Melbourne: Australian High Commissioner to India Peter Varghese has said that the racist e-mail scandal involving Victorian police officers was "unhelpful" for the country's image and will distract from steps being taken to improve the safety of foreign students.
"It returns the issue to the front pages in a way that is very unhelpful and it can have the effect of reviving an issue that both governments have worked very hard to manage constructively," Varghese was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.
"You just have to look at the media coverage over the past 24 hours to see that the sensitivity is there in the Indian media and to the extent to which that's reflecting and shaping public perceptions in India it's a just a fact of life," he said.
The Victorian police officers have been caught in a racist e-mail scandal joking about the electrocution of an Indian train passenger and suggesting that it could be "a way to fix the Indian student problem" in Melbourne.
Varghese was summoned by External Affairs Ministry on Saturday and told of New Delhi's "serious concern" about racist e-mails sent by Victorian police officers.
Top Indian diplomats told him that "an entrenched bias among sections of law enforcers towards the Indian community is a matter of serious concern".
The Australian envoy, however, said the incident would not affect the ties between the two nations.
"It's an issue of concern to the Indian government for obvious and understandable reasons but that doesn't mean we can't get on with the business of building the bilateral relationship and, for Australia, putting India into the front rank of our international relations," he said.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Victorian Premier John Brumby and Chief Commissioner of the Victoria Police Simon Overland have all condemned the e-mail.
Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, however, said, "If members of the police force, who are charged with protecting all citizens, are going to do this, it raises a question about what protection Indians are going to get in Australia."
Meanwhile, 15 more police officers are reportedly set to face hearings over racist e-mails.
After August hearings into the scandal, four members were dismissed, one was demoted and five others were fined.
Victoria Police today said another 15 officers would face hearings this month. Nine will face hearings this week -- tomorrow and Friday -- and six will face hearings next week.
Five of those disciplined in the August hearings are appealing the decisions against them, with the appeals yet to be heard.
The e-mail scandal came after a spate of violent assaults against Indians and the killing of 21-year-old Indian student Nitin Garg in January, sparking concern from India over the safety of its students in Melbourne.
First Published: Monday, October 11, 2010, 13:45