Indian migrant women in Australia: strong willed, fiercely independent & very well integrated
By Dr. Jayantee Mukherjee Saha[Director and Principal Consultant, Aei4eiA]
Indian Women- An enigma
Here is a true story of a tribal woman from a remote village in India who went to a bank to withdraw money from her account. She signed the slip but the teller did not hand over the money as her thumb impression did not match her signature. She completely refused to give her thumb impression now that she undertook literacy programme and was no more illiterate. Instead, she walked back to her village, 14 kilometres away, brought the certificate and her Election Commission identity card. Her new ID was created. Her confidence, grit and self-reliance mesmerised many. She put in so much effort and refused to accept the stereotype to establish her earned and well deserved identity (Mukherjee Saha & Rowley, 2014).
This story serves as a teaser to the characteristics of Indian women which might perhaps be contrary to stereotypes of being a symbol of the backwardness. Though being a diverse and complex diaspora with wide range of attitude, characters and shades, mostly contemporary Indian women back in India and locally have reinforced their roles not only as storytellers, and transmitters of culture, language and folklore, but also as breadwinners and decision makers for their families (Bates 2001). However, as Anderson and Jack noted, not many of the contributions and potential of Indian women living here in Australia come to the fore as they ‘often mute their own thoughts and feelings when they try to describe their lives in the familiar and publicly acceptable terms of prevailing concepts and conventions”(1991: 11).
Though, the modern history of Indian migrants date back a few centuries, in those early days it was often the males from India who were brought in to work here in Australia. Over the years women from India joined their male counterparts. From those early days, today, there are over 130, 000 Indian migrant females living in Australia. According to the 2011 census, they are spread across Australia- Victoria: 48,523; New South Wales: 43, 411; Queensland: 13, 038; Western Australia: 13, 629; South Australia: 8, 281; Australian Capital Territory: 2, 706; Northern Territory: 866; Tasmania: 696 respectively (ABS, 2012).
In general, Indian community in Australia may be characterised as young- with a median age of 31 years; qualified- Indian born Australians were almost three times as likely as other Australians to have a Bachelor degree or above. They are more likely to be qualified in the field of management and commerce followed by engineering and related technologies and English speaking. Indian migrant women though qualified and skilled themselves face challenges as regard to economic integration. Their long-term economic well-being is often negatively affected and in most cases they become economically dependent on their male counterparts (ABS, 2012).
The balancing act…
Traditionally, in Indian culture [like many cultures in the world], men were the sole breadwinners and decision makers, whereas female members of the family and the children followed the decisions unconditionally. However, with the changing times, gaining education, employment and economic independence such scenario changed in favour of women. Interestingly, the Hindu mythology regards woman as the sign of “fertility” and “abundance”- a source of life sustaining power, the giver of energy (Roy, 2010). In fact, in ancient India, women were active participants in the social life and political debates in their surroundings.
In his book ‘The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity’, Nobel laureate in Economics Prof. Amartya Sen notes, “In the course of the evolution of women’s movement women are not passive recipients of welfare-enhancing help brought about by society, but are active promoters and facilitators of social transformations. Such transformations influence the lives and well-being of women, but also those of men and children—boys as well as girls. This is a momentous enrichment of the reach of women’s movement” (Sen, 2005).
Indian women living in Australia is no different and as Manuelrayan (2011, p 138) notes, they are 'strong willed, fiercely independent, extremely intelligent and very well integrated balancing their Indian ancestry and their Australian citizenry. The courage and vision of these women should not go unnoticed".
[This article is based on the broader research titled- The Brown Beauties of NSW: Indian Women in Australia Series Issue No.1 (2014), conducted by Aei4eiA, Sydney, Australia].
# Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2012), 2011 Census of Population and Housing- Basic Community Profile (based on place of usual residence catalogue number 2001.0)
# Anderson, K and Jack, D (1991), Learning to listen: interview techniques and analyses‟ in S Gluck and D Patai (eds) Women’s words: the feminist practice of oral history, Routledge, New York, pp 11–26.
# Bates, C. (2001), “Community and Identity among South Asians in Diaspora”, Community, Empire and Migration: South Asians in Diaspora. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2001. 1-45.
# Manuelrayan, A (2011), Cultural reorientations: how Indian mothers and daughters in Canberra are renegotiating their ‘hyphenated’ identities, Cultural Studies Association of Australasia Conference ‘Cultural ReOrientations and Comparative Colonialities’, Adelaide, 22–24 November 2011.
# Mukherjee Saha, J. & Rowley, C. (2014), The changing faces on the human resource profession in the Asia-Pacific region, Elsevier, Oxford, UK.
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