Walking the talk


Pallavi Sinha, a lawyer by profession, is more an advocate of social justice for the Indian community. She tells Poornima Koonath that helping new migrants break into the mainstream is what motivates her

“I think that politics is a great way to add to the betterment of society and to make a difference. I have considered opportunities that have been presented to me. If the right opportunity came at the right time, and I could maintain my values and principles, I would welcome it.”

On the surface of it, Pallavi Sinha appears to be a typical girl born into a typical Indian family who had migrated to Australia and had to work very hard to find their footing in the foreign land. But the ‘typicality’ ends there, because Pallavi is no average Indian Australian. She has carved a niche for herself by being the voice of the Indian community in areas that they are hesitant to talk about. She would like to place her finger on the pulse of the problems that dog us as a community, problems that continue to hound the community even on foreign soil. Pallavi would like to be seen as an advocate of social justice and a voice of her community – both men and women.

Pallavi has a number of achievements under belt. She was the first Indian Australian woman to be invited to join the one of Australia’s leading Speaker’s Bureau, The Saxton’s Speaker’s Bureau. She was also the first Indian Australian woman to be invited to participate in the Ethics Centre Intelligence Squared debate which was broadcast on ABC and BBC World and holds the rare privilege of being one of two people in NSW appointed as a People of Australia Ambassador by the Federal Government.

Pallavi, who has won an award for Excellence in Law, Journalism and Community, says she always saw every challenge as an opportunity and explored it. As first generation Indian Australians, her parents’ journey in this country involved sweat, hard work and sacrifices. As a child, Pallavi, whose father is a doctor, did not have to go far for motivation and ideal role models. She saw firsthand the importance of hard work and dedication and that one could maintain one’s cultural identity and still be an integral part of a Western society.

In an exclusive to the Indian Sun, she said, “I think we need to create and develop an awareness and understanding of human and social values”, and undoubtedly, Indian culture when taken in the right perspective teaches us this in abundance.

“I’ve also wanted to ‘give back’ to society,” says Pallavi, who has hosted 702 ABC radio evenings and is a familiar face on ABC TV Q & A sessions. “Standing up for and giving a voice to the disadvantaged, has always been a motivation for me from school when I was Rotary Interact President and raised funds for charity, right through to university and my working life in different roles,” says Pallavi, who was born in Sydney and did her schooling at MLC Burwood and then completed her Economics (Social Sciences) and Law degrees (with honours) from the Sydney University. And she has done this with humility and aplomb, taking pride in everything she does however small or large.

India has always been close to her heart. When she finished university, Pallavi deferred her job and worked at the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi and also taught in a village school there.

Pallavi is now on the panel on ABC TV, putting forth the diverse and Indian perspective and explaining to the Western community the nuances of the Indian psyche which is very hard for a non-Indian to understand.

Domestic or family violence, mental health, education, helping new migrants and developing Australia-India ties are some of the areas she is passionate about. Pallavi was involved in meetings with the former Minister for Immigration that led to Migration Policy reform which gave domestic violence survivors access to justice. She has presented submissions before a Senate Committee on behalf of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia, and some of her recommendations were adopted by the Federal Government, including the need to collect disaggregated data in relation to culturally and linguistically diverse women.

She has been a vocal spokesperson for domestic violence survivors and women’s rights on TV, radio and in opinion pieces that she has written. She currently serves on the White Ribbon Diversity Reference Group. She is the Brand Ambassador for the first Indian Support Centre and has actively raised awareness of its existence and work, including in a recent interview with SBS Hindi. In recognition of her work over the years, she was the only individual shortlisted as a finalist in the category Diversity & the Law for the Australian Migration & Settlement Awards at the Federal Parliament, which is a huge honour. Apart from this as a lawyer she is actively involved in assisting new migrants.

Pallavi has been involved in adding to the development of a Resilience & Wellbeing Workshop prepared by the College of Law at St Leonards. For the first time, the College will host a National Wellness for Law Conference in early February. Pallavi serves on the Management Committee of the Australia India Business Council and recently spoke at a Forum at UWS Parramatta on the Challenges of Indian Economic reform. She strives to increase trade and investment between Australia and India, which engages all businesses (big or small).

All through her journey, says Pallavi, there have been numerous stumbling blocks and hurdles. According to Pallavi, lack of recognition of some issues that she is trying to raise awareness of and breaking into areas that people from the Indian community have shied from venturing into has been extremely difficult. In terms of career, as she is the first lawyer in her family so she had to fend for herself with little or no assistance from anybody in the community. “I know I have made mistakes and taken a couple of wrong turns but they have made me more stoic and strong-willed. Those mistakes have led me to where I am today,” says Pallavi.

As an Indian Australian in this multicultural society, Pallavi sees herself as a hard ‘worker’ who is happy to lead in “maximising and harnessing the potential of each individual by striving to provide equal opportunities to all irrespective of (their) socio-economic background, race or age”. She is an active member of the Multicultural Consultation Council of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board. It comes as no surprise that the two people who inspire her are American talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, and Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Pallavi also believes that though there is a bigger Indian community (India is the highest source of skilled migration and second highest source of student migration to Australia) and there are many Indian events, restaurants and shops across Australia, more work needs to be done to help Indian Australians ‘break in to the mainstream’ so that more institutions reflect the cultural diversity of Australia.

A number of people start social work as a platform to springboard their political career, but with Pallavi it has been the other way around. When asked about her political aspirations, she said, “I think that politics is a great way to add to the betterment of society and to make a difference. I have considered opportunities that have been presented to me. If the right opportunity came at the right time, and I could maintain my values and principles, I would welcome it.” But for now, she wants to continue her work to help the Indian community be heard.

You can follow Pallavi’s work on her website  www.pallavisinha.com and her twitter id @mspallavisinha.

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