Service to the Indian community: King’s Birthday Honours 2023

Dr. VK Berera, Dr. Sunita Siddhu Dhindsa, Nishi Puri and Arun Venkatesha receive OAM honours in this year's King's Birthday Honour

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Dr. Virendra Kumar Berera, Dr. Sunita Siddhu Dhindsa, and Mrs. Nishi Puri have been acknowledged with the OAM in the King’s Birthday Honours this year for their contributions to the community. These honorees have worked tirelessly to strengthen the Indian community’s fabric, foster multiculturalism, and promote social causes. Their accomplishments span various domains, including community service, cultural initiatives, and professional excellence.

Melbourne’s Dr. Virendra Kumar Berera OAM

A well-loved figure in Melbourne’s Indian community, Dr. Virendra Kumar Berera is known for his passion for connecting people, preserving culture, and nurturing community spirit. Dr. Berera has played pivotal roles in numerous organisations, such as the Diwali Festival’s Logistics Co-Ordinator for Celebrate India since 2006; as a trustee for the Indian Charitable and Benevolent Trust from 2007 to 2015; as President of the Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria FIAV from 2002 to 2004, and as President of the Punjabi Club of Victoria from 1998 to 2000.

Dr Virendra Kumar Berera
Dr VK Berera (Source: Supplied)

As a respected General Practitioner and owner of the Victorian Road Medical Clinic since 1976, Dr. Berera has contributed to the well-being of the community in more ways than one. Notable recognition for his outstanding work includes the Hind Rattan Award – Non-Resident Indian from the Welfare Society of India in 2008, and the Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence from the Victorian Government in 2007.

Expressing his feelings about receiving the honor, Dr. Berera said, “I feel a sense of great satisfaction. When I migrated to Australia in the early 1970s, the Indian community was small, and establishing connections was challenging. The acknowledgment of my work is truly gratifying, but it is important to note that my motivation has always been to unite the community and provide a sense of belonging in a foreign land. I never pursued these endeavours for personal recognition.”

Looking ahead, Dr. Berera expressed his hope that the honour bestowed upon him will serve as an inspiration for the younger generation to continue fostering unity and safeguarding our rich cultural heritage.

Canberra’s Dr. Sunita Siddhu Dhindsa, OAM

Dr. Sunita Siddhu Dhindsa, has been honoured for her exceptional service to the Indian community in the Australian Capital Territory. She has made significant contributions through her involvement in various organisations. As the Inaugural Chair and Founding Member of the Council of Indian Federations of Australia, Dr. Dhindsa has played a pivotal role in strengthening community ties. She served as the President of the Federation of Indian Associations of ACT from 2019 to 2021 and has held several key positions within the organisation, including Secretary and Coordinator for Domestic and Family Violence Initiative.

D. Sunita Dhindsa (Source: Supplied)

Dr. Dhindsa’s commitment to community causes extends beyond Indian cultural associations. She has actively participated in organisations such as the Gungahlin Community Council, Fair Canberra, and the Small Farmers Network Canberra Region. Additionally, her roles as Treasurer in the ACT Branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society and as a member of the Rotary Club demonstrate her dedication to serving the broader Australian community.

Reflecting on her achievement, Dr. Dhindsa stated, “As a migrant, a woman, and of Sikh faith, I feel honoured, extremely humbled, and privileged, while feeling a great sense of responsibility, all at the same time.” She emphasised that her recognition is a testament to the collective efforts of her family, friends, and the communities she has served. Dr. Dhindsa hopes that her achievement will inspire others to contribute to society and work towards multicultural acceptance and greater representation of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

She told Indian Link, “It is a privilege to be able to contribute to the society, to the country that has given us so much. The inspiration to give comes from the Sikh ethos of selfless service and from the family tradition on both sides of the family. It is truly awesome for the community and for those serving the community selflessly, when some of their work gets recognised. It will surely provide inspiration to current and future volunteers.”

Canberra’s Nishi Puri OAM

Nishi Puri’s contributions have been invaluable in promoting cultural diversity and fostering understanding among various communities. Her service to the Indian community includes being President of the ACT Chapter of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin GOPIO, President of the India Australia Association of Canberra, in the Sathya Sai Organisation, and founder of Multicultural Association of Canberra. In each of these roles, she has worked tirelessly to create a harmonious environment for diverse communities.

Canberra's Nishi Puri OAM
Nishi Puri (Source: Supplied)

Her commitment and achievements have earned her accolades, including the title of Honorary Australian Capital Territory Multicultural Ambassador in 2022 and a commendation for Outstanding Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion at the Australian Capital Territory Multicultural Awards in 2021.

“I view my OAM honour as my joy and pride,” she gushed. “I was taken aback that I was considered worthy.”

Mrs Puri is an entrepreneur, running a childcare entre since 2017.

“I’m passionate about giving employment opportunities to those that need it, like international students and even those from the mainstream who are finding it hard,” she said.

Nishi Puri came here in the 1990s at a time of recession, and despite early hardships, claims it is a move her family has never regretted. “We persevered and ultimately made it. It’s hard for all migrants but it falls into place. Australia is truly a land of opportunities, great for kids’ education and sport and anything they want to pursue. To new migrants I’d say, upskill if you have to, and work hard. You’ll make a name for Australia as well as for India.”

Canberra’s Arun Venkatesha, OAM

Arun Venkatesha remembers the day he landed in Australia as a pivotal moment in his life.

“Tullamarine Airport, January 1991,” he recalls. “My wife Jyoti and I, along with our toddler son and infant daughter, stood in the queue for immigration, absolutely exhausted and tired. A lady officer walked up to us and escorted us for a smooth passage. That experience won me over.”

It was a simple act of kindness, but it set in motion a lifelong willingness to help others that has today seen Arun honoured with an OAM. The citation reads, “… for service to the community.”

Of course the transition to Australian society was not as smooth as his immigration at the airport.

Arriving to a recession-stricken Australia, all the jobs had dried out. “It was the beginning of the end of manufacturing in Australia,” recalls Venkatesha. “For three months I didn’t have a job.”

Arun Venkatesha (Source: Supplied)

Friends Vijay and Chitra opened their home to them, and were only the first of many who offered help.

Eventually after many hardships, Venkatesha joined the Royal Australian Mint in its Tool Shop in Canberra, marking another turning point in his journey.

Moving to Canberra where they didn’t know a soul, the family were ‘adopted’ by friends of friends, Dr. Jagadish Chennupati AC and his wife Vidya.

It’s been a 32-year friendship.

It was this heartwarming welcome from strangers that motivated Venkatesha to immerse himself into the community service and provide a sense of home away from home to new Australians.

In 2004, he along with few of his friends including Jagadish, who were attached to the Indian state of Karnataka formed the Karnataka Association of Canberra.
“Initially, it was all about celebrating Ugadi and Deepawali together, but now it’s a proper registered organisation and there are cultural programs and meet ups happening all year long. It’s like an extended family,” he says.

Over the years, he has held leadership positions within a number of community organisations such as the Canberra India Council, the Diwali Mela Inc, and the Sri Vishnu Siva Mandir Temple in Mawson.

Retired now, Venkatesha remains dedicated to supporting his community and providing assistance to the young leaders of the future, ensuring to keep the inclusive multicultural Australian spirit alive.

With input from Torsha Sen

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