By Harnath Sithamraju
She is making a difference with her endeavours and she stands as a confident, vibrant and an inspiring role model for many; meet Pallavi Sinha the bold and beautiful diva in an exclusive interview with Indus Age.
Congratulations on being the only person of Indian origin in NSW selected on the prestigious Australian Financial Review & Westpac National 100 Women of influence award list. Tell us about yourself & your journey. How much influence did your parents have in motivating you towards the path you have taken and to achieve your ambitions.
Thank you. I was born in Homebush, and have lived in Strathfield and the inner west for most of my life. I’m a highly motivated Indian Australian and a product of immigration and multiculturalism. I feel very lucky to be born in Australia, and to experience the best of eastern and western culture. I love the Australian way of life, and the elevating educational and work opportunities. At the same time, I have been able to maintain Indian cultural values which my parents taught me.
My father & mother came here over 40 years ago with my brother who was about 1 year old. They came here with about $10 in their pocket and worked hard to reach where they are today. They have both been inspiring role models, particularly in areas such as leadership, perseverance and value for money.
My parents gave me an excellent education – I studied at MLC School & completed Economics (Social Sciences) and Law degrees with honours from the University of Sydney. I was a bit of a ‘rebel’ when I chose Law over Medicine because it was a community norm back then to choose medicine if one was fortunate to get the marks. I was Debating prefect in MLC, and chose to continue my passion for advocacy and standing up for disadvantaged groups. A law degree gives an individual a wide variety of career options – ranging from a traditional Solicitor position, to a position in the public service, politics or the media.
What made you want to do so much in the field of community and social service and how do you juggle so many things? As an Indian community we are proud to know that you’re the only person of Indian origin appointed to the NSW Ministerial Council for Women’s Economic Opportunity and also serve on the Multicultural Council of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board & the White Ribbon Diversity Reference Group.
I feel very grateful to have so much, and have a strong conviction to give back to society. An inherent part of Indian culture is Seva (service), through which one can learn one’s life purpose (Sadhana) & contribute to enlightening Satsang (meetings). No role is too small or too big for me. I’ve worked in a wide range of roles from a teller at Hungry Jacks & a café in Strathfield, to a Solicitor at the largest corporate firm in Australia King & Wood Mallesons, and Executive positions in the public and not-for-profit sector. I’ve learnt a lot from each role. I’m particularly passionate about social cohesion, equal opportunity, women’s rights, stronger Australia-India ties and contributing to a harmonious society free from discrimination.
The present composition of Australia is very different to the time when my parents migrated over 40 years ago. Presently, almost half the population is either born overseas or has a parent born overseas. This is a unique opportunity for Australia to embrace different cultures, and for Australians of different nationalities to integrate and to contribute to the Australian way of life. I organised an unprecedented Racism Symposium at NSW Parliament House a few years ago, and I recently participated in the high-profile Ethics Centre Racism debate along with Stan Grant and Jack Thompson. I actively work with my extensive networks at all levels of Government, business, educational institutions, community and the media to support community harmony.
It’s not easy to juggle so many things. One has to stay focussed, be determined, persistent and keep going, despite any hurdles one may encounter. Just like a Lotus flower blossoms from murky waters, one can flourish even after experiencing personal challenges. As much as my work and other commitments permit, I try to be available to the community. For the betterment of society, this includes working beyond normal hours, including on weekends, and not getting a lot of sleep.
You are working hard towards building a relationship between Indian and Australian women. Do you think a cultural exchange between women of both countries will help in dispelling any misconceptions about each other and help in addressing issues such as domestic violence?
Both Australia & India are very close to my heart. After I finished University, I deferred my job, and travelled to India to work at the National Human Rights Commission. I also taught children at a village school and visited a women’s shelter.
I strongly believe in the principle of Ahimsa. Violence against anyone is wrong. But the figures of violence against women in Australia & India are startling. I’ve spoken about this on TV & written a lot about it.
In December 2012, when a young girl was brutally gang-raped in Delhi, I attended a protest about the gang-rape that was organised in Sydney, where I spoke out against violence towards women. My purse, car keys and handbag were stolen during the protest. But this did not deter my spirit and passion to fight for women’s rights, and I went on to prepare a petition that was sent to the Indian Government through the Indian Consulate Sydney, which emphasised the need for reforms such as changes to the Indian Penal Code. I was also interviewed on the 7.30 Report, ABC news & SBS news about the gang-rape and possible solutions to the growing number of cases.
Sadly, violence against women is an ongoing issue. I think that a cultural exchange, particularly in the form of a high-level delegation of women to India or Australia could help address such issues. It could also help in areas such as Business. I also serve on the National AIBC Women in Business Chapter chaired by Sheba Nandkeolyar, and launched by the NSW Minister for Women Pru Goward. A delegation is in planning stages and I’m working with both Mrs Nandkeolyar and Minister Goward in relation to this, and will also discuss it with Federal Minister for Women Senator Michaelia Cash.
