They now call Australia home

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New book attempts to define the Indian-Australian identity

Manika Jain, Consul General of India (Melbourne) launches ‘The Indian Diaspora’

 

Drawing upon a range of case studies from the community, a new book titled Indian Diaspora Hindus and Sikhs in Australia was recently launched by the Australia India Institute and the Consulate General of India in Melbourne.

The dense narrative attempts to provide an understanding of the Indian diaspora by following a range of trajectories, migration and settlement in Australia. The reader gains insight into the complex transnational flow of people, resources, ideas and culture and its contribution towards modern Australia.

The book is a compilation of work from various authors, edited by Purushottama Billimoria, Jayant Balachandra Bapat and Philip Hughes. Contributing authors and researchers include Heather Foster, Carmen Voigt-Graf, Manpreet Kaur Singh, Salim Lakha, Michael Stevenson, Selena Costa-Pinto, Maragaret Kumar and Surjeet Dhanji.

Purushottama Bilimoria, PhD, is honorary professor at Deakin University and Senior Fellow at Melbourne University. He is a Chancellor’s Scholar and Visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Speaking about the broader significance of the book, Prof. Billimoria said, “The Indian community occupies an important part in the economy and welfare of Australia. This book is a neutral, academically nuanced, researched work.”

Indian Diaspora has a two pronged approach, he explained. “It educates people about their identities, practices, theology and rituals on one hand, and on the other it offers mainstream Australians a balanced perspective on the Indian community particularly the Sikh and Hindu communities in Australia,” he said.

Prof. Billimoria, who has been collecting historical data for over 20 years, believes it is important to share knowledge gained through diaspora studies. “Every community should know its history and where they are going in future,” he said. “New migrants should also have knowledge about the history of migration to their adopted country. Historical data keeps memories alive and can be passed on to the next generation.”

One of the co-editors of Indian Diaspora, Jayant Bapat is a Hindu community priest in Australia, and holds a doctorate in Organic Chemistry and Sociology. He is currently an Adjunct Research Fellow at Monash University Asia Institute and has published widely in Hinduism studies.

“I feel that people who migrate here sometimes lack a sense of heritage or belonging,” Bapat said. “This book has a lot of that information and if people understand their own cultural background and heritage, it will give them a firm footing in their minds that they belong here. It will help them to know how they have changed this place and how this place has changed them. To me, this sense of belonging is very important.”

Jayant Bapat and Rev. Dr Philip Hughes

“If the Hindu and Sikh community in Australia continue to grow at the same rate as between 2006 and 2011, then they will be the largest community in Australia apart from Christians by 2016,” remarked Reverend Dr Philip Hughes.

A senior research officer with the Christian Research Association, Rev. Dr Hughes has postgraduate degrees in philosophy, theology and education, and has undertaken many studies in the areas of religion, values, and personal and communal wellbeing. He is also an honorary research fellow at Edith Cowan University.

“Hindus and Sikhs are a strong part of the multicultural and multi religious presence in Australia and they have experienced dramatic changes over the years with new context being added and adopted,” Rev. Dr Hughes said. “Statistically backed and comprehensive work on these communities will provide a good understanding of the sub groups and multi faiths that form the Australian society.”

Members of the community at the book launch in Melbourne

Although at times the book appears very broad in scope, through selective chapters, along with multidimensional accounts, the writers have managed to elaborate on the migratory movement of Hindus and Sikhs and their influence within mainstream Australia. The theoretical analysis in the book includes comparisons with the Hindu and Sikh diaspora in the global context and touches on the historical and geographical intricacies and background of these two communities.

While an entire chapter has been devoted to Indian students in Australia, the book does not delve much into intergenerational complexities or the role and influence of religion amongst Hindu and Sikh youth. The reason for this is lack of statistical data, according to Jayant Bapat.

“While there is a lot of anecdotal evidence on migrant youth and their religious practices/affiliations, there is not enough research or data present at the moment to interpret or analyse,” he said.

The book also explores mobile traders and itinerant laborers who circulated between homeland and extraterritorial opportunities.

Indian Diaspora Hindus and Sikhs in Australia is full of past, present and promise. It provides information on mobility and migration, religiosity and adaptation. It reflects on the Indian diaspora, changing attitudes and the future of religion in Australia. It wouldn’t be classed as an easy read, but it is well worth the time spent in digesting the content.

 

Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.
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