In the last few weeks, we have been inundated with damaging reports about the plight of Indian students in Australia. Wanton attacks on young Indians in different Australian cities seem to take place frequently and a picture has been built up of a young community under stress. As it is, Indians are notoriously soft targets for the thugs and hooligans of Western societies, as seen in a string of violent incidents over the decades in places where Indian immigrants are established in good numbers, notably the UK and USA. By and large, immigrants from India are a quiet, non-aggressive community, industrious and inclined to keep to themselves. The incidents in Australia are in some respects similar to what has been seen elsewhere, but what has made them particularly notorious is the implication that they have been racially motivated. This, of course, is a very delicate territory. Attacks by young hoodlums out to grab money from their victims are problems of one sort, attacks motivated by racial hatred are something rather different. The hubbub in India shows how sensitive the matter is and how rapidly it can blow up into a real impediment to normal relations. The Indian media have been very active in pursuing the story and in highlighting its most adverse aspects. Indian politicians have felt obliged to say rather strong things that reflect these preoccupations, and normal exchanges between the two countries have been slowed down. What seems to have been particularly galling to India's opinion is the rather unfazed Australian response. That country's authorities have not failed to react or to recognise the need to bring matters under control but they have been deliberately low-key in what they have said about the situation. This, in the heightened mood in India, has been regarded as insufficient and has drawn criticism. Nor has it been ignored that Australia has quite a few skeletons in its cupboard on the issue of race, like its 'White Australia' policy of earlier years and its readiness to maintain close links with apartheid South Africa at a time when the world, with India in the van, was doing all it could to bring an end to that abhorrent system. Such attitudes have long been discarded Down Under yet it could be that lurking memories from the past have made Indian reactions that much more critical. There is even a PIL that has induced the Supreme Court to seek an explanation from the government about the steps it is taking and what further it proposes to do. This concatenation of events has produced the conviction that there is something rotten Down Under and we must take a hand in trying to improve matters. While sentiments are thus being stoked within the country and passions remain high, we should lend ear to some contrary opinions, however difficult they may be to pick up against the prevailing clamour. Most noteworthy is the fact that many voices from within the group whose plight has been the cause of the outcry, the Indian students in Australia, have been far from enthusiastic about the shape events have taken. For these students, and others who have chosen to leave India and make a life for themselves in a new country, what is desirable now is that the matter should not be agitated as vigorously as it has been and normal processes of restoring the balance should be permitted to take their course. There can be no condoning of the aggressive attacks but the fear has been expressed that the high decibel campaign we have witnessed could make things more difficult by attracting unwelcome attention from elements that have been quiet until now: stirring them up can only add to the risks. Moreover, notwithstanding the legitimate anger and complaints of the victims, with which there is universal sympathy, it is also suggested that matters have been blown out of proportion. Indian students have not become a target of choice for young ruffians on the streets of Melbourne or Sydney, nor have the local authorities been content to stand idly by while incidents occur. On the whole, according to such reports, the Indians in Australia are well integrated and are able to set about their business in a university or other place of work in a normal and productive manner. The law-breakers responsible for racially motivated attacks are being brought to book and there is no sense of panic among the immigrants about where matters could be headed. While the Indian community in Australia may want to see nothing better than for the current problem to disappear, the unfortunate rash of attacks and damaging events has not died away. It is not clear whether every such incident can be regarded as racially motivated but in the current surcharged atmosphere that is how they tend to be perceived. All the more need, therefore, that remedial action and precautionary measures be seen to be taken. While such demands have been raised in India, for which there is every justification, it has also been pointed out that we would do well to be aware of our own shortcomings in dealing with comparable issues in our own country. Many Indians at home, including some high dignitaries, have spoken of the discrimination they have experienced on account of their race and appearance. Moreover, our obsession with pale skin and our tendency to look down on dark skin are constantly on display, so we may not be best placed to cast the first stone when it comes to matters of race. What is now needed is rapid action to bring reassurance to all concerned that the incidents in Australia are being handled properly and Indian students as well as other Indian immigrants can live in security. It is for the Australian authorities to take the necessary steps. At the same time, both sides need to take into account that this Indian community in Australia is a key element in the future relationship between the two countries. There have been many false starts in the past in efforts to build the relationship and it has not reached the level of mutual cooperation that has long seemed achievable. Now finally, it would appear, a real advance is possible as a result of shared activity in the world of knowledge - not, as in the past, the world of the Commonwealth, or even that of cricket. Indians in increasing numbers find it useful to study in Australia's universities. Australia has opened its doors to highly skilled Indians to live and work in that country and contribute to its further growth and development. It is on these closer contacts that a mutually beneficial relationship may rest in the future and there should be every incentive to remove the impediments that have arisen to its further growth. The writer is India's former foreign secretary