Pravasi Bharatiya award for Mala Mehta

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Hindi language campaigner wins Indian government honour

The Sydney-based Hindi language campaigner Mala Mehta has won this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Honour).

She was one of 15 diaspora members who were conferred the award by the Vice President of India Hamid Ansari.

The highest honour conferred on overseas Indians, the award is presented by the Government of India annually as part of the Overseas Indian Conference in early January. The event was held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, this year.

The other recipients this year were Guyanese President Donald Rabindernauth Ramaotar; Kamaljeet Bakshi from New Zealand; Ashraf Palarakunnummal and Bharatkumar Jayantilal Shah from UAE; Essop Esoop Goolam from South Africa; Rajmal M. Parakh from Oman; Justice Doraikannu Karunakaran from Seychelles; Sanjaya Rajaram from Mexico; Lord Raj Loomba and Nathu Ram Puri from Britain; Mahendra Nanji Mehta from Uganda and Nandini Tandon and Kamlesh Lulla from the US.

Also from Australia, last year’s winner Lisa Singh accepted her award this year.

Mala Mehta is a well-loved personality in Sydney’s Indian community. As founder of the Indo Australian Bal Bharatiya Vidyalaya, Mala has campaigned hard for the inclusion of Hindi in the Australian school curriculum. Several hundred students at her Sydney-based school learn the Hindi language on the weekends, starting from age five and many continue up to the Year 12 level.

Mala has also been responsible for taking to primary schools across the Sydney region, an awareness of India and its culture as part of the “India Calling” program.

“This is a great honour for me but really I accepted the award on behalf of all those who have travelled the Hindi journey with me in Australia,” Mala told Indian Link on phone from India.

“As I walked up to the stage, all I could see were my bachchas and wished my Hindi School parivaar and others who had taken this journey with me had been there too! I missed my Dad who would have felt only as a dad can. I would have loved to have my mum and children there too but was happy that they were watching it live.”

Of course doting husband Teddy Mehta was in the audience as Mala received the award from Hamid Ansari, an old friend of the Mehtas from when he served as India’s High Commissioner to Australia years ago.

Mala was thankful for the government’s acknowledgement of the efforts for the Hindi language in Australia.

“This is the first government in India that has extended support to our campaign and I am ever so grateful,” she said. “I am elated also because the award came at such an opportune moment. I’ve just started work with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) on the development of the new Hindi curriculum, and I needed the support of the Indian government. The award will only boost my efforts.”

Soon after the event in early January, Mehta attended the World Hindi Day celebrations in New Delhi on 10 January.

“I was amazed to interact with many foreign dignitaries who spoke in Hindi – the ambassadors of Uzbekistan, Khazakastan, Romania, Iran, Thailand… I couldn’t help thinking, this is exactly what my life’s work has been about!”

The year has begun on a great note for Mala. Her Hindi students from HSC 2014 finished with exceptionally high ATARs (and one even topped the state in Hindi); news has come in that two new centres will commence Hindi teaching (Waitara Public School and John Purchase Public School), and on a personal note, her son announced wedding plans.

The Hindi School’s logo, Hum Honge Kamyaab (We Shall Overcome) has indeed stood in good stead for Mala in her 30-year crusade for Hindi.

Our heartiest congratulations, Mala.