In your experience working as a Lawyer and among communities, what have you gathered as the root causes of domestic violence (DV) and how to avoid such a situation. In your opinion what steps should be taken to empower the victim and punish the perpetrator to avoid future recurrence.
This is an excellent question, and I could say a lot about such an important topic. My opinion pieces go into a lot more detail about this issue, including a recent article that I wrote for ABC which was published on White Ribbon day.
DV is often about power & control. An ANROWS research project indicates that one in four women have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner i.e within a relationship in which they should feel safe and respected. Abusers seek to control their partners, which backfires as they thereby lose the benefits of a relationship where each partner can be independent, complimentary and contribute to each other’s growth. DV may also be about destructive, rather than constructive ways of dealing with differences. Important action to address DV include:
- Collection of data: There have been research projects conducted by organisations such as ANROWS which provides useful data. However, it’s very important to have data specific to particular groups to better inform solutions. For example, on behalf of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia, I made submissions to a Senate Standing Committee on DV about the collection of disaggregated data in relation to culturally and linguistically diverse women experiencing DV. This submission was adopted by the Committee.
- Education and training in areas such as anger management, conflict resolution and communication skills, in family homes, primary school to higher education and workplaces. It’s imperative to incorporate human and social values and Australian values were incorporated into curriculums and training programs. Education is integral to positive change and I spoke about this when I was on the panel of ABC TV’s Q&A. It is good to note that Our Watch Respectful Relationships Education will be prioritised in the Australian Curriculum, and hopefully this will be expanded.
- Media & Role models play an important role in educating men and women. Constructive and ethical media reports on social media, print, television, radio and films play an important role in setting acceptable standards of behaviour. More modern and progressive role models of women and men should be appearing in the mainstream media, films and plays. Inspiring stories of women who have escaped violent relationships and sought help should be given prominence. This could provide vital information and inspiration to women who may be experiencing violence.
- Stronger laws & policy: The law sets the standards for society and coveys a message about what is and is not acceptable. There are significant amendments required to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000in India. The 17-year-old juvenile who was one of the four men convicted for the heinous gang-rape of the young girl in Delhi in 2012 received the maximum sentence available of three years in a correctional home. I strongly believe that three years is not enough for such a hideous crime, and that greater emphasis needs to be placed on rehabilitation of criminals and examination of why such crimes are being committed.
The Government has taken action in some of the above and other areas. Ultimately, an all-inclusive, preventative, educational and tailored approach to prevent violence against women is required which, in addition to law enforcement agencies, additionally incorporates all levels of government, community representatives, legal and health professionals as well as social workers and service providers.
As an AFR & Westpac “100 Women of Influence Award 2016”, award winner, finally your work has been recognised. I am sure this will motivate you to achieve higher goals. What are your future plans? How can we ensure the younger generation’s participation in contributing to the larger community?
Yes, it’s a huge privilege and honour to be selected on this prestigious list. For me it is an award that will add weight to the work that I continuously do for causes and disadvantaged groups.
I will be speaking at a Forum on Family Safety on 6 December along with the NSW Minister for Women the Hon Pru Goward, the NSW Attorney General Upton, Mick Fuller Assistant Commissioner NSW Police and others. You can register for this free forum at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/talking-women-safety-and-justice-tickets-29292076389
I continue to work with Government, business, community and other sectors on legal and policy reform. I’m also working with a number of organisations on planning future forums on a range of topics that will appeal to different cross-sections of society (women, seniors, younger people, marginalised groups, school and university students etc). I’m a big advocate of collaborative work and active engagement of the younger generation (this is particularly important in India as a very high proportion of the population is under 30).
To engage the youth, I would like to see more mentoring in the private, public & community sector and I’m also working in this space. I always promote events to young people’s networks that I have. For example, I actively encouraged younger people to attend the recent Indian Consulate Forum to celebrate Indian Constitution day on 26 November. The organisation of different types of events is also an important way to engage the youth. As Vice-President of Sydney University Ashoka society, I was involved with organising a social dance party, and attendees were subsequently encouraged to attend an inter-university cultural night. The youth are our future and it’s in everyone’s interests to nurture and assist their development and growth.
Together, we can celebrate successes, and build a bigger and brighter future that addresses areas of need and improvement.
For more information about Pallavi Sinha, see her website www.pallavisinha.com. You can also follow her on LinkedIn&Facebook: Pallavi Sinha and on Twitter & Instagram: mspallavisinha
Anyone in immediate danger should call Triple Zero (000).For information, support and help for DV, call the 24 hour Domestic Violence Line on 1800 65 64 63.To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call the 24 hour Child Protection Helpline on 132 111.
(Photo credit: Fecca)