31 July, 2021

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Indian Immigrants In Parramatta, Sydney: Identity & Community In Action

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

As it was a warm day in spring, on Saturday my wife and I were walking along the Parramatta River, Sydney in the evening. Suddenly we came across a large gathering of Indian immigrants celebrating a national holy day i.e. Ganesh Puja. Majority of them are newly arrived young immigrants accompanied by their parents and small children. Most of them are professionals such as IT workers. On both sides of the river there are apartments that they rent. The gathered crowd had come well dressed in their sarees, and a line of people was moving towards a Hindu priest to obtain blessings. Closely on stage were a few young girls enacting a dance to the tune of music. Makeshift stalls had Indian food for sale. Obviously, the atmosphere was electric. The lights were on, loud music being played and passers by were treated to a glimpse of Indian culture and community on the riverbank

Such events are not uncommon in cities such as Sydney, which has been undergoing a significant transformation as a result of Australia’s recent immigration policy. Along with the growth of population due to immigration, measures have been taken by the private sector developers to build more apartments for renting. On an average weekday, one can observe Indian immigrants leaving for work in the morning and returning in the evening around 6.00pm after a train ride from the city CBD and other locations. Their parents look after the children during the day. Elderly parents go for a walk along the river to break the routine and get fresh air. Some go to the play ground with grand children and children. A few gather together with others who have come from India, Pakistan etc.for a yarn during warmer months. Women who are not employed take their children (and neighbour’s children as a favour) to the primary school in the morning and bring them back in the afternoon.

One could see Indian workers in places like Dubai, Singapore also. The difference here in Australia is that they are able to obtain permanent residence after completing their temporary residence period. Some in fact come as permanent residents in the first place. A migration industry has sprung up in India and elsewhere to assist prospective immigrants for a fee. Often success is not guaranteed. Once the immigrants become permanent residents, the process of acquiring Australian identity begins. It is a long process for many but a few move on the fast lane. For all intents and purposes, these are Indian people. Nonetheless they have to work in a multicultural environment in the cities resembling a melting pot. They also have to deal with a range of government departments during their time here in relation to tax, medical, transport, education or professional and other matters. In these circumstances these new immigrants come across other Australians including those with British, European, American, African, Asian backgrounds. However, looking at the Indian community living around Parramatta, it seems that they are primarily depending on each other for support at least at this stage. Some of the Indians are serving as counsellors in the city council.

Small children who come back from school in the afternoon chat among themselves in English –not in Hindi or any other regional language. They seem to be trying to sort out life here and newfound freedoms in their own way through such conversations. Mothers help the children by carrying the school bags. In time to come, most of these children will lose their Indian language skills while acquiring English language, as the latter is the language of business and education in Australia. Along with this process, they will acquire features of Australian identity defined by the society without any doubt. 

A major component of this identity is the range of rights one possess and the respect each and every one of them command by virtue of being an Australian. This includes the respect one receives from law enforcement agencies and government service providers while returning the favour by obeying laws and norms of behaviour in public places. However, a significant number of these young immigrants and their children will be employed in the corporate sector –the engine of globalised workplace. Their soft skills in information technology will be of a high quality as are the skills in handling managerial, professional and technical duties in the work place.

However, at least for the recently arrived immigrant Indians, juggling the two worlds between Australia and India will not be an easy task. Their parents have to leave after six months or a year as they are on temporary visas. Sooner or later these immigrants have to buy an apartment or a small house with a heavy bank loan for a 30-year term for which they will pay a mortgage each month. Life will be subjected to pressures from work and utility companies charging monthly or quarterly for electricity, water and gas bills etc. Local Councils will charge fees for garbage collection and other services. On the top of these, there will be insurance premiums for cars, home and contents, health and any international travel. Children going to private schools will incur further expenses. If there is any money left, they may be able to visit home in India at the end of the year to see the family and friends and catch up. Such trips incur more expenses by way of gifts for the extended family.

These immigrants –not only from India but other Asian countries as well –are fulfilling an important role in terms of Australia’s overall national trajectory for the future.   As the population is ageing, Australia requires young, enterprising, hard working residents to compensate. In the global corporate sector or economy, there is a circulation of skilled migrants also that Australia is seeking to capitalise on. Higher education as full fee paying students has become an avenue for the skilled young people seeking temporary and permanent residency.

In cities like Sydney, there are Indian and other immigrants who came 30-40 years ago and almost completed their migratory journey in terms of raising a family, working in the government or corporate sector, paid off their home mortgages, and seen the children become adults with their own families. Most of them consider themselves as Australians and in fact behave like Australians also. There is excess money in their hands, comfortable place to live, frequent travel, knowledge of the place and Australian friends. However, apart from a very few, I am not sure how many of these established Indians are involved in community organisations that involve newly arrived immigrants? Most have been absorbed by the cosmopolitan, consumer culture. Visiting glamorous shopping centres, coffee shops, textile shops, hairdressers, nail cleaners/polishers, theatre etc. is part and parcel of this culture. If they attend any Indian social functions, they may be the ones reserved for their own kind who have adopted Australian identity.

One aspect common to both these categories of Indian immigrants however is the strength they receive from the re-constituted Indian community in Australia. Though as diverse it is as in India in terms of language, provincial cultures and customs, such communities serve as a venue for mutual support, identity preservation, reinforcement of cultural practices, and recognition from the local and political authorities and more. Unlike in the broader population with a Western heritage equally subjected to global consumerist culture and way of life, most Indians are not Individuals though. They are part of a family and a vibrant community. When such communities in regional areas in Australia are breaking down due to factors not explained here, continuation of immigrant communities like the Indians with all their cultural inclinations, practices, music, food, and artistic performances can certainly add flavour to not only their own life but also to those onlookers such as us who take a daily stroll along the river oblivious to the presence of such a community or do not understand their language. If we did understand their language, we may be able to comprehend the different and deeper meanings attached to the Indian way of life –including the spiritual. In that sense, like many other Sri Lankans, I am compelled to observe and understand the community in action superficially – as an onlooker.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    4

    Buddha said, that the only thing that is constant in this world is change!
    Some bloody Indins sitting around and performing rituals don’t impress me. They are infact using culture as an excuse to cling on to very fixed and archaic ways of life, when in reality we should be riding the wave of change.
    On one hand we long for that change, hence we migrate to places like Australia to leap frog from our prevailing lifestyle to a much more mordern and sophisticated one, and yet we also choose to bring along the stupid so called traditions that are weighing us down in the first place. Ironic isn’t it?
    Humanity is trying to Jump planet and we have Indians and the rest who can’t seem to look beyond their narrow minded outlook where ever they go. What is the point of travelling in the first place.
    Whites pickup things where ever they visit, indians and asians want to rub off our culture in places we visit. What a contradiction. What stupidity. At the end of the day what we know best is to strive like buffalows year after year within the confines of our narrow narrow minds.

    • 12
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      At least the Indian government and Indians do not commit genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes on parts of their population, based on a fairy tale story called Mahavamsa and Sinhalese Buddhist Fascism. like in Sri Lanka.

      • 0
        2

        Still 3 million after “genocide”! Poor show. Better it next time.

        • 1
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          Would have been five million or more is count the population that were forcibly Sinhalised along the western coast in places like Negombo Chilaw Puttalam or the Colombo Chetties and Barathas who are now denying that they are Tamils through fear.

  • 4
    1

    Believe the same goes for the Vietnamese in Cabramatta, Sri Lankans in Stratsfield, Lebanese in Auburn etc. The long term danger will be in the building of mini ghettos. England is a very good example – you could walk for distances in certain areas and rarely see a white face.

    • 0
      3

      No Srilankans in Starthfield. Only South Indians calling themselves Srilankan.

  • 7
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    The possibility of emigration to “white countries” is doing enormous damage to Sri Lankan society – right here. The moment our people get a scrap of paper in to their hands, they dream of migrating. Few are willing to commit themselves to doing anything for our own country – right here.
    .
    Thanks, Dr Siri Gamage. I took a quick look at what you had written. I think that you realise that what applies to Indians, applies to Sri Lankans as well. Let us not expect people the world round to be bothered about the distinctions we try to take about Indians and us, “who are so much superior to other Asians, and have an Aryan heritage”.
    .
    However, in our domestic context we must become aware that mass migration is not an option for us. And among us, it is true that Tamil speakers probably support the new immigrants. Among the “Sinhalese elite” who migrated some time ago, I’m sure that many don’t want to have much to do with the new arrivals, and will do their best to disown them.
    .
    I’m not a sociologist, and not pretending to be one. However, it is obvious that the whites who now “own” Australia, will soon close the door to all of us. Trumpism has already done it elsewhere.
    .
    My appeal is for all of us still in Sri Lanka to put our country right, and not talk history to justify our own selfish aims to dominate our own weaker people. First step – make sure that we clean up our politics, by speaking out where we must.

    • 9
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      A rather curious piece by Dr. Gamage. He himself is a recent immigrant, but seems to regard the Indians as interlopers in this “white” culture . The truth is that the dominant whites themselves see little if any difference between Indians and Sri Lankans, both being the same colour. One must remember that India itself is much more diverse than Sri Lanka. If Dr. Gamage picked up the courage to speak to them, I am sure he wouldn’t have much difficulty being accepted as an honorary member!
      Indians do have a much more credible passport and do not have to resort to fishing boats to reach Australia.

  • 10
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    Dr. Gamage
    .
    This is what we observe in all western societies that accept immigrants to replenish their dwindling populations and to meet the requirements of expertise and labour for their fast-changing economies in the globalized context. Newcomers from traditional Asian and African societies, being visible minorities, find the challenges of cultural and economic integration in a new country more daunting. The difficulties and issues faced by Indian immigrants in Sydney that you have outlined in great detail apply equally to Sri Lankan immigrants in any western country. They all eventually settle down and raise a new generation in their new homes and then go through intergenerational conflict based on the sharp differences between the culture of the parents and the culture of the adopted country. Compromises will be made. While embracing the democratic freedoms and rights of the new country with much enthusiasm, some allowance would be made to retain certain ‘unsavoury’ practices from back home in the name of maintaining one’s cultural identity – practices like caste, arranged marriages, astrology, witchcraft, racist politics, etc. So there’s some cultural transplantation taking place as well, though in the 2nd, 3rd generations they will begin to die away. But what is the ‘lived experience’ for people, whether natives or immigrants, in these western, industrialized, urban societies? Work is tough and you have to be very punctual; you can’t play around like in Sri Lanka. Many people do more than one job. There is no job security, you can be fired suddenly. A highly mechanical existence dictated by the clock. Life is essentially a monotony of earning and paying bills. High consumerism, while bringing material comforts, also causes satiety and jadedness. As a result, there is a widespread sense of emptiness and ennui in these societies. There is a tinge of sadness in all of this, and I can feel it reflected in your account whether you intended it or not. A good read, thank you.

  • 2
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    This is no different from any ethnic community that migrates enmasse. Sri Lankans did not migrate in large numbers in the 1960s and 70s etc. Now they do as well; this includes Sinhalese and Tamils. But Indians are 1.3Billion. They and Chinese are everywhere in the West doing everything from chicken slaughter, janitors to nuclear scientists and professors.
    So they all tend to go to the West at much higher numbers than Sinhala people. Look at some of the states in the USA. They have Kovils mostly populated by Malayalis and Tamil migrants and other south indians with their sarees and pottus and ash on holidays. Punjabis and Gujaratis. Gujaratis are Patel Motel owners. First generation does not mingle. Even those growing up or born in the USA, prefer to marry their own.
    Dr. Gamage you too are an interloper though my buddies in Melbourne said when they arrived there in the 1980s Sri Lankan Sinhalese were much loved because of cricket and their easy going nature and booze and party culture. Indians are NOT like that; they are far more conniving and bring in with chain migration so many relatives and in-laws it is like a flood. No wonder Trump is angry. They do not mingle and now Aussies do not like Indians and view Lankans negatively too. in Germany and Canada Tamils have hovels or ethnic ghettos just like the Lebanese who create MUSLIM problems too. Pakistanis same. African negroes from Ethiopia and Somalia create ghettos with filthy hygiene like Chinese in Chinatowns in USA. These africans even slaughter animals in public housing. Aussies hate the Muslim fanatics and their no-go zones. In Melbourne law and order problems are caused by African negroes from Somalia with their APEX gang

    • 5
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      Sinhalese also create hovels and ethic ghettos around Australia in low middle class working areas like Dandenong , Endeavour Hills and go around shopping centres screeching loudly in Sinhalese and trying their best to open Viharas everywhere as usual. For your information no one lives in a hovel in any western country , may be your buddies and relatives in Melbourne. Trying to run down Tamils .Malayalis and other Indian immigrants and thinking that Sinhalese immigrants are much loved is a joke. 99.99% of the westerners will not be able to recognise the difference between various South Asian groups. We are lumped with the Indians. Sri Lankan Sinhalese were much loved in Australia and other South Asians were not! Who told you that ? Your racist buddies from Melbourne? Where from the low middle class neighbourhoods of outer Melbourne? Have just imagined this nonsense to make the Sinhalese migrants look good when the vast majority of them are menial factory workers. 90% of the Sinhalese found in Melbourne are racists and very anti Tamil belonging to organisations like Spur. You hardly found any Sinhalese 30 years ago in Australia. Burghers and then Tamils . Sinhalese only started to arrive in Australia in large numbers recently. Somalis do not cause any problems and are largely peaceful these gangs are from South Sudan , vast difference and get your facts correct instead of posting racist garbage. African negroes! what do you mean by this racist? You are something superior and they are not. Yes due to marginalisation, lack of opportunity and coming from a war torn country some of them do create problems but 95% of them are very peaceful and productive. However just because they are different certain elements and politicians are dog whistling just like the refuge problem in Australia. Dog whistling against Muslim migrants. Most of the crime committed are by white Anglo Celtic Australians and not by other groups. Tell your real or imagined buddie to provide you with correct information

  • 4
    1

    The hunter-gather had the ‘migration instinct’ etched because of their one and only one pursuit -‘search for food’. They found security in living as groups and the ‘tribal instinct’ got etched.
    .
    What Siri saw in Parramatta is simply ‘migration’ and ‘tribalism’ dressed in saree and pottu.
    One can similar gathering of Greeks, Italians and so on.
    The biggest are Europeans. The European tribal instinct led to near extinction of aborigines.

    • 1
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      Dr.Sri Gamage seems to be somewhat perturbed only about Indian females in sarees and pottus in Paramatta, Sydney.
      What exactly is the purpose of this write up?

      • 0
        3

        Uthungan,
        Indian females have better knockers than our females. Maybe Siri wants a little more exposure than is possible with sarees.

  • 1
    1

    Siri Gamage is a well respected writer. He is right to describe what he saw, Tamil women in saree and pottu at the Paramatta Kovil. Go on Siri go on.

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