Changing lives for better
RASHMINDER Singh is living the great Australian dream.
He has a fulfilling career as a nurse and his young family is living in the house he built two years ago in South Morang.
His twin daughters are nearly two and, depending on the circumstances, he refers to them as “double trouble” or “a double blessing”.
Rashminder Singh, wife Simran Kaur and twins Bebaik and Baani. Picture: TRAVIS McCUE
He sounds like the average Australian bloke, but Mr Singh suffered months of racist taunts and abuse before making the life-changing decision to make Australia his home.
At 17, Mr Singh left his Punjab home and came to Australia with a student visa.
He lives an Australian lifestyle, but has remained true to his Sikh religion.
Today, he is one of the faces of a new campaign in Whittlesea aimed at stamping out racism.
Mr Singh hopes Whittlesea Council’s See Beyond Race campaign, part of the Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Project, will encourage people to recognise that he is just as Australian as them.
“I’m so proud to be Australian and to be part of the community,” he said.
“India is good for a holiday, but Australia has given me everything and I work for this community.”
When he applied for a part-time job to help get him through his IT studies, he encountered his first racist experience.
“I didn’t get the job because they didn’t want me wearing my turban at work,” he said.
“I said nothing, but I now know my rights and if that happened again, I would stand up for my rights.”
The worst abuse came after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York. Mr Singh and other members of the Indian community were subjected to more than six months of continuous sledging and vilification, he said.
“People saw my beard and turban and thought I was Muslim,” he said.
“It was a case of mistaken identity; I don’t even belong to that race or religion,” he said.
“Some people were very abusive towards me, throwing things at me, swearing at me.
“They stared at me like I was an alien from another world.
“Some friends of mine had their turbans torn off at the train stations, some were slapped in the face and others were beaten. Even though there were people around, no one came to help.”
After months of abuse, Mr Singh considered returning to his homeland, but persevered with his studies. By the time he graduated with an IT degree, the controversy of 9/11 had receded.
In the meantime, he had worked as a kitchen hand for celebrity chef Guy Grossi at Grossi Florentino restaurant.
The job inspired the home cook and vegetarian to explore cuisines and recipes from other countries.
“I’ve always loved to cook but that was when I learned how to cook Italian food,” he said.
“I really like Italian and Chinese (food) and I love Korean and Thai also.”
Despite his IT qualifications and love of food, Mr Singh says nursing is his true passion.
He has worked at The Northern Hospital for three years.
Mr Singh’s profile can be seen at bus stands and in the Whittlesea Leader.
For more information on race-based discrimination and your rights and responsibilities, call the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s free Inquiry Line on 1300 292 153 or email .
ABOUT THE SIKH RELIGION
THE turban is one of the most distinguishing features of the Sikh religion.
South Morang’s Rashminder Singh said his peace-loving religion is about 300 years old.
“We are taught that we were made as both soldier and saint,” he said.
“You have to protect other religions and other communities as well.
“Sikhs are not meant to believe in any caste system and for that reason all Sikh men are given the surname Singh, meaning Lion, and Sikh women given the surname Kaur, meaning Princess.
“Sikh women were given the same rights as men and a Sikh woman can be a priest of the temple,” he said.
“Most importantly, a baptised Sikh woman can proudly be one of five beloved Sikhs who initiate the baptism ceremony.”
Like the turban, other features of the religion are uncut hair, a small blunt ceremonial dagger called a kirpan (pictured), an iron bracelet and a comb.
“You can’t wear make-up, can’t have piercings and tattoos,” Mr Singh explained.
“You pretty much accept the way God has made you.
“You can’t have alcohol and, in seven generations, no-one in my family has touched a packet of cigarettes.
“All these guidelines exist with the aim that if they are strictly followed, it is going to help us to be good human beings.”
Members of the Sikh religion also donate 10 per cent of their earnings to the needy, meditate for several hours each day and are vegetarian.