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In an historic moment, the Indian flag hangs alongside its Australian counterpart in South Australian parliament
The tricolour is not just a three coloured piece of cloth. Unquestionably, a feeling of patriotism is overwhelmingly associated with it for any nationalist. Being born and raised in India my emotions and sentiments are inseparably entwined with the saffron, white and green with an Ashoka wheel in the middle.
When the Indian flag reached the Parliament House of South Australia, after taking a long journey, it was undoubtedly a historic day for every person of Indian heritage who has called South Australia home. In particular for me, being involved in the logistics, it was not only a matter of immense pride, but highly emotional sentiment to handle, filled with tears of joy that I didn’t know existed.
The spectre of the Indian flag hanging alongside our other pride – the Australian flag – inside the Parliament House obviously didn’t happen overnight.
Efforts were historically made to convince the government about the importance of Diwali, for all Indians, by many leaders of various Indian organisations in SA. Foremost among them was the Hindu Society of SA who was the pioneer in establishing a Hindu Ganesha temple to preserve the Hindu culture in SA in 1985, providing a place for Indians to worship, socialise, and to preserve their culture for the generations to come.
Siva Selvakulalingham, who arrived from Sri Lanka about 30 years ago, has been actively involved in the running of the Ganesha Temple and serving the Indian Hindu community for a long time. He was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the Hindu community by the Australian Government. Since the 1990s hr continuously lobbied the SA Government to allow Hindus to celebrate Diwali at the Government level, to give the festival official recognition. But his efforts remained unrequited until recently.
This year, when the current President of the Indian Australian Association of South Australia (IAASA), Adi Reddy Yara presented a proposal to the Minister for Multicultural Affairs Zoe Bettison, it was immediately accepted.
IASSA is the longest running secular Indian organisation, representing all Indians irrespective of their religion or region, in South Australia. It seems the timing was just right and this was that last ditch effort needed to tilt the decision in the community’s favour.
A letter of invitation was sent out to about 100 members of the Indian community, and we were treated to great hospitality in the historic building of Parliament of South Australia just prior to Diwali.
Although the suggestion by IAASA to light the exterior walls of Parliament House over two nights of Diwali was not considered, permission was granted to light the internal walls of the iconic Assembly Hall. Special permissions were also obtained by the President of the Legislative Council, Russell Wortley, to decorate the hall in traditional style including the earthen lamps and the unmistakable Indian floral rangoli.
Most of all, what made every Indian proud on that evening was to see their beloved tricolour taking a prominent place in the centre of the hall hanging beside the Australian flag!
I still can’t believe that my hands were involved along with the other volunteers of IAASA in making that happen. One of the Australian flags, of the pair that hand behind the dais, was replaced for the occasion.
Although Indians have been arriving in Australia for many decades, their numbers have only recently reached a level where they have become a significant enough to be given importance in politics. This means a lot in terms of the perception of the value that the Australian government places on the community, or that Indian migrants place on themselves.
The first known Indian immigrants arrived in South Australia in the late 1830s. The copper-mining town of Burra is connected with Indian settlement in South Australia with Indians who worked for local pastoralist James Stein naming the nearby creek Burra-Burra.
At the 2011 Australian Census, 18,741 people who were born in India were living in South Australia, almost three times the number in 2006. In 2011, 20,834 South Australians (1.3%) reported having Indian ancestry. Indians also make up the numbers in politics, which can make or break the chances of anyone aspiring to win elections of the two major political parties. No wonder then that the Indians are getting a little bit more attention at a political level!
This event at South Australian Parliament is certainly believed to be just a start of a tradition for the Indian diaspora and will hopefully continue in the future. This was a historic moment as the Indian flag was given a place of respect at the seat of power in South Australia.
This event not only brought pride and joy for all Indian heritage Australians and migrants, it will undoubtedly be considered a milestone in the increasingly developing good relationship between the two nations who already collaborate on so many fronts.