21st Century “Kunta Kinte”! Chapter 6: Back to reality!

21st Century “Kunta Kinte”! Chapter 6: Back to reality!

21st Century “Kunta Kinte”!
Introduction: Revealing the “untold”! | Chapter 1: The realisation! | Chapter 2 : The beginning! | Chapter 3: The dream! | Chapter 4: The flash Back (part one) | Chapter 5: The flash back! (part two)

Chapter 6: Back to reality!

I wonder, how many people have considered my flash backs as an influence for me to accept a self-decided ‘Bonobash’ supported by the ‘developed world’. From 1987 to 2012, it is now 25 years that we have been calling a different land ‘home’.

Is it time to raise our voice to attain equal opportunity like some other migrants from other countries?

Is it time for us to raise policy issues with the Australian Government and raise their awareness about some of the issues bothering some of us!

A lot of our readers agreed to the issue of ‘citizenship certificate’ and the issue regarding ‘superannuation’ (ref: Chapter 3).

Or, is it utopia to ‘dream’ that one day the citizenship certificate will be superseded by the Australian Passport?

Is it far away, when we can get equal status like some other migrants from countries like UK and Greece?

However, June 2012, the reality is – I am in Australia, serving the Australian Government and Australian public. I came here as a skilled migrant – this is my core business.

But reflecting the past, I can still confirm the factors pushed and pulled me into this situation.

Do I regrate?
No, I don’t. Not at all as it was a conscious decision at that time!

I still would like to highlight some critical issues though, which I believe worth raising now across the developed world!

I just want to share my own experience and feelings with you all. But again as one of our close family friends always says, “Bhaia, feelings are so subjective and value based that it varies between people, even if we come from the same cultural, religious and/or socio-economic background”.

One of my friends, a senior official with the Australian Government differed with some of my statements. I highly respect his view. I agree with lots of his disagreements as it relates to his own personal experience. Being one of the pioneering full-fee paying student in Australia in the 1990’s and eventually becoming a citizen of Australia – his perspective is very different than a skilled migrant without any institutional qualifications achieved in Australia.

One of his views about accessing the unemployment and other benefits from the Australian Government has valid point. He argued that these services are available for all Australians not only for the migrants like us. So obviously it is not a service to ‘hook’ migrants!

I agree and I would like to believe that!

However the history of these services may lead to a different view.

It is very interesting that at the turn of the century there was no social security system in Australia. Charitable relief was provided to needy persons by voluntary organisations, in some cases with the assistance of government grants.

The main areas of need which attracted charitable assistance were the ‘sick poor’, neglected children, old people who were destitute and women who had been deserted or who had ‘fallen’ pregnant. The unemployed were assisted by grants of wages, or rations, in return for relief work provided by the government.

The Commonwealth of Australia was formed on 1 January 1901 by federation of the six States (and later two additional Territories) under a written constitution which, among other things, authorised the new Commonwealth Parliament to legislate in respect of age and invalid pensions. The new pensions, which were financed from general revenue, came into operation in July 1909 and December 1910 respectively, superseding State age pension schemes.

The new pension was paid to men from age 65. It was paid to women at age 60, but not until December 1910. The age pension was also subject to a residence qualification of 25 years which was reduced to 20 years shortly after introduction. In 1912 the Commonwealth introduced a maternity allowance. This allowance was a lump sum cash grant payable to a mother on the birth of a child.

Why am I going through the history of welfare?

Because, national social security payments like unemployed benefit was not introduced until the end of the Second World War. Only Queensland had an unemployment insurance scheme in 1923.

The Commonwealth Department of Social Services was created in 1939 and became fully operative in 1941. Pensions had previously been administered within the Department of the Treasury.

There was a major extension of the social security system in 1945 with the introduction or Commonwealth unemployment and sickness benefits in the form of flat-rate payments financed from general revenue and subject to an income test.

The introduction of these new benefits took place against a background of major changes in the revenue-raising functions of the Commonwealth and the States. But still Australian Government decided to introduce the unemployment benefit scheme.

One school of thought suggests that this scheme was implemented to ‘support’ the new migrants from the European countries. Just after the World War II, the biggest flow of migrants hit Australia and few other developed countries. Australia wanted to host these migrants appropriately rather than losing them to other developed countries. Hence the newly introduced unemployment benefit worked as ‘miracle’ to retain/attract new migrants!

