The Indian community is becoming a force to reckon with in the current elections, and beyond, says community leader.
The Indian community has never been loyal to any one political party in Australia, says Harish, a community leader and social worker. According to Velji, “talk about a swing in the Indian bloc vote is unfounded and inaccurate as they have always switched from one political party to the other”. Velji says that Indians in Australia, and particularly the Indian communities in the western suburbs of Sydney, have always voted as individuals, and never as a community.
Velji, who is closely involved in community work with Indians in the western suburbs of Sydney, was also harshly critical of community leaders who assumed that they could influence Indian voters at the elections. He says that community leaders who believe that they can tell individuals in the community how to vote are deluded.
However, Velji was quick to point out that whatever the outcome of the elections in the western suburbs of Sydney, the Indian voter will play a crucial role in the determining the outcome. Velji, who has been working in Parramatta for a number of years, and who has ties with Indians all over the west, believes that the Indian community is becoming a force to reckon with. According to him, although the Indian community’s concerns are quite similar to the larger Australian community, there are some issues that are specific to the Indian community, as a migrant community. Velji says that education, employment and migration and family reunion are crucial matters for the Indian community.
Velji says that no matter who comes to power, for a community that has large numbers of recent migrants and many more who are still coming into Australia, employment and income are important. Velji says that “both the political parties need stronger policies” to help migrants find work and integrate into Australian society. The Indian community, Velji says, needs to assert itself more in demanding legislation and other measures to make these demands a reality.
And Velji’s request to voters: “Please cast your vote in order of preference, using numbers. A good number of votes are wasted as many people just tick once.”
Velji has been an active campaigner on several fronts in his 25 years in Australia. Right from his early days in Australia he used to campaign for mental health issues. After some years in Australia Velji was involved with the transport sector as a research coordinator on projects involving accident trauma and mental health.
Velji has been active in the India community for around five years now. Not a long time, some may say, given that there are community leaders who have been active on this front for a few decades. True, but Velji’s involvement with the community coincided with an important time in the community’s recent history. A casual visit to the India Fair at 2007 led to encounters with people who wanted Velji to be more active in the Indian community. The year 2007 was an eventful year for the Indian community: larger numbers of Indians and violence against Indian students were becoming talking points in the community.
In less than five years Harish Velji has played an active part in campaigning to make Hindi a part of the national curriculum; lobbying the government for three- and five-year parental visas, something close to every Indian’s heart; and campaigning for a change in Australia’s policy on Uranium to India. Velji was part of the delegation that accompanied Julia Gillard to India recently.