increasing [race-based] violence on our streets is worrying. Indications of racist motivations behind some assaults against Indian students add a sinister dimension." He said that as agents of peace and goodwill Christians should "look for words and gestures to convey welcome and acceptance to all who arrive in this land".
"Vindaloo Against Violence" was the brainchild of Melbourne resident, Mia Northrope, who started an Internet campaign urging people to show their support for Indian students and reject racial violence towards them.
The issue of racism and violence towards the Indian student population had been brewing for about a year but when it became popularised by the Indian media it developed into a diplomatic issue between the two nations.
It was claimed that an Indian student population, thought to be about 450,000-strong – and mostly based in the country's second largest city, Melbourne, was the target of systematic race-based violence.
Some argued, however, that the acts of violence were random and related to the Indian students' part-time employment in high risk jobs serving in 24-hour convenience stores, petrol outlets and as taxi drivers.
However, Indian politicians denounced Australia's government, saying it was "in denial" about the assaults.
The stabbing death in suburban Melbourne of Punjabi student Nitin Garg, aged 24, brought the issue to a head, with Indian media descending on the city and reporting the crime as an example of the racial violence against Indians in Australia.
A number of churches organised worship services to help focus on the unity that many claim already exist in the community. At one service, the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Robert Freier, called for "a leap of empathy" towards the Indian community.
We need to "understand what it feels like for people in India, for parents, for family members … who are anxious for the welfare of their family member in our country", it was reported in The Melbourne Anglican newspaper.
However, some members of the Indian community in Australia have lambasted the Indian-based media for the lack of balance in not reporting the full story regarding racial violence in Australia.
The editor of the Indian Link newspaper, published in Australia, said it was "a shameful omission" by the Indian press not to report cases of Indian violence against Australians in Sydney and Melbourne.
"Like any other growing community, Indians in Australia have their set of problems, some inflicted upon us, some perpetrated by us," wrote Pawan Luthra in the February editorial of the newspaper.
At the same time more than 400 Indian restaurants in Melbourne celebrated "Vindaloo Against Violence", with politicians, police, celebrities and sports stars championing the cause by eating Indian food.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]