Australia needed the migrants!

According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the purpose of Australia’s Skilled Migration Program is to deliver workers with the skills Australia needs. To get the maximum economic benefit from this program it is important that skilled migrants are successful in the labour market-enjoying a high rate of labour force participation, a low rate of unemployment and a high propensity for skilled employment.

“please read between the lines!!”

One of my learned friends, again working for the Australian government, agreed and defended the concept of ‘migrant slavery’ and argued our situation as ‘mental slavery’ rather than ‘physical slavery’. Again, I agree with him as it is probably coming from his own experience in Australia as another skilled migrant.

How about ‘unskilled’ migrants?

They are probably in a much worse situation in lots of cases (not generalising here).

Thousands of foreign domestic workers are living as ‘slaves’ in Britain, being abused sexually, physically and psychologically by employers, according to an investigation screened by Channel 4 in the UK. More than 15,000 migrant workers come to Britain every year to earn money to send back to their families. But according to a Channel 4 dispatches investigation, many endure conditions that campaigners say amount to modern-day ‘slavery’.

Kalayaan, a charity based in West London that helps and advises migrant domestic workers, registers around 350 new workers each year.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012: A new report revealed the dark underbelly of the food industry where workers are exploited, conned and abused. The conclusion of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Reporters looks at the grim reality “Contemporary forms of slavery” exist in Britain.

The charity interviewed 62 migrant workers who worked in the food industry. Many said their bosses had lied to them, withheld their wages, paid less than the minimum wage and bullied them. Some described stealing food in order to survive. Often workers lived in “shocking” overcrowded and unsafe accommodation that was tied to their job. Some had their passports retained by their employer—for up to a year.

One worker said that supervisors “did not call us by our names, we were called by numbers. They treated us like slaves.”

Don’t this sound similar/familiar in the line of ‘Kunta Kinte’!

A Polish man described working conditions as being like “a concentration camp”. And a Chinese migrant told researchers that “feeling bullied or suppressed is normal and unavoidable”. Racism and sexism were used to bully workers. And they were sacked for being pregnant or sick.

Patience is a domestic worker from West Africa, whose former boss was a London solicitor. She said that for almost three years she worked 120 hours a week for little money. “I was treated like a slave, not allowed to go out, to make friends … she’d pinch me, slap me. I didn’t have anyone to talk to.”

Similar situation happens in other countries like Thailand. Monday, 4 June 2012, Democratic Voice of Burma highlighted that a police raid that week on a garment factory in Bangkok brought to light the shocking conditions faced by migrant labourers, many of whom are trafficked into the country from impoverished neighbouring Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Around 60 Burmese migrants were freed from what they said were prison-like conditions in the factory where they were forced to work 16 hours a day with little pay, and forbidden from leaving the building.

These are only few of the ‘sad’ examples!

Isn’t it time for us to establish a forum to talk through our experience, our feelings, our views to complement our ways of life.

Doesn’t matter, whether we have come to this country as a skilled migrant, unskilled migrant, through family migration or as a result of the unacceptable inhumane process of human rights violation – we have every right to share our true feelings to ‘warn’ other prospective ‘victims’!

Back to sharing ‘my’ experience!

1996, we have our first house in Melbourne – mortgaged with the Commonwealth Bank. We have two daughters with an age difference of seven years between them. Nigar is not working. We have one reasonable income. Not bad!

We bought a large new car – a metallic silver second hand Ford Falcon station wagon to accommodate four members with prams and other essentials to be ready at any time at any place with a baby. I always wanted to own a station wagon. This was another dream came true!

It gives a certain “something” – perhaps in the 1990’s, owning a Ford or a Holden makes you ‘more Australian’ rather than driving a Japanese car! This car served us for next 10 years. It took us to the Gold Coast and Brisbane few times, travelled all over Victoria, Sydney and obviously Canberra.

We shared lots of good memories in Melbourne between 1989 and 1998. We travelled all over Victoria, we shared community events, we organised and performed at community events, we raised funds for Bangladesh whenever needed to support flood victims or for any other causes.

