Little India :A demographic dividend in Land DownUnder

By Indranil Halder

Recently I was invited to the Little India Music Festival in Sydney’s Harris Park. It was an amazing event where I was able to enjoy Bengali, Punjabi and Nepalese songs by local talents and try delicious dishes such as Butter Chicken Momos, Pav Bhaji and Dahi Bhalla from various local restaurants.

Our Harris Park:

I have been visiting the suburb of Harris Park under Parramatta council for two decades. With time, few streets of Harris Park streets have become crowded with Indian restaurants, grocery supermarkets, sweet shops and jewellery/garment stores. There are also businesses to support migration, medical needs and international student education amongst other with multiple residences occupied by Indian origin people and multicultural Australians.

As an ex international student myself, many years back, I attended a public gather which was attended by ex-consulate Dr Amit Dasguota and now High Commissioner Barry O’ Farrell who was a NSW Parliamentary to support Indian international students in Parramatta and visited Harris Park. In 2015, a Indian Republic Day celebration with flag hosting, was followed by Australia Day and Indian Independence Day celebrations and local India business groups was the start of lobbying for more celebrations from the Indian subcontinent.

Once during a certain Diwali celebration in Harris Park, I worked for Dr Arora’s Wise Emergency Specialist Centre( first of its kind private emergence care) stall provide by Sanjoy Deswal to improve understanding and awareness about private emergency care in Australian healthcare system and I quickly learnt the local buzz word ‘Little India’.

Little India Taking Shape In Harris Park:

The idea of a Little India was floating in the air for a very long time. Indian diasporas proposed it, NSW politicians used it and local businesses needed it. A dream for many. After support from Australian government and community, the dream has became a vision. Harris Park local businesses popularise the vision by hosting festivals such as Music Festival, Curry Festival and Diwali Festival.

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With the daily arrival of new migrants from India whether be international students or relatives or permanent residents, the necessity for a Little India became more apparent. They wanted to experience a slice of India in Australia as they travelled over ten thousands miles away from family, friends and fun. The busy streets of Harris Park became their only point of contact to Indian subcontinent as they start their new lives in Australia. The talk for a Little India prescient gained momentum. In May, 2023, with the visit of Indian Prime Minister(PM) Narendra Modi, the time was perfect to turn the dream into a reality.

Why Modiji’s unveiling of Little India foundation stone is a demographic dividend?

On 24/05, Modi was greeted at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney Olympic Park with Vedic chanting, traditional music and celebration of heritage culture as a crowd of 20,000 people who are educated, financially savvy and hard working cheered the historical moment with enthusiasm.

PM Modi unveiled the foundation stone for Little India with Australian PM Anthony Albanese To me, this unveiling of Little India is definitely an impactful celebration of growing ties between India and Australia, a ray of hope in improving bilateral relationship between India and Australia, tourism for Destination NSW and footfall for Western Sydney and raising awareness about hard working Indians in various and not just as petrol station attendees, truck drivers and IT consultants. It is time for a shift of image for Indian diaspora suppressed by bamboo ceiling, racial vilification and mistrust to an equal contributor to Australian socioeconomic growth.

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On 28/05 as the new parliament in Indian capital city of New Delhi unveiled ancient map of Akhand Bharat, or Undivided India which includes parts of Afghanistan, and the entire Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Little India definitely has the power to bring people together from the Indian subcontinent for a better tomorrow. As much as the shops in Harris Park remain popular with international students, new migrants and temporary settlers of Indian origin, it is also popular for Indian and their descendants who had migrated from other countries such as Indians who have settled in Australia from UK, Ghana, Africa, Singapore and Fiji to continue their professions in medicine, engineering, accounting and corporate sectors (CEOs and CFOs) and multicultural Australian crowd.

I remember, I had to accompany a senior management colleague from world’s largest medical devices company, Medtronic to Little India to meet and have dinner with his ex colleague from GE Healthcare, Singapore who had opened a restaurant in Harris Park. Suddenly, Little India seems to be a platform for stronger global engagements. But Little India is not limited to representing all cultures in South Asia, but also includes other communities, such as, the Greeks, the Lebanese, the Vietnamese, and those who have made Harris Park their home for generations. Nobel laureate Tagore often said, India is the welcoming land of many cultures and I feel, Sydney’s Little India must represent that concept at all time. A welcoming prescient of many cultures while celebrating Australia as our land of opportunities with a fair go policy. Giving Indians the ability to fulfil their dreams and successful reduced the constrains of monocultural thinking.

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Little India can be a fertile platform for Australian discussion on development and collaboration with India. A platform where international Indians visiting from India and across the globe can engage with Australian counterparts in robust discussion and learning, Indian international student can brainstorm new ideas over chai, samosa and jilabi and Australians can enjoy butter chicken while implement strategies to improving Indian healthcare infrastructure with Australian experiences. Little India must also celebrate Indian connection to Australian Aboriginals (scientifically proven to be 4000 years old with Australian Aboriginals having 11% of Indian DNA), the landing of the Bengalis in 1797 and contribution of the port city of Calcutta( Kolkata) to development of Australia with arrival of first vaccine, Bengal Rum and curry power as colonies to a country.

Today, with nearly a million Indias living in Australia, seven Australian companies having Indian CEOs such as Link’s Vivek Bhatia, Newcrest’s Sandeep Biswas and Legrand’s Palash Nandy to name a few, Little India can be perfect platform for corporate multicultural training program to improving understanding.

Modi’s recent visit definitely flagged another successful IndoAustralian foreign policy to celebrate democracy, dosti and diaspora as key objectives. Modi’s photo with Samir Pandey (the first Indian origin Lord Mayor of Parramatta city), talk on Chatkazz and hand shake with Australians government officials only made the Little India foundation stone a little bit stronger. I am confident with continuous support from Parramatta council, federal and state parliamentarians and local multicultural community leaders, Harris Park will be able to improve the image of us Indian origin people from dirty Little India to becoming a shining jewel in the crown of Australia’s multicultural identity with their contributions, achievements and recognitions.