Having just celebrated its 50th anniversary, the Australia India Society of Victoria (AISV) has more reasons to cheer for. This January it became a recipient of the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award. Constituted by the Indian government’s Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in conjunction with the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Non-resident Indian Day), the award honours exceptional and meritorious contribution in any chosen field. AISV was recognised for its community services.
For the president of the organisation, Dr Gurdip Aurora, it is an extreme honour to have been felicitated by the President of India Pranab Mukherjee in Kochi. “I have no idea how we were selected,” gushes Dr Aurora, adding “I feel very happy on receiving the award. It’s an award for the Victorian Indian community in Australia. It is fifty years now that we have been there and lots of people have helped shape the organisation to its present state,” he told G’day India.
Dr Aurora said all his airfares, hotel accommodation and provision of a chauffeur driven car with an escort over three days in Kochi was paid for by the Govt. of India. He was very impressed by the hospitality and the warm welcome that he was bestowed upon on his arrival and during his three day stay in Kochi.
He was overwhelmed by the warm welcome given to him by the Hon Minister Vayalar Ravi, The Chief Minister of Kerala the Hon Oommen Chandy and the Hon KC Joseph Minister for cultural Affairs, Rural development, planning and Economic Affairs. They did a fantastic job in arranging the whole event very professionally and tastefully. During his stay in Kochi he had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister of India, Mr Manmohan Singh and the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee.
Two organisations – Australia India Society of Victoria, Indian Doctors Forum, Kuwait, – won the award for their contribution towards the welfare of Indian diaspora. While AISV is one of the oldest Indian organisations in Melbourne, the Indian Doctors Forum, Kuwait, is active in organising healthcare programmes for Indian community as well as Kuwaiti people. So far, only two Australians have been conferred with this award — well-known ICT industry leader Neville Roach AO and scientist Veena Sahajwalla.
It has been a long journey for an organisation that was formed in 1963 when Indian migrants to Australia were few and far between. Nonetheless, there was a need to cater to a community that had people from diverse backgrounds trying to fit into a new landscape of culture and lifestyle. The main aim of AISV has been to assist in fulfilling the aspirations of Indians in their adopted country and to encourage their active participation in, and contribution to, a just and culturally diverse society.
Over time, the Indian community grew hundred fold, says Dr Aurora, and along with it came many issues. In 2011-12 Indians were the largest source of permanent migration to Australia. Indians formed 15.7 per cent of the total migration programme in 2011-12.
The Australia India Society of Victoria has been involved in a number of projects involving the welfare of the community. “There are no problems facing the community,” says Dr Aurora. “But there are issues such as domestic violence, deaths and funeral costs of migrants, resettlement of new migrants, etc., which we take up on a regular basis,” he says.
The problems with international students were some of AISV’s focal area in the past and looking after the welfare of Indians is a continual effort. Even when sitting in his Melbourne office, Dr Aurora, a doctor by profession, is sometimes making interstate calls to intervene a case of domestic violence informing the police and ensuring safety of victims. “It is not something we normally do but when we get emails and realise the urgency of a situation we have to help.”
AISV has been credited for establishing an Indian Visa issuing facility in Melbourne; establishing the Victorian Indian Community Charitable Trust (VICCT), to name a few achievements. For the future, it will examine issues related to the needs of first generation, retirement age Indians living in Australia and address culturally sensitive issues of retirement accommodation and nursing home care. It will aim at providing social support to Indians having difficulty living in mainstream society and seek culturally sensitive solutions for problems such as loneliness, domestic violence and drug addiction. Providing opportunities for second generation Indians to stay connected with their culture and heritage and improving the quality of life for the Australian Indian community are its other long term objectives.
For Dr Aurora who migrated to Australia in the 1970s, staying united as a community is very important. “We have to work together. We will get more strength if we are united. Of course, we should not be fighting over small issues. At the end of the day we will be judged by our own actions.” For now, the verdict is in favour of AISV. For all its work, it has just added another feather to its cap.
By Indira Laisram