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Amitabh Bachchan rejects Australian degree

Mumbai: Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan has reacted to racial attacks on Indian students in Australia by rejecting an honourary doctorate offered to him by an Australian university. 
The Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, had offered the 66-year-old veteran a doctorate for his contribution to the world of entertainment and Bachchan had earlier accepted the title. 
The honour was to be conferred on the star in July as a part of celebrations to commemorate a retrospective of his films in the city. 
I have been witnessing, with great dismay and shock, the recent violent attacks on Indian students in Australia, on the electronic media the entire day, Bachchan wrote on his blog. 
I mean no disrespect to the institution that honours me, but under the present circumstances, where citizens of my own country are subjected to such acts of inhuman horror, my conscience does not permit me to accept this decoration from a country that perpetrates such indignity to my fellow countrymen, he added.

"My conscience does not permit me to accept this decoration from a country that perpetrates such indignity to my fellow countrymen," Bachchan's blog post said.

But the Indian movie icon said he would ask for fan feedback on whether he should turn down the degree.

"I shall put this up as my poll question and shall feel obliged if (my) extended family (of fans) can indicate to me their opinion for me to be able to take the correct action," he wrote.

A series of attacks on Indian students has unleashed a furious reaction in India where the media has branded it "curry bashing."

Photos of the latest attack victim Sravan Kumar Theerthala, lying in his hospital bed in a coma, were plastered across Saturday's newspaper front pages.

Theerthala was left fighting for his life after being stabbed last weekend with a screwdriver by gatecrashers at a party in Melbourne. A 17-year-old male has been charged with attempted murder.

Bachchan, 66, had previously said he would accept the honorary doctorate from Brisbane's Queensland University of Technology for his contribution to the world of entertainment. He was due to accept it in July.

The baritone-voiced superstar expressed "great dismay and shock" at the attacks and said he meant "no disrespect to the institution that honours me" in wanting to refuse the degree.

Bachchan, known as "The Big B," has a huge following in movie-mad India and is a daily fixture on television.

Meanwhile, an Australian student stabbed at a Melbourne train station by two thieves last Monday told the Press Trust of India: "My advice to every Indian student now who wants to come to Australia is, 'Please don't come.' "

"There's no life here," Baljinder Singh told the news agency from where he was recovering in a Melbourne hospital.

The statements came as India said Saturday it was "closely monitoring" the situation of its students in Australia after the attacks which have raised diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

External affairs spokesman Vishnu Prakash said India had received Australia's assurances that "they will be doing what is necessary to ensure that such attacks don't reoccur."

"We are quite concerned at the brutal attacks that are taking place," he said.

He was speaking a day after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd phoned his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to pledge "the overwhelming majority of Indian students were safe" in his country, according to a government statement in New Delhi.

Indians form the second-largest group of overseas students in Australia and there has been a spate of attacks on students from the subcontinent.

Australian police have argued Indian students were often simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as they travelled home late at night with items such as mobile phones and portable MP3 players.

But India's top diplomat in Australia, High Commissioner Sujatha Singh, said the number of Indian students being targeted indicated race played a part even if many of the attacks were "opportunistic."

Police estimate Indians make up 30 percent of robbery victims in Melbourne's western suburbs, where many of the students live.

There are almost 50,000 Indian students in Melbourne, boosting an international education sector that is the country's third-largest export earner, reaping 15.5 billion dollars (12.1 billion US) in 2008.
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