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Our Story (25)

Merging towards Multiculturalism
Nirmal Paul



The Author
On March 19, 1995, I landed as a new immigrant at the Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport with my wife and two daughters. Mr Mizanur Rahman Mazumder, my former boss in Bangladesh, received us at the airport as planned in December 1994 while visiting the NSW Fisheries Research Institute. We lived with his family at Tintern Rd, Ashfield NSW 2131, for two weeks until we moved to our first residence, 23 A'Backet Avenue, in the same suburb. Mr Mazumder and his wife, Mrs Rehana Khanam, both my bosses while I worked in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, were the mentors during our initial days in Australia, providing tremendous support, help and guidance towards our initial settlement. Being the owner of Mourie Spices, the second or third Bangladeshi grocery shop in Sydney in those days, they knew many Bangladeshi diasporas who were their customers. They introduced us to other Bangladeshi immigrant families living in Ashfield and nearby suburbs, who welcomed us and invited us for dinner, lunch, or a cup of tea/coffee. Through them, I came to know Mr Subal Chowdhury and Mr Nehal Neyamul Bari, who later became my partners in voluntary community activities. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Mr Neyamul Bari lived in the same building and was our first neighbour. The warm hospitality, welcoming attitude and cordial treatment from fellow Bangladeshi community motivated me to work towards finding a sustainable way to establish the Bangladeshi diaspora as one of the proud partners of the Australian multicultural society.

On the second or third day at our A'Backet Avenue home, we received two unexpected guests, both volunteers from the St. De Paul Charity organisation. They welcomed us to Australia and told us they were visiting us to supply our living requirements. They filled our empty apartment with furniture, utensils, and groceries within hours, gave us an $80 voucher and provided some suggestions for shopping and their local address for further help if we needed it. Such incredible community support was pivotal in prompting me to strive to become a true multicultural Australian. We still have the Dressing Table they provided, one bed and a couple of Plates, cups, and a bowl as a fond reminder of our early struggling days. Besides Centrelink assistance, this additional support provided us lead an everyday, standard family life.

Based on my December 1994 study tour experience, I was optimistic about finding immediate employment with NSW Fisheries. NSW Fisheries officials appreciated my role as the leader of the study tour team and my professional skills and abilities in facilitating fish migration. My interaction with them gave me the impression that finding a job would not be difficult if I migrated to Australia. On April 19, 1995, I attended my first job interview with the NSW Fisheries. About three hours later, a senior officer of NSW Fisheries called me, asking to meet him three days later to discuss a senior position matching my experience. I had an exciting meeting about the job in Grafton advertised internally. With his help and guidance, I lodged my application, meeting the selection criteria for the position, but I did not get the job. I have had over fifty (50) interviews with NSW Fisheries for the next five years. I received about a dozen regret letters with hopeful remarks about eligibility for a suitable position within six (6) months. My professional experience, skills, and ability notwithstanding, I failed to procure a job in my area of expertise in my adopted home country. I regretted my decision to immigrate to Australia.

Failing to find employment as expected, I enrolled in the Master of Applied Science (MAppSc) in Environmental Management at UNSW as a full-time student in the second semester of 1995. Later, in June 1996, I moved to war-torn Cambodia for eight months, leaving my family in Sydney under a humanitarian support and development program of Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA) jointly funded by the Australian Trade Union, AusAID and the UN. As an adviser to the Kampot Provincial Government, I earned recognition for my involvement with the Cambodian rural communities. The Daily Cambodia and Australian Education Monthly News bulletin published articles and pictures of my fieldwork. My assignment was extended for another year, so I brought my family to Cambodia. In the meantime, I received my Australian Passport. Also, I received a special arrangement for my family in the form of remote education facilities for my school-going daughters. However, in mid-1997, a fight erupted between two political parties in Phnom Pehn, and we were trapped within the fighting zone. Fortunately, an Australian Army plane rescued us and moved us to Penang, Malaysia. Our life in politically volatile Cambodia was risky but quite comfortable. An armed police escort team always accompanied me during my field trips. However, considering my daughter's education and future, I denied a further extension of my contract. The International Association for the Study of Common Property (IASCP) recognised my work in Cambodia by publishing my article, “Mangrove Area Encroachment in Cambodia: Problem and Findings” in the “Crossing Boundaries”. I presented the paper at the 7th Annual Conference of IASCP at the University of British Colombia, Vancouver, Canada, in June 1998.

