Having completed more than six months in office, Consul General of India (CGI) in Melbourne Manika Jain seems to have adjusted well to the change of pace here in this scenic city. Sitting at her St Kilda Office and talking about her new posting, responsibilities and other issues, Jain candidly admits she is enjoying Melbourne very much but is quick to correct that the life of a diplomat does not revolve round meeting dignitaries and celebrities as is commonly assumed. Consulates also do a lot of unglamorous work such as filing in mundane queries that might be there on the website, for one, she laughs. “We are the resource provider for information related to India; we are a contact point for many. There is the misconception that it is all party time,” she clarifies.
Most importantly, her job as the emissary of the government of India is to ease the relationship between two countries and to cut irritants, if any. “That itself is an agenda,” says Jain who joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1993 after completing her post graduate studies in law from Delhi University. Of course, there are no set achievable targets in this profession but “implementing day to day consular services, making Australians understand India and vice versa (to some extent), keeping in touch with our counter parts of many countries here are all part of the direction.”
Prior to Melbourne, Jain had done assignments in Portugal, Myanmar and Indonesia. “Every assignment is different; it has its own challenges and different profile. One cannot really compare,” she notes. Coming at a time when relations between India and Australia have come out of the shadows of uranium and students’ issues, Jain feels a lot more work can be done to enhance trade relations between the two countries. “I would say Victoria is the only state where India has a surplus in trade. We export more to Australia than we import because larger imports from Australia are the metals. But there is more potential which needs to be tapped. India is a big market, Victorians know that. Besides, education there is more we can do,” says Jain who was also on deputation to Ministry of Commerce in Trade & Policy division.
The IT sector is here but much more can be done than that, says Jain. “There are other sectors also where collaboration, technical know-how, urban development, etc., can be tapped. There are things which India manufacture and produce which is world class but Australia does not import all the manufactured goods so India can be a sourcing place.”
On the many Indian community and organisations, Jain is of the view that there should be a little more cohesiveness. “I would say different groups in terms of their linguistic and cultural interest are fine but that does not mean the groups cannot work together for a larger issue or a common issue. Yes you have a cultural identity but you also have a larger identity.”
On the now much publicised domestic violence cases, Jain says it is part of consular work to help any Indians who approach the office. “But such victims do not generally seek direct help,” she notes, adding, “There are various Indian organisations that are doing work on domestic violence. In case we do get people seeking assistance, we try and send them to these bodies that can help them, if not we see how to facilitate them, etc. It’s a consular service like any other.”
The office of the Consul General is a much coveted job but it is also one that demands the most of one’s physical and mental strengths. Jain is hoping to see a bit more of Australia during her stint here but sadly there is just not much time for holiday, she rues. For Melburnian Indians, it is a comforting thought that the new CGI is accessible and helpful.
By Indira Laisram