Diwali 2016: Time To Shine A Light On Australia’s ‘Bamboo Ceiling’


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When I light candles for Diwali in my home tonight, I will be thinking about knocking down Australia’s bamboo ceiling.

Diwali, also known as the Hindu ‘Festival of Lights’, literally means a row of lights, and clay pots, candles and lights are lit in every room of a home to signify the victory of good over evil.

Darkness (or evil) represents ignorance and light (or good) is a metaphor for knowledge. Lights are lit to symbolise the ability of knowledge to destroy evils like violence, lust, anger, envy, greed, bigotry, fear and injustice.

Homes are cleaned, sweets are exchanged and new clothes are worn.

Diwali, or Deepavali, is an appropriate time to consider whether or not Australia is shining.

Take responsibility for casual racism

I’m a proud Indian Australian and a product of immigration and multiculturalism. My parents migrated here over 40 years ago, and the present composition of Australia is very different.

Over the past 60 years, Australia’s population has more than doubled. Presently, almost half the population is either born overseas or has a parent born overseas.

This is a unique opportunity for Australia to embrace different cultures, and for Australians of different nationalities to integrate and to contribute to the Australian way of life.

However, inner and outer vices, insecurities and evils such as fear and ignorance dim the shining light that Australia could be.

Subtle, indirect or casual racism seeps into Australia in institutions, public places and even in the way we interact with each other.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a busy café with a prominent member of the Jewish community. After a waitress took our order, he observed the rude tone in which she spoke to me.

The differential treatment was not just in the way she spoke to me. She had also declined letting me sit at the same table that we later moved to after he came to the café.

He had seen discrimination in other countries but observed that it took a different form in Australia.

Though Australia is a successful multicultural country, denial or jest about racism is an inherent part of racism itself.

Firstly, one should start by looking at oneself. The evil of ignoring self-responsibility must be overcome.

Discrimination is not merely a ‘white’ versus ‘black’ experience. It can manifest within races, and between races.

It is imperative to speak English – the Australian national language – and to socially integrate and imbibe Australian values, laws and systems. This will help the inner light to glow.

I feel very lucky to be born in Australia and have the best of eastern and western culture. I love the Australian way of life, and the elevating educational and work opportunities. At the same time, I have been able to maintain Indian cultural values which my parents taught me.

However, even with a bright inner light, unless people act like Australians and truly give each other a ‘fair go’, Australia’s economic, social and moral potential and prosperity will fade.

Indian community’s potential is overlooked

Data from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection indicates that the number of Indian-born people living in Australia more than doubled in the eight years from 30 June 2006 to the end of June 2014.

India is the number one country of origin for skilled migration and the number one former nationality for Australian citizenship.

Yet I have spoken to many migrants who do not feel that their qualifications, skills and experience are recognised or utilised.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve sat in a taxi with an Indian Australian driver who has told me that they would prefer to be working in the professional field that they trained in, such as engineering.

According to a National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling report by Dr Riyana Miranti, Australia is one of the most multicultural nations in the world. Her report states that most migrants are highly educated.

However, Dr Miranti says that 38 per cent of university graduates from non-English speaking countries are working in low or medium-skilled occupations, due to reasons such as: lack of Australian experience and reference, language difficulties, lack of local contacts and networks and unrecognised skills and qualifications.

The ‘Leading for Change A blueprint for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership’ report prepared by the Australian Human Rights Commission, the University of Sydney Business School, Westpac, PwC Australia and Telstra reveals startling figures.

As at July 2016, zero per cent of federal Ministers and Assistant Ministers were from a non-European background.

Less than 5 per cent of CEOs of ASX 200, federal and state public service heads and federal Parliament Ministers or Senators were from a non-European background.

As a second generation Indian Australian, I’m aware that many of my peers are highly qualified, professionally satisfied and excelling in their fields.

I have also experienced professional satisfaction in some roles.

However, my peers and I have also faced disillusionment and despair from indirect and/or institutional discrimination.

I also face intersectional issues of race and gender.

Discrimination detrimentally affects individuals, workplaces, institutions and society as a whole. The debate around diversity must recognise that diverse individuals should be recognised on their merits (and not because of their diversity).

Tonight, I will be praying for a day when inner and outer lights are lit, so that Australia comes out shining as an even brighter and more prosperous multicultural country.

Pallavi Sinha is a lawyer. She is on the 2016 AFR & Westpac 100 Women of Influence award winner List in the Category ‘Diversity’.

Online Source: Abc.net.au.

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