Indian immigrants often carry out a precarious balancing act between their desire to make good in a foreign land and an innate tendency to maintain certain cultural traditions. The same tension also informs personal relationships formed in the new country. Like everywhere else, Indian settlers in Australia too often also grapple with new forgings and one way in which this is expressed is in their dating practices.
The term ‘Indian Australian’ is used for both those who are Australian by birth and Indian only by ancestry as well as for those who were born in India or elsewhere in India but have migrated to India because of economic or educational opportunities. It is the latter which have made Indians or Australians of Indian origin one of the largest growing ethnic groups in the country today. According to statistics obtained from 2006 Census of Australia, 147,106 residents declared that they were born in India, out of which 79025 held Australian citizenship. The number of Australian residents who claimed to be of Indian origin was much larger at 243,722. In recent years there has been a huge surge in students from India enrolling in private Australian colleges and in 2009 Prime Minister Rudd declared that there were an additional 90000 Indian students studying in Australia. The Australian cities with the largest concentration of Indian or Indian-origin population are Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane while the states with the largest Indian-born residents are New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
The first instances of Indians migrating to Australia go back to the end of nineteenth century when men from Punjab in northern India sailed for the southern continent in search of economic opportunities. This group of immigrants found work in agricultural fields, road and rail building projects as well as in many gold mines. Further immigration was barred by the Australian government with the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. However after India’s independence from Britain there was an increase in migration from India to Australia by the Anglo-Indians and the Indian-born British citizens. In the last few decades the migrants have mainly comprised of skilled workers looking for better economic opportunities in Australia’s growing economy as well as students enrolling in Australia’s educational institutions.
Indian dating in Australia is a varied phenomenon and depends on how long the person has been staying in the country. Second and third generation Australians of Indian origin who have been socialized according to mainstream Australian culture find it much easier to accept dating as a normal part forging relationships in their adult lives. Young men and women get to know each other through mutual friends, dating sites, college and work relationships. Awareness of their Indian origin among these young people may inform their choice of dating partners to the extent that many of them may prefer to go out with people from within their racial or religious group. However living in a multicultural society like Australia’s for two generations or more, they are unlikely to reject a suitable partner solely on the basis of community, cultural and ethnic affiliