New book tells story of Indians Down Under in Australia

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The Indian Diaspora: Hindus and Sikhs in Australia explores the customs and practices, and cultural intermingling of Hindus and Sikhs, who account for the largest portion of the country’s Indian diaspora

It’s no secret that Australia’s half-a-million strong Indian community is growing faster than any other migrant group. It’s now large enough to be influencing the economy, not to mention colouring the landscape with festivals, religions, yoga and tandoori.

Yet little is known about how Australian Indians have contributed to multicultural society over the years with few researchers exploring or documenting the community.

A new academic text published by Melbourne University sets out to change this, tracing the history of Indian communities down under, from the late 19th century to current times.

The historical tome is indeed “very timely,” noted Ms Manika Jain, Victoria’s Consul General of India, while launching The Indian Diaspora: Hindus and Sikhs in Australia in Melbourne on 23 June.

“The Indian diaspora in Australia is growing in different climate and culture than its roots,” Ms Jain said. “It is vibrant, dynamic, assimilating and also giving, which provides very exciting opportunities to historians, sociologists and anthropologists.”

Ms Jain said the publication was timely not just due to the size and maturity of Australia’s Indian diaspora today, but also given the, “resurgence in diplomatic and political” activities between Australia and India since last year.

“The engagement is at a new height in all sectors, segments and levels,” Ms Jain said. “We are witnessing a better understanding in strategic alliance between us and both countries are looking for economic dividends from this partnership.”

But the Consul General noted that, “No partnership can achieve its full potential unless there is understanding between its people.”

“For partnerships between countries, it is imperative that their respective people understand the similarities, differences and each other’s history and culture,” Ms Jain said, adding that the book would help “facilitate” a better understanding of Indians in Australia.

“By knowing traditions, cultures, religions and the journeys of Indian Australians, it will form a bridge which will enable to understand Indians,” Ms Jain said.

Authored by internationally renowned scholar PurushottamaBilimoria, one of Australia’s most senior Hindu priests, JayantBhalchandraBapat, and leading analyst of religion in Australian Philip Hughes, the book looks at current practices of Hindus and Sikhs in Australia, while also delving into the history of Indian migration, back to the earliest Indian hawkers and 19th century Afghan cameleers.

Noting that Hindus and Sikhs account for the largest portion of Australia’s Indian diaspora, Ms Jain said the book gave, “fascinating accounts of their customs and practices, their cultural intermingling with each other and with the culture of the wider Australian community.

“It brings out vividly how profoundly Indians have contributed not only to culture, society and way of life in Australia but also to Australian thought, psyche and economy with quiet harmony.”

Ms Jain said the book also dispelled the common belief that Indian migration to Australia was a recent phenomenon, which only commenced in second half of the 20th century.

“I congratulate once again Dr Bilimoria, DrBapat and Dr Hughes for putting together this work, which is not only timely but also really needed, and wish them all success in this labour of love,” she said.

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