Overseas Indians are now truly anchored well economically in their respective host countries, but yet still firmly rooted in the hoary cultural traditions of the homeland they hark from. In Australia and the Pacific, they seem to have come of age well, and dominate Australia’s multicultural society, as was echoed by Queensland’s Multicultural Affairs Minister at the last stop Down Under by the Indian Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi, even as he concluded his 6-day visit to Oceania for the 7th Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (RPBD) held in Sydney earlier this month. K.R. Gupta, a doyen of Indian journalism and an active advocate of India’s Diaspora community, shares his experience.
Following on the heels of the RPBD 2013 that was held between November 10-12 at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre, Vayalar Ravi received a rousing reception from the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) International and the Federation of Indian Communities in Queensland (FICQ) on November 13th in Brisbane, near the famous Gold Coast. Nearly 150 leaders and representatives from at least 15 Indian community organizations led by GOPIO had gathered along with several Australian politicians, for a gala event hosted to felicitate Ravi. 50,000 Indian origin persons live in the province of Queensland alone, out of a total of the nearly 500,000 Indian resident in Australia. The Australian government sees Indians as the fastest growing ethnic migrant community, and have now taken to teaching Hindi and Punjabi in schools, with the languages even being offered as degree courses in three major Australian universities. During the RPBD 2013, first Indian origin MP Hon Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, former Prime Minister of Fiji Mahendra Singh Choudhary, and several Australian Premiers, Federal Ministers and MPs had participated, all of whom had lauded the Indian government and the Indian community for giving a fillip to bilateral and regional relations through the conferences.
The Brisbane Indian community event was held at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and was symbolic of the Indian community’s tremendous accomplishments in their relatively new migrant host-countries. The Emcee was the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Arun Sharma, and among the attendees were the richest Indian in Australia, Maha Sinnathamby, and the first highest-serving Australian bureaucrat of Indian Origin, Jim Varghese. The event was organised through GOPIO International Executive Council Member Munish Gupta who divides his time shuttling between Los Angeles and Delhi, and Prof. Prasad Yarlagadda, a well known scientist at QUT and a respected community leader. Shyam Das, President of the GOPIO Queensland chapter, welcomed Vaylar Ravi and thanked Gupta for facilitating the visit of the Minister and the event. Dr. Naidu Bodapati, President FICQ Queensland, after introducing the Minister, presented a request on behalf of more than 30 community associations to grant a full Consulate General status to Brisbane, instead of the current Honorary Consul representing the government of India in probably the third fastest growing Indian community hub of Oceania.
Vayalar Ravi and his Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), and High Commission of India gave the event due recognition with the presence of Manoj Kumar, Joint Secretary of MOIA, Subbarayudu, Consul General of India based in Perth, and Kumar, First Secretary from the High Commission of India in Canberra. Senior Kerala Government Minister Hon. K. C. Joseph was an invited dignitary. Five Malayalee community organizations came together to provide mementos to Minister Ravi and Minister Joseph for visiting Brisbane.
Two senior Members of Parliament from Queensland, Anthony Shorten and Freya Ostapovitch, were present throughout the 3-hour ceremony and addressed the gathering. It was clear that the Ministers and MPs from Australia were recognizing the coming of age of the Indian community and underlining Australia’s unequivocal support for more migration, more students from India, and trade with India. The Deputy Premier of Queensland had just a day earlier addressed the RPBD 2013 closing ceremony in Sydney, and the Premier had sent a special emissary and message to the event in Brisbane as the Premier was traveling. Asked if they could afford to ignore the issues and concerns of the sizable Indian community in Queensland or Australia, MP Shorten said he would simply say that Australia loves the growing Indian community which has served to be a bridge with India.
A jubilant Indian Minister Vayalar Ravi soaked in all the introductions and accolades he received from his own people now settled in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and the praise bestowed upon him by the Queensland Mps, by graciously assuring to do all that his government and he can for the Pravasi Bharatiyas. Overseas Indians make India proud, he said, while complimenting the high class and well attended event at the QUT 12th floor 360 degree conference dining venue with a breathtaking view of Parliament on one side, and the Brisbane river on the other. Ravi counted his Ministry’s accomplishments for Overseas Indians and said the government would do more to make it easier for NRIs and PIOs to visit India, study in India, work in India, find their roots in India and now invest and bring their countries of residence closer to India. He invited Indians in Oceania to attend the next annual Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (PBD) to be staged between January 7-9, 2014 in New Delhi, of which the first day is being dedicated for the first ever time for interaction between youth from India and the Diaspora.
Munish Gupta, as the facilitator, thanked the Queensland Indian community, the Queensland Government, and the High Commission of India for an impeccable event, and thanked the Minister for taking a day out for the benefit of the Brisbane Indian community that oft felt ignored. In finally making the community rise in standing ovation for Minister Ravi, Gupta underlined that the presence of local Indians from literally every walk of life represented that the Indian Diaspora was now fully assimilated in their country of residence, and ready to take on roles and challenges even in the polity of Australia.