We worked towards the inclusion of Bengali language as part of the main stream curriculum in Victoria. We worked with the Multi-cultural Resource Centre to promote Bangladeshi culture. We were involved in organising programs involving ‘shilpi’ coming from Bangladesh to share their talents with us in Melbourne.

We initiated ‘Srotar Ashore’ in Melbourne to promote local artists and to encourage local audiences to share “Shustho music”. Srotar Ashore is still running and some of our friends are still holding the “Boitha”!

We had a unique group in Melbourne and I am still really very proud of that group. We had a ‘hidden tendency’ to compete against the cultural activities and performances by other migrant groups particularly from the West Bengal, India.

I still remember, one day at a very early stage of our life in Melbourne, one of the comments from an influential person from Calcutta (currently Kolkata) did put a strong ‘injury’ into our hearts. He was talking about the ‘sub-standard’ performances of a Bangladeshi community groups that he had witnessed and immediately generalised that.

As if all Bangladeshi performances are like that!

Being involved with such cultural activities and performances throughout my life, I was very annoyed with that comment and invited him and his group to ‘our’ next performance in October 1990 at the Richmond City Council hall. One of our friends worked for the Council as an Engineer got the auditorium for free of charge or for a very low price.

What a performance it was!

We wrote an ‘original script’ to portray the glorious history of Bangladesh. The story commenced from the very happy days before the British came to rule the sub-continent, culminated with the independence of Bangladesh.

With all our amateur friends (only one/two of us had some performance experience on a stage) and a rehearsal over six months it was a ‘flawless’ performance. It was designed and staged played in such a way so that the mainstream Australian could understand the message we were very proud of.

Obviously those ‘Kolkata people’ were there and they went home, not only with high appreciation for the program organised and performed by Bangladeshis but with huge respect and with an appetite to join us for the next one!

I have to highlight the active support we had received from Melbournians like Hemayet vai, Dolly apa, Chobi vabi, Gopa boudi, Mintu vai, Minu vabi, Robert da and Shati vabi – who assisted us to prove ourselves as genuine performers to the 1990’s Melbourne!

Since that program, we did lots of other programs. By then, our focus shifted from the competitive attitude against the Kolkata people to complement the ‘ever challenging’ life of our next generation migrants and to retain the cultural pride of Bangladesh among the Bangladeshi migrants.

We started to write play, songs, designed festivals to involve more and more second generation migrants, to convey messages about our identity, culture in such a different and challenging social environment.

Interestingly it may sound odd, but in reality some of our fellow Bangladeshi migrants already changed their names and the names of their children to English names expecting a higher acceptance among the mainstream Australian communities.

We were introduced to children of pure Bangladeshi origin and family with a name like Danny, Diana, Susan, Maria etc etc. I did not have any problems with the names but it raised some questions in my mind when they replaced their original Bangladeshi names!

How shocking is that!

At this stage, we did not give up our ‘boxing gloves’ yet!

We came out with new plays – satire to reflect the life of this segment of our community and how it may influence our next generation wrongly. We called our play “Abar Tora Bangali Ho”. It was such a hit that our friends from Sydney borrowed the script and played it in their town in the mid 1990’s.

We initiated traditional ‘Jatra’ to convey message regarding the benefit of promoting Bengali language, culture and ‘krishty’ in Australia. It was titled appropriately – “Shiraj-ud-Doula Ekhon Melbourn”. Again it was such a hit, at a later stage it was performed in Canberra, Sydney and even in New York by local Bangladeshi migrants.

We initiated the first day-long program to celebrate Bangla ‘Nobo-Borsho’ in Melbourne. Obviously we were influenced by the great day-long “Boishakhi Mela” already established in Sydney.

It was such a good time – enhanced our quality of life, assisted migrants to satisfy their cultural need, reinforced their sense of identity, engaged migrants to forget about their “tough times”, hide their feelings of ‘slavery’ (if any)!

Doesn’t matter whether it was ‘mental’ or ‘physical’.

At least, I never thought of ‘slavery’ at that point of time. ‘Life was beautiful’.

After 25 years of self-decided “Bonobash”, I am reflecting my life as migrant, probably with a different ‘pair of glasses’!

If I go back to all those activities we did in Melbourne at that time to keep us engaged, empowered, entertained – interestingly all those activities were supported by the Australian Government or Victorian Government at large!

Great initiative and support from the governments, but why?

I still believe, one of the reasons was obviously to ‘retain’ the migrants by satisfying their cultural aspiration so that they can continue contributions towards the development of this ‘great’ country.

We were ‘hooked’ with the inspirational funding from the Government!

Late1997, Nigar got a job at Melbourne City council. She commenced work with the strategic planning area of the Council. She always wanted to work in the field of Architecture and Urban Design and interestingly within two months she was offered a job with the Urban Design area of Melbourne City council. She was happier than ever!

We were getting back on to our feet again!

The Melbourne ‘sky’ was never so clear for us, never it had so many ‘full moon’ nights, the Melbourne ‘birds’ never sang so many beautiful songs and the ‘street trees’ were never so green!

It seemd, I was the guitar and Nigar was the tune, I was the lyrics and she was the song, I was the music notes and she was the ‘Shorolipi’! Our daughters were the only audiences we had to share our ‘happiness’ in full.

We were in ‘love with Melbourne’ again. We started to love our migrant life.

Who says, we were ‘slaves’!

We were feeling like that we have again reached our destiny – like in 1989 when we arrived in Melbourne on a cold night!

With reasonable incomes and affordability, we were planning to extend our house to a double storied ‘mansion’. Design was ‘free’ in our household but two Architects ‘making decisions’ over same design wasn’t a good experience!

The house remained ‘one storied’ for rest of our life in Melbourne.

March 1998, I was in Canberra for work to present a paper at a conference. I was approached by two senior people from the Chief Minister’s Department of the ACT Government. After questions and answers about my presentations and current works, they asked whether I am interested to work for them in Canberra.

I never had this sort of experience before! I was a bit “vabachaka”!

Usually, I run for the work – for the first time the work was coming towards me!

Was it again a miracle or another plan ‘behind the scene’ to ensure my contribution to Australia. But I was fine, I wasn’t planning to leave Australia, I was happy working for Victorian Government. So what was the motive!
I did not know what to say.

I have requested some time for me to think and discuss it with my wife. I was given a week to respond.

I went back to Melbourne.

I took Nigar through the proposed offer, prospect of career progression for ‘me’ and prospect of moving to Canberra for good!

I still think, my proposal did not go very well with Nigar. For the first time in our migrant life we had achieved some stability and I have brought a proposal to ‘shake’ the ‘foundation’ again.

Am I fool or what!

Again, I am looking at the proposal from my own selfish perspective forgetting Nigar has started a career in Melbourne in a field which she loves most.

Six days gone – no response from Nigar yet!

With lots of courage, I asked again at the dinner table. No vocal response but I got the message from her eyes!

Seventh day – I got an interesting response. Nigar agreed for me to explore the real possibility. We took a decision that we will discuss this seriously if there is a concrete offer from the ACT Government.
I informed my intent to the official at the ACT Chief Minister’s Department. I was told there was an advertisement for the position and if I am interested, I should apply.

I applied!

I was short listed for an interview in Canberra. The ACT Government provided the return ticket, which to me was already like winning the position!

I still remember the day of the interview. Even though Canberra is the only Australian city fully designed from scratch, it was always confusing to me to find anything as I was not familiar with the city plan.

My interview was at 11.00am at Canberra Narra Centre in the city. My flight was delayed and I had a taxi driver who was new in town and did not have any clue where Canberra Narra Centre was. Obviously there wasn’t any GPS and unfortunately the driver did not have a street directory.

How many things could go wrong in one day!

All I knew, the building was in the city somewhere. I was dropped off at the corner of Sydney building and Northbourne Avenue. It was 10.45 already!

I was totally lost – trying to understand my bearings. Looking for my ‘Northern Star’. I felt like ‘Captain Cook’ in the spirit of discovering Canberra Narra Centre!

I had to ask few people the direction for my destination. Finally, after walking and sweating for half an hour, I reached my destination at 11.15. I was lucky, as the candidate after me was already there and the panel swap her time with mine. So my interview was re-scheduled at 11.45.

I was ready! Was I? Not sure!

Was my future already written in Canberra?

(to be continued in July)

Farhadur Reza Probal

Farhadur Reza Probal

Architect Farhadur Reza FIAB MPIA

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