October 30, 2013
Australia is a majority Christian but pluralistic society with no established religion. Though most of the Australians call themselves religious, in the same breath they are quick to add that faith does not play an important part in their lives. The 2006 national census depicted Hinduism as a religion growing at a pace faster than other religions and the 2011 national census confirmed that Hinduism indeed is the fastest growing religion in Australia putting behind Buddhism and Islam. In this piece of writing, the terms ‘Hindu’ and ‘Indian’ have sometimes been used interchangeably.
‘In Unison’ - The traditional ‘namaste’ by Aussie citizens who originally hailed from different nationalities
The fastest growing religion in Australia is now Hinduism. It jumped more than 97 per cent in the past six years and now around 280,000 Hindus reside in Australia. The most common non-Christian religions in 2011 national census were Buddhism (accounting for 2.5 per cent of the population), Islam (2.2 per cent) and Hinduism (1.3 per cent). Of these, Hinduism has experienced the fastest growth since 2006, increasing from 148,130 to 275,534 (0.7% to 1.3%), followed by Islam from 340,394 to 476,291 (1.7 to 2.2) and Buddhism from 418,749 to 528,977 (2.1 to 2.5) as per the 2011 national census. The other big growth was in Sikh numbers. The stream of Hindu migrants coming to Australia is unlikely to abate if an opinion poll of Indian attitude to Australia conducted by the Lowly Institute for International Policy, released in May 2013 is of any guide with only the US, Japan and Singapore ranking higher amongst the 22 nations surveyed.
The numbers of those affiliated with religious traditions other than Christian have risen disproportionately so that now one in fourteen Australians belong to such traditions. In the period 2006-2011, the Hindu population almost doubled. The explosion in the Hindu presence in Australia over the past six years was not only in the actual followers but also in temples – there are now at least 34 temples dotting the Australian landscape.
‘Where faith meets real life’ - Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple located in a spacious premises on Boundary Road in the suburb of Carrum Downs, Victoria
Christianity remained the most commonly reported religion in Australia with 61.1 per cent of the population reporting affiliation with a Christian religion - a decline from 63.9 per cent in 2006. Of these, Catholics form the majority, accounting for more than the Anglicans, Uniting Churches and Presbyterian/ Reformed Churches combined - being the other three main Christian denominations.
The 2011 Census of Population and Housing data released on June 21, 2012 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows more Australians than ever are identifying as having no religious affiliation. The number of people reporting 'No religion' increased significantly, from 18.7 per cent of the population in 2006 to 22.3 per cent in 2011 that sums upto 4,796,787 to become the largest grouping after Catholics. It is widely believed that majority of the people of Chinese origin do not believe in any religion, an echo of the governance they come from. The question of religious affiliation is the only optional question in the Census, with 8.6 per cent of Census respondents choosing not to answer it.
History and Ancestry:
A study of DNA has found that Indians may have come to Australia around 4000 years ago. Officially, the Indian immigration began early in colonial history. Indian crews from the Bay of Bengal came to Australia on trading ships soon after 1788 and others came as labourers in convict ships. A few Hindus came to live and work in Australia under the system of indentured labour in the 1830s. Some came as camel drivers and others as itinerant merchants or hawkers. There were very few women and children among the immigrants and many men travelled to their homelands, some returning permanently. The 1881 census records 998 people who were born in India but this had grown to over 1700 by 1891. The 1991 Census recorded 43,580 Hindus living in Australia with estimates that by 1995 there were close to 46,500 and by the end of the last century close to 60,000. Since the beginning of this century, the Hindu population of Australia has multiplied manifold.
‘A temple visit’ - Pooja Sharma and Gaurav Sharma hailing from Delhi regularly visit the temple with their offerings to the Deity
While most Hindus have Indian ancestry, they have come to Australia from a variety of places. In 1991, one in four was born in India and a similar number were born in Fiji though since the beginning of this century, the people born in India have outnumbered the rest. The next largest group were those born in Australia, which accounted for 17 per cent. Some of these (about 2000) had both parents born here: this would include Australian converts to Hinduism or followers of Hindu sect, as well as others from families of Indian origin who have been in Australia for a long time. A further 13 per cent were born in Sri Lanka out of which many have settled here as refugees fleeing the country during war. Interestingly, Aboriginal people were also among those who identified themselves as Hindus. About 85% of Hindus now living in Australia were born overseas in countries including Fiji, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Indians may be Australia’s most skilled, most successful and most middle class migrant group. Three quarters of Indians to arrive in Australia in the past two decades have entered under the skilled migration program. The largest job category is ‘professional’ followed by clerical, administration, technicians and tradespeople. One in three has a bachelor degree or a higher qualification. They are highly skilled professionals particularly excelling in information technology, teaching, engineering, medicine and commerce. Many are successful businessmen and women.
‘The Ramans from Tamil Nadu’ – Nithya and Nataraj enjoy a relaxing moment in the ‘Tulip Festival’ in Dandenong Ranges in South-Eastern Victoria last Spring
The shortcoming however has been Australia does not recognise most of the overseas qualifications. Though Australia’s Hindu population is highly educated, due to this impediment there is high unemployment among Hindus as well. Hence, many do not get employment in their own area of specialisation. For example, Indian Chartered Accountancy (CA) is not recognised, the person need to top up with an Australian CPA or Australian CA qualification. If this is taken as the benchmark, one can draw a conclusion where the Indian qualifications stand. Many who persevered, having gained the relevant Australian qualification have been largely successful in gaining prominent positions in Organisations and as a result the per-capita income has also been high. As one commentator put it ‘We are now starting to see more Indians in significant positions with companies and are seeing more people of Indian origin in the media including with the broadcasters.’ Good education makes great leaders. One fact that should be noted among the successful is that they have had the best of educational base back in India in convents, missionary schools and colleges.
The majority of Australian Hindus live along the Eastern Coast of Australia in cities of Sydney (New South Wales) and Melbourne (Victoria). Perth (Western Australia) has a sizeable number of Hindus as well. A suburb in Victoria called ‘Point Cook’ was dubbed as ‘Mumbai Cook’ as majority of the residents there were Indian. As a community, Hindus live relatively peacefully and in harmony with the local populations.
Indians now top migrants to Australia:
INDIA is now the biggest source of migrants, eclipsing China and the once-dominant Britain. We can assume large numbers were former international students who had qualified onshore. Seven of the top 10 source countries in Australia’s 2011-12 migration programme are from Asia: India, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and Vietnam. The Third World colonisation of Australia has continued apace and up to 25 per cent of the population is now of non-European origin.
‘One for the pose’ - The Maharashtrian ‘Katre sisters’ with the Punjabi ‘Chawla siblings’ at the latter’s home in Cragieburn in Northern Victoria
Indian Australian refers to an Australian of Indian descent. They include both those who are Australian by birth, and those born in India or elsewhere in the Indian Diaspora. They are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in Australia today with Australia's Indian-born population having recorded the fastest growth in the country in 2008-2009, increasing by 44,012. During the past 15 years, the number of Indian-born Australian residents has increased fourfold while Chinese-born residents have tripled.
• One can find people from every part of India having made Australia their home and hence naturally the Indian traditions have come alive. Throughout the year, one can hear the Indian festivities celebrated - the various harvest festivals, Holi and Diwali topping the list.
‘Of dandiyas and traditional costumes’ - Dandiya Raas: A night in October 2013 at Oakleigh Recreation Centre in South East Victoria
• An increase in the Hindu population has given rise to numerous Associations. Apart from the Indian Association, there exist many regional, cultural and linguistic associations catering to the needs of the community. The Australian Government encourages such Associations and supports them with financial assistance.
• The Indian grocery shops have multiplied along with Indian Restaurants in the city, its fringes and the suburbs. Indian Restaurants are next only to Chinese in numbers, experts opine. With Aussies having no more than half a dozen cuisine to call their own, they love food of other cultures, especially Indian with the spicy stuff.
• Indian vegetables and of late Indian fish are available in plenty. They are a bit expensive compared to the local chicken though.
• The traditional Hindu spiritual exercise of Yoga and Bollywood Dance classes are offered in various council programmes throughout Australia and are widely popular.
• In Politics, Lisa Singh was Australia’s first federal parliamentarian of Indian origin. Apart from her and the Kenyan born Malayali Peter Varghese – the former Australia’s High Commissioner to India there are no names worth mentioning. In the just concluded Federal Election of 2013, many Australian Indians were in the fray from different parties. The Liberal candidate for the seat of Wills (Victoria), Mangalorean Pooja Hegde lost badly to the Labour candidate though in the national level, the Liberals swept the polls and captured power.
• In Sports, Lisa Sthalekar, a female Cricketer is the only name that can be mentioned. A former Australian international player, she represents the State of New South Wales. In the male stream, it has been a distant dream with the Pakistani and the Sri Lankan origin players in the forefront and Indian origin cricketers hardly making any dent even at the regional level.
• Indian origin students are one of the top student groups who are continuing to excel, securing scholarships into the elite schools and making it big in the University as well. Likewise, Indian teachers have made a name in many leading Australian Universities, most notable among them being Purshottama Bilimoria, a professor at the Deakin University, Melbourne and also a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition, Akshay Venkatesh and Varghese Mathai are noted mathematicians.
• Of late, the many Prime Ministers of Australia have emphasised the importance of engagement with Asia, especially with India as they do not want to miss the boat with one of the fastest growing economy. There is also a proposal to introduce Hindi as an optional language in the Secondary Colleges.
• With their command in English, many Indian writers have shot into prominence – from writing Columns in leading newspapers to being Editors. Kersi Meher-Homji is an Author and Biographer. Our own Anand Adiga and Indira Naidoo have made it big.
• Many Indians have been successful in business because they innovate and toil hard burning the midnight lamp. In the western Victorian suburb of Footscray - a loss making Pizza joint that was taken over by an Indian family, introduced a new Tandoori Pizza that is selling like hot cakes. Pankaj Oswal, a leading businessman was at one time, one of Australia’s richest persons.
The entire stretch of Carinish Road, Opposite the Railway Station in Clayton, South East Victoria is filled with Indian shops and business establishments
• Tharini Madaliar is an actress, singer and violinist. Aussies love Bollywood movies, music and dance. The hit number ‘Jai ho’ repeatedly played in FMs, draws more taps from the Aussies than the Indians. Bollywood ring tones are favourite in their cells and smart phones.
• Hindus have adopted Aussie names – Jigar becomes Jason, Nitin becomes Natan, Devinder becomes Dev, Jaswinder becomes Jazz and Roopinder becomes Ruby to mention a few. Many Hindu parents who have settled here have given Christian names to their children to blend with the local population.
• One can see the guards manning big buildings and important locations are overwhelmingly Indians. The most recent – among the Victorian Protective Services Officers (PSO) manning the Railway Stations in Victoria at night, many are of Indian origin.
• Though in a faraway land, Indians have kept their culture intact. Children go to traditional dance classes; have their mother-tongue fine tuned with the language tutors among other things.
- India, an ancient land full of rich culture and traditions with various kingdoms and dynasties – instead of fighting between themselves - if a couple of them had extra-territorial ambitions and would have ventured beyond the seas and occupied this gigantic island (which was not known as Australia then), Indian influence would have spread far and wide. The reality, however we know is different, so much so, it could not hold on to itself.
- Indian origin people are more and more visible in Australia since the past five to ten years. Thus, the traditional Indian dresses of sarees/churidhars are becoming a common sight.
- Down the years, the growth in the Indian community is likely to lead into creation of an ‘Indian lobby’ in Australian politics with a few politicians of Indian descent making it to the Australian Parliament – State and Federal level.
- If the English, travelling half the world would not have come here and stay put, probably we would have read in history books as ‘Australia being a dark continent’ and I would not have been here Down Under writing this piece.
- Thanks to Lord Macaulay for introducing English in India so that Indians are thriving wherever they go as there is no language barrier. A Brazilian friend of mine to whom I was tutoring English commented thus ‘You guys are extremely lucky. We cannot compete with you people in any form. I wish instead of the Portuguese, if the English would have come to our land, we would have been a different people flourishing today,’ sums up the importance of English in the modern world especially after the victory of English speaking nations over the other Forces in World War II. The Mighty always rule.
- Whenever I have travelled to India, I have been bombarded with questions about Racism from the educated class to the illiterate. This was not the case when I went down from the Arabian Gulf when people should have asked me more and more of those questions. Commenting on ‘Racism’ in Australia is futile as it is blown out of proportion, especially by the Indian media that publish only half facts. The reality is that the countries that I have had previously lived have been far more racist in different forms than Australia. I am not saying there has not been any here - in the cases there were, predominantly the Caucasians (white race) were never a party to it. Most cases are relating to ‘culture shock’ that has been dubbed as racism. As regards the culture shock, the unfortunate incidents that have occurred, Indians are squarely to blame for they were solely the cause. Without fire, there will not be any smoke. If the ‘racism’ story was true, Indians would not have made a beeline to come and settle here calling it one of the most preferred countries to make a home.
- As an only non-white member of the ‘Advisory Board’ of my daughters’ school in the last seven years, I have influenced the Board to have a sizeable number of Hindu and Sikh children get admission into the School, changing the outlook, perception and composition. Continuing with this, we had the first Bollywood Bingo Night in April 2013 that was a runaway success with a sea of sarees, salwar kameezes and kurta pyzamas donned by about 12 nationalities being a spectacle in itself.
‘Diwali 2012’ - Yogita Katre, a Mumbaikar placing a diya in her newly built home in the western suburb of Hoppers Crossing, Victoria
Turning the clock back, I have vivid memories of my younger days spent during the ‘festival of lights’ in Bangalore and Mangalore. There were no Hindus, no Muslims, no Christians but a sea of humanity spontaneously celebrating the triumph of truth over evil. As the whole nation, along with an estimated 25 million strong Indian Diaspora celebrates Diwali on November 3, from Down Under - let me take this opportunity to wish A Happy Diwali to all.
Jagmag jagmag jalte ye sunder deep
Charon taraf roshni hi roshni ho ..
Meri hai duha yahee -
Honto par aapki hardam hansi hee hansi ho …