We returned to Sydney in April 1998 and resumed our struggling life with no job and unemployment support from the Government. My savings from the non-taxable Cambodian assignment disqualified me from government benefits. With advice from friends and well-wishers, including our Real Estate agent, we bought our apartment at 10/4 Loftus St. Ashfield in late June 1998. My wife, Kazal Rekha Paul, was firmly against any further overseas assignment, as we have left an excellent career in Bangladesh only to build a better future for our children in Australia. She initially enrolled in Accounting, later switching to a Childcare course at TAFE College to find immediate employment. Failing to find a Job with the NSW Fisheries or an environment-related position with an Australian MAppSc degree with good grades from UNSW and 3 months of voluntary service with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Parramatta, I joined the NSW Police Service. However, after completing 3 months of Academic courses and training at Goulburn Police Academy, I decided not to join the Police Service for personal and other reasons. I decided to find a job related to Fisheries or Environment.

In the meantime, Sydney was preparing to stage the 2000 Olympic Games. I got a casual job with the NSW City Rail Customer Service. I also decided to pursue further study in IT, the buzzword in those days. In 2002, I completed the Diploma in IT (Network) and CCNA and found a job as a Casual IT teacher in Ultimo, North Sydney and Petersham TAFE College. Later, I joined a Private college, the Australian College of Commerce, and Information Technology (ACCIT) but failed to continue there because of irreconcilable differences with the management. That was my last employment with others; I opted to be a self-employed independent worker with no boss but ample flexibility.

Being an optimist, a challenger and possessing self-respect, will and courage to do good for others, I never-ever allowed negativity to take hold of me. Despite failing to develop a professional career in my area of expertise in Australia, I never lost self-respect and pride in my origin, ethnicity, beliefs and abilities, ethics, and principles to respect others. I always tried to learn from my mistakes or failures to adapt to any situation realistically. I always believed as an immigrant, I could do things within this multicultural society that would overshadow my disappointments, frustrations and personal or family needs. I decided to do something noble, far beyond and above my individual, community, or national interest, having global benefits. I feel proud and satisfied with the various voluntary works described in the paragraphs below reflecting our culture, national pride and dignity, and my humble contributions towards making this beautiful multicultural society more friendly and harmonious. I am not an innovator per se; I helped integrate existing ideas having global implications.

Like all other immigrant communities, new settlers from Bangladesh founded the Bangladesh Association of NSW, Australia, Bangabandhu Parishad and other organisations to celebrate national days, cultural festivities, and religious events. However, the Bangladeshi Sanatany (Hindu) believers in Sydney did not have any formal organisation until 1995 to organise and manage their religious functions. Mr Subal Chowdhury, one of my earliest acquaintances in Sydney, briefed me about this problem during his first visit to our place a few weeks after we arrived here. He sought my help in forming such a much-needed organisation. After a series of community meetings, we formed a committee to celebrate Durga Puja in 1995 for the first time. In the capacity of the Public Officer of the proposed organisation, the late Nirmal Saha lodged an application with NSW Fair Trading on behalf of the Sydney Hindu community to register Bangladesh Puja Association Inc (BPA) and got the approval by the end of the year. However, within a few months of registration, a minor disagreement during

the Saraswati Puja in 1996, the first event under the newly registered BPA Inc. held at Bland Street, Ashfield, split the community! Some office bearers of the committee decided to form a new BPA Inc. committee without following any organisational formalities, keeping the current committee members in the dark. A reconciliation meeting at the Police Citizen Club, Daceyville NSW, ended with shameful rival actions. The tiny community of the Sydney Sanatany Hindu believers from Bangladesh split before celebrating the first anniversary of BPA Inc.!

Circumstances forced me to accept the General Secretary Position of the newly formed Bangladesh Society for Puja and Culture Inc. (BSPC) in 1996 to organise and manage clean Puja practices and uphold secular cultural elements for our new generation. Through my initiative, BSPC organised Rabindra-Nazrul-Sukanta (RNS) Jayanti for the first time in Sydney. Over the years, the RNS program of BSPC has become an influential annual event, encouraging, and involving new generations. BSPC also took steps to train and develop a team of Priests/Purohits to perform Puja. Seeing several Bangladeshi Purohits performing puja in Sydney these days is a pleasure. In 2008, the Special General Meeting of BSPC mandated me to resolve another serious conflict, threatening immediate deregistration of BSPC from NSW Fair Trading and forfeiting around one hundred thousand dollars available for building a Temple. Failure of informal arbitration efforts required me to take this conflict to the NSW Supreme Court and resolve it with dignity without penalising either of the feuding parties. The egoistic, self-centred attitude and the unreasonable behaviour of some fellow members, resulting in repeated clashes, prompted me to leave BSPC.

These days, I feel spiritually contended in leading the Sri Chaitanya Somproday, a team of 12-15 members, for Chanting Moha Nam Sangkirtan (Hare Krishna Kirtan). Formed in 2003, this team offers specific ritual services during the final journey (Funeral Service) of a Sanatany believer and other religio-cultural occasions. We have performed more than 110 performances since we were established.

Despite all the frustrations and stress associated with upholding our ethnic elements and national pride and sharing and merging them with the mainstream community, I consider myself exceptionally fortunate and proud to be able to spearhead the Mother Languages Conservation (MLC) Movement International Inc. My contributions to this movement have attracted relevant local, national, and international level intellectuals, academics, organisations, UNESCO, and governments, including the current Hon'ble Prime Ministers of both Australia and Bangladesh, and received acknowledgement from them. I have successfully outlined globally applicable, adaptable, implementable, and achievable integrated strategies to practice and protect an individual's Mother Language for strengthening UNESCO's annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD) observation globally. The MLC Movement strategies are acknowledged as the easiest and cheapest way by relevant intellectuals, authorities, and policymakers to promote a standard, integrated, and global movement to arrest the global language endangerment trend. The core strategic elements of the global MLC Movement comprise the global appeal, “Conserve Your Mother Language”, the establishment of a symbolic global standard 'IMLD Monument' at every Local Government Area (LGA) to observe IMLD annually, and a 'Twenty-first (Ekushey) Corner' in each public library to facilitate, involve and engage everyone including threatened linguistic communities around the clock across the globe. With the support and involvement of the mainstream community members, the NSW State Government and donations from the Bangladesh Government, the World's 1st IMLD Monument was unveiled by Ekushey Academy Australia Inc. in association with Ashfield Council on February 19, 2006, at Ashfield Heritage Park. Hon'ble Anthony Albanese MP, Australia's current Prime Minister, moved two motions on IMLD and the historical unveiling event of the World's 1st IMLD Monument in the Federal Parliament on November 28, 2005, and February 27, 2006. I am humbled as my contribution was acknowledged and awarded with an NSW Volunteer certificate by the NSW CRC in 2009. However, despite the help of Hon'ble Nathan Rees MP, former Premier of NSW, an attempt at state-level annual IMLD observation by the NSW Community Relations Commission (CRC) in 2010 could not succeed. INCITE magazine of Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) marked the 'Twenty-first (Ekushey) Corner' at Public Library philosophical concept as “One Small Shelf, One Giant Step Forward”. It published two articles in Jan-Feb and May 2015 to promote the IMLD mission and for broader awareness of the Mother Language Conservation movement.

The World's 1st Ekushey Corner was inaugurated at Ashfield Public Library on February 20, 2016, by Clr Lucille McKenna OAM, the Mayor, Ashfield and Hon’ble Jo E Haylen MP, current NSW Transport Minister. On the eve of IMLD 2019, Cumberland Council in Sydney established Ekushey Corners at all eight Council Libraries on February 21, 2019. Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO(BNCU), International Mother Language Institute (IMLI), Bangladesh Public Library and Library Association of Bangladesh (LAB) jointly hosted an international seminar on the “Ekushey Corner” philosophy I proposed on February 27, 2017, and the UNESCO Paris office organised a Skype meeting in early July to learn more on the MLC Movement activities I outlined in my paper presented in the seminar. My initiatives led to three IMLD motions moved in the ACT, Federal and NSW Parliaments on September 13, 2017, February 12, 2018, and March 15, 2018, respectively, and 22 Hon'ble MPs from all three major political parties participated in favour of the annual IMLD observance motion. I was honoured as the Special Speaker in the International Seminar “Mother Languages: Protection and Preservation” held in IMLI on February 22, 2019, hosted jointly by Bangladesh Government and Dhaka UNESCO. I have published “Biswayne Shahid Minar”(2014) and “Ekusher Chetonar Biswayan” (2020), two Bangla books to share and promote my visionary MLC strategy for global institutionalisation of the Ekusher Chetona, i.e. spirit of February 21, and “Remedial Tools for Global Language Endangerment” a book in English, now in the process of publishing by Bangladesh Government. Various media and associations in Australia and Bangladesh have formally lauded the innovative and integrated strategies of the MLC Movement to protect and conserve all languages across the globe through strengthening the IMLD mission. Since the idea's inception in 2005, the movement has received whole-hearted support, encouragement, appreciation, and constructive suggestions from all the Bangladesh High Commissioners to Australia toward MLC Movement activities to create global awareness on the issue.

I am truly fortunate to have my wife, Mrs Kazal Paul and my daughters, Saptarshi Tithan Paul, and Sapla Misty Paul, who have always extended their tireless support, engagement, and contribution to make my mission meaningful and effective, sacrificing their personal needs, wants, demands, and requirements they naturally deserved as wife and daughter. Despite my professional frustrations and failures, I feel blessed and grateful for such cooperative family members. I feel proud of them for their steadfast support in pursuing the MLC movement and the IMLD mission.

The MLC Movement strategy has derived its spirits from the February 21, 1952, language movement in East Pakistan that witnessed the brutal killing of five students who demanded the right to speak their mother tongue. It initiated its journey when Mr. Nehal Neyamul Bari organised a simple Book Fair, “Ekushey Boi Mela”, in 1999 to commemorate February 21 by the Bangladeshi diaspora in Sydney. Incidentally, it preceded the IMLD proclamation by UNESCO in late 1999. This proclamation boosted our initiative to form Ekushey Boi Mela Parishad Inc. to observe the annual IMLD. Ekushey Boi Mela Parishad Inc. was later upgraded to Ekushe Academy Australia Inc. to include all linguistic communities and initiate the MLC Movement with the global slogan “Conserve Your Mother Language” to explore strategies across the globe to protect all endangered languages by involving all linguistic communities.

In addition to my Bangladeshi community-oriented activities, I was also associated with the traditional Hindu religious event-based 'Diwali at the NSW Parliament House committee' as the Vice President from 2002 to 2011. This committee includes all Sanatany believers from all countries and linguistic communities, including community groups and temples in NSW, and celebrated Diwali, communicating the message “Light to the dark, Knowledge to the ignorant” to everyone. Later, I was formally appointed by the Hon'ble Victor Dominello MP, Minister for Citizenship and Communities, as one of his honorary Advisors for 2013.

Settling into a new country and being part of the mainstream community is challenging for any individual. It is more difficult for immigrants with little kids who cannot find a suitable job in their area of expertise. Acculturation, i.e., retaining the original culture and its practices while learning to integrate into the newer dominant culture, takes reasonable time and suitable opportunity to fit and adjust. Now, almost three decades after I arrived in Australia, I am glad not only for overcoming all the obstacles to become part of the multicultural Australian society but also for my humble contribution to my home country and the World aiming to protect all Mother Languages in an effective sustainable manner as well as to preserve anthropological heritage for future generations.



Nirmal Paul, Sydney, Australia




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