Indian organisations in Melbourne: In name or deed?

Melbourne: If you are of Indian origin then you must have come across this or that community organisation. Some people say every Indian is an organisation in himself or herself. Till some years back one could count such organisations on fingers. But these days their number has gone up considerably and names are difficult to remember. In fact, they are based on the regional, linguistic, caste or faith differences which reflect the composition of India or the Indian subcontinent. Some years ago, a caste-based organisation was formed with much fanfare. There is also no dearth of faith and guru-based bodies that regularly hold sessions.

A recent report has found Indians comprise over one per cent of the total population of Australia while Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi and Sindhi have emerged as some of the fastest growing languages other than English in the country.

The new report – ‘The People of Australia’ released recently by the Australian government providing a key statistical picture of the country’s population and the make-up of migrant communities found people born in India are the fourth largest group of residents born overseas, accounting for 1.4 per cent of the total Australia population.
Based on the 2011 census data, there were 295,373 India-born people living in Australia, an increase of 148,000 people when compared to the 2006 census.

So influx of the population is the reason behind the mushrooming Indian organisations of all types. Interestingly, few are found active when the need arises. A woman who was in distress once called a woman’s organisation for help only to be told that they only looked after cultural aspects. The helpless woman then called an Indian newspaper who tried to help her.
In Victoria, most Indian organisations are funded by the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC), and still remain aloof from social issues plaguing the community. The recent example of a former Premier giving a rather unsubstantiated view on the alleged dowry issue on ABC 774 speaks for itself. A bitter debate on the social media followed. But no Indian organisation participated in it. Their visibility when it counts is zero.

The point is, there is lack of quality leadership or rather timid leadership in organisations who are supposed to stand up for the community. Of course, there are exceptions. And those are only a handful. Have a dinner-dance party and you can see many a legs shaking. Have no dinner or lunch and few turn up. Have a Bollywood dance laced with sizzling music and the program is a success. The VMC funds come in handy and subsidise the event.

Around 2010 when many Indian overseas students were bashed up or were in trouble for this or that reason, most of the organisations vanished from the scene. In fact, they did not even bother to issue a media statement. Few individuals and organisations stood up for the students and helped them. There was a case of an Indian female student who had taken her own life after failure in exams. There was no one to join her funeral and her parents were sobbing. I and a few others joined them in their sorrow. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. What made me sadder was the absence of anyone form the government subsidised organisations.

When the student issue was at its peak and relations between the Australia and India was strained, many chose to criticise the students instead. The victims were blamed for their woes. They were branded un-Australian and smelling. What I am trying to say is that instead of standing up against violence (whatever the reason) against students, they were projected as the culprits. This way of thinking hindered the punishing of the culprits. Even the then Victoria Police chief and a Victoria University report talked of elements of racism in the attacks. But our own were in no mood to listen.

What is more, another group with allegiance to the Opposition decided to use the situation against the ruling Labour government. Taxi issues were raised (some legitimate) and all that happened later is history. Someone created the trouble and someone else was blamed. The Indian organisations, meanwhile, remained silent as if nothing was happening. The government tightened the admission rules and the result was the collapse of the Indian student market in Australia.

The purpose of this article is not to say that every Indian organisation is useless or inactive. The issue is that they remain silent on fundamental issues of the community or society at large. They forget that they are living in Australia. Many organisations have been set up to support political parties in India but one fails to see any such body supporting a political party in Australia. The result has been that the vibrant Indian community is ignored by the political class. Loosing seats are thrown at us as crumbs during elections. Anyway, very few are us are ready to join or support a political party or a social movement. We cannot blame the politicians.