Melbourne Indian organisation brings home PBD award

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Gurdip Aurora of AISV receives honour from President of India. PREETI JABBAL reports

This New Year’s Day, while people were still recovering from parties and making resolutions for betterment, an unexpected phone call spurred a flurry of activity for Melbourne’s Dr. Gurdip Aurora, President of the Australia India Society of Victoria. He was informed that the AISV had been nominated for the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award for community service.
The award is the highest honour conferred on overseas Indians as part of the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) convention sponsored by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs of the Government of India.
The phone call was to invite Dr. Aurora to Kochi in Kerala, where the 11th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas convention was to be held between 7-9 January, 2013.
According to the citation, ‘The Australia India Society of Victoria was recognised for its role in protecting the rights of Indian migrants and establishing a network of welfare activities’.
“It was a great honour to receive the award, on behalf of AISV, from the President of India,” Dr. Gurdip Aurora said as he shared his PBD experience with Indian Link upon his return.
“I did not have a lot of prior knowledge of this event and I certainly did not expect it to be as big as it turned out to be. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and impressed by the way everything was arranged for me including travel, accommodation, meals, transport and use of a chauffeur driven vehicle in India,” claimed Dr. Aurora.
All the awardees were booked into Hotel Le Meridien in Kochi and the host spared no expense in making sure that their stay was comfortable, according to Dr. Aurora.
The event
The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is celebrated every year since the year 2003 on January 9. The day commemorates the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi in India from South Africa. The Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) was the organising partner of the summit this year. The Government of Kerala was the State partner of this event and the enchanting city of Kochi with its natural beauty of backwaters and monuments of gods offered a warm welcome to the hundreds of delegates, media and dignitaries from various parts of the world.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formally inaugurated the three-day event on January 8 and released a stamp commemorating the Gadar Movement. In his address to the audience the Prime Minister said that safety and security of overseas Indian communities was uppermost in mind in the backdrop of turbulence in many parts of the world. Though the primary responsibility of safety and security of overseas Indian communities rests with the host nations, “when needed, as was the case last year in Libya, our government will provide prompt and necessary assistance”, the Prime Minister said.
President Pranab Mukherjee said India sees its vast diaspora as a valuable contributor to its growth and is keen to expand the bonds further in building an inclusive and knowledge society.
He said last year’s record remittance of $67 billion from overseas Indians was a testimony to both the emotional attachment and the fulfilment in investing in India’s strong economy.
“I also wish to see the Indian diaspora as a stronger partner, not only in India’s economic growth, but also in building India’s knowledge society, while continuing to engage culturally and emotionally, and serving as the effective ambassadors that they have been for this country,” the president said.
The Indian diaspora makes up over 20 million people. There are at least five heads of state or government, and over 70 senior political leaders such as deputy heads of state, speakers, ministers in various countries, who can trace their roots to India.
The Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awards
President Pranab Mukherjee presented the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awards at the valedictory session on January 9. Mauritius President Rajkeswur Purryag, whose ancestors belonged to the Indian village of Wajidpur in Bihar’s Patna district, was the chief guest. He also received the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Samman Award for public services.
The award was also given to: Prof Gurusharan Singh Chatwal, Germany (Science); Dr. Satendra K. Singh, New Zealand (Community service); Ismail E. Ebrahim, South Africa (Business); T.S. Ravindra Menon, Malaysia (Community service); Dr. Rasik V.Joshi, Mexico (Literature); Gilbert. C. Moutien, Reunion Island (Business); Mohammed R. Karuvanthodi, Saudi Arabia (Business); Bava Pandalingal, UAE (Community service); Dr. N.R.Kumar, US (Health care); Subhash Razdan, US, (Public service) and Ashok S. Vaswani, Guinea (community service).
The AISV from Victoria and the Indian Doctors Forum from Kuwait were the only two organisations to win the PBDS community service award this year. Since its inception in 2003 only two Australians have been conferred with this award: well known ICT industry leader Neville Roach AO and scientist Veena Sahajwalla (of UNSW) who also appeared on the TV show The Inventors. Dr. Aurora felt delighted that AISV were to join this elite club.
“I do not know who nominated AISV for this award; however given the organisation’s long-standing history of service to the community, it was befitting to receive this honour soon after our 50th anniversary” said Dr. Aurora as he proudly displayed the gold medal and certificate to Indian Link in his Scoresby clinic recently.
The Australia India Society of Victoria AISV
Prof. Alexander Boyce Gibson, the head of the Department of Indian Studies at the University of Melbourne, established the Australia India Society of Victoria in 1963. AISV was initially created with an objective to create interest in Indian history, arts and culture. All the past Presidents, and the present committee led by Dr. Gurdip Aurora, have helped in shaping the organisation over the years by playing an active role in issues affecting the Indian community. According to Dr. Aurora AISV has sought to improve and strengthen the quality of relations between Australia and India through their interactions with the Government, the media and the people who are directly affected by these issues.
The major achievements of AISV, as listed in their 50 years’ celebration souvenir, include:
* Establishment of the Victorian Indian Community Charitable Trust (VICCT) in 1986 for the provision of permanent housing and financial assistance for disadvantaged persons.
* Successfully lobbying the Victorian State Government in 1990 to exempt Sikhs from legislation introduced in Parliament to ban the carrying of knives. This legislation affected baptized Sikhs and prevented them from carrying a kirpan. Legislation stating compulsory wearing of helmets while riding a pushbike was also adopted to accommodate turbaned Sikhs.
* Successfully lobbying the Indian Government in 1991 (for three years) to establish consular services for Indians in Melbourne.
* Introducing in 1992 ‘Mehfil’ nights to showcase emerging and established artists in the field of music and arts. These continue to this day and provide the Indian community an opportunity to celebrate their culture and people.
* Applying pressure to both sides of Government over a three-year period for the introduction of a two-year waiting period for Spouse Visas in 1995. This resulted in a fairer Visa Process for overseas spouses from all countries and the AISV helped in establishing a fair immigration policy.
* Helping establish in 1999, in partnership with Australian Unity, a Travel Insurance fund for overseas visitors to enable them to gain access to hospitals and medical care. This served to take the burden off the State Government and in some cases the children of elderly parents who were supporting their parent’s travel to Australia.
* Conducting a two-year research project in 2009 on the issue of the international students and putting forth 45 recommendations to the Federal and State Governments. Ms. Priya Saratchandran wrote the Paper and the recommendations were accepted and changes made to the status of international students accordingly.
* Creating a taskforce in 2011 against domestic violence in Indian and ethnic communities to help the victims of such violence with the help of Dr. Manjula O’Connor. This was in response to the increasing instances of domestic violence within the community and the need to offer cultural specific assistance.
Dr Aurora at PBD 2013
The theme of the 2013 Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was: Engaging Diaspora: The Indian Growth Story. Many seminars, workshops and events linked to the theme were held including an exclusive session that gave a platform to people from Kerala in the Gulf to air their grievances. In his inaugural address, Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi urged the delegates to air their issues openly at these sessions and exchange views and perspectives. Dr. Aurora who voluntarily attended these sessions said, “It was appalling to hear the stories of discrimination, lack of human rights and exploitation of people especially the plight of several illiterate migrants who ended up in prison due to an error in the paperwork filled in by their agents.”
He continued, “During my stay I briefly met Salman Khurshid, Cabinet Minister of the Ministry of External Affairs; columnist and author Shashi Tharoor; Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab Sukhbir Singh Badal, and had a meeting with Parneet Kaur, Minister of State for External Affairs from Patiala. I also took the opportunity to remind the Prime Minister that his visit to Australia was long overdue” said Dr. Aurora.
Conventions like these provide a platform to the overseas Indian community to engage with the government for mutually beneficial activities. They are also useful in networking among the overseas Indian community residing in various parts of the world and enable them to share their experiences in various fields. The PBD’s main objective is to strengthen the diaspora’s engagement with India. “In that sense the PBD met its objective,” remarked Dr Aurora. “However I wish the general public had more access to the Prime Minister and President. They were both kept away from the public under very tight security and I couldn’t help comparing this with Australia and the fact that we have relatively easier access to people in power here”.
Future directions for AISV
Psychiatrist Dr Manjula O’Connor, Vice President of AISV, and Chair of the Taskforce Against Domestic Violence in Indian and Ethnic Communities, commented on the future direction of AISV.
“In 2010-2012 we worked on domestic violence with women of the Indian community. This year we plan to work with Indian men. This is a prevention strategy. Prevention of domestic violence is considered now as a more useful and fruitful area to target. The Taskforce will recruit men from the general Indian community. The project is an action research project, and will be conducted in partnership between AISV, the Melbourne University and the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health (ACHRH),” she said. “We have been fortunate in forming partnerships with a taxi company (who recruit young Indian men) and the Sikh Women’s Network from Western Victoria in this project. This project with Indian men will consist of using community-based interactive theatre to explore Indian men’s concept of DV; simultaneously raising awareness on the issue including legal and criminal implications. We have secured partial funding for this project from the Victoria Multicultural Commission and partly from ACHRH”.
When asked if achieving this award would make any difference to how AISV will conduct itself in future, Dr. Gurdip Aurora said, “We have worked hard for the last 50 years and we will continue to do so in future. There will be no change to our normal routine and we will keep working with the same dedication and keep contributing significantly to the community,” he said in conclusion.

Preeti Jabbal
Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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