As the son of an army officer and a school teacher, Amarinder Bajwa has a never-say-die spirit that is blended with erudition. His background and qualifications set him up for a successful career in India. But one day he decided to chuck it all away and start a new life Down Under in Australia. He had very little except a strong resolve to succeed. Indeed, his is a story of grit, which explains his position today as one of the leading lights of theIndian diaspora in Australia.
Mr Bajwa’s father passed away when he was just three and it was his mother who brought him and his sister up with the best of schooling and opportunities at the time. He went on to complete his studies as an electronics engineer and started his career with a telecom company in Chandigarh, India. Slowly he moved on and started his own business as an IT consultant providing services to the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and many other businesses. Life was good and things moved on, and he got married to a mathematician teaching in a college. Their daughter Sirjan and son Angad brought them more happiness than the couple had asked for.
However, Mr Bajwja’s life was soon going to change. And change radically. In November 2001 he found himself on a plane bound for Australia. As the flight from New Delhi to Sydney was about to take off, he remembers wondering if his decision to leave everything in India and seek better career prospects in Australia was the right one. However, the main reason for his move was his mother who wanted him to stay closer to his sister who had migrated to Australia earlier. “I sat through my journey looking through the lands, rivers and oceans pass underneath, thinking how my new life would be,” he recalls.
The new life clearly wasn’t a bed of roses. Mr Bajwa went through the initial processes of naturalisation in Sydney for a couple of months. Finding his first job was quite a struggle, and it was made worse by the passing away of his mother in 2002. But there was no looking back. He started to overcome the blues and challenges of life in Australia and in fact also started helping others like him.
During his journey, Mr Bajwa came across Mr Noel Lal who introduced him to GOPIO, which was just beginning to expand in Australia. He started his political and public life with GOPIO when it started its first chapter in Sydney. “I wanted to help the community and start working with my peers with a passion for the diaspora,” he says. “When people migrate from one country to another they carry their hopes, aspirations and knowledge with them. They are also distressed because of the change in circumstances, and I wanted to help our migrants, help community building and progression as well as address the social issues.”
The organisation was the perfect platform for Mr Bajwa to reach out to the community. GOPIO expanded its chapters and he was provided an opportunity to lead as a National Coordinator, and soon he was appointed Co-Chairman, GOPIO Business.
Later his acquaintance with a local organisation, the United Indian Associations Inc, an umbrella organisation for various organisations of people of Indian origin, increased and he got an opportunity to serve Indian communities as Joint Treasurer. Launched in 1994, the UIA has 20 different organisations under its banner, representing people of Indian origin from different parts of India. UIA is a non-political, non-profit organisation, and is run by volunteers. In 2011, Mr Bajwa was unanimously elected President of the association.
UIA is engaged in numerous activities where it engages the local governments, state and federal departments and the corporate world to support various activities. Their main event happens in August coinciding with Indian Independence day that falls on August 15. The annual event attracts over 20,000 people every year and is the biggest Indian fair in the southern hemisphere.
Mr Bajwa has been actively involved in local social development and non-partisan advocacy of social issues concerning the diaspora to politicians at all levels in Australia. He played a leading role during the spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2009. He met Mrs Sujata Singh, India’s High Commissioner in Canberra, and discussed ways for helping the students. He made it clear that the organisation would stand united with the people of Indian origin and extend support to all and any other organisation or an individual that needed a helping hand.
Australia is a land of diversity. According to Mr Bajwa, “This diversity has been the source of my energy and progression.” With each new Indian migrant to Australia, new ideas, opportunities, skills and ambitions have made the community stronger, richer and more outward looking and self aware. In that sense, not only does diversity provide strength, it also defines the country. “I’m proud to say that we are ‘Australian in our difference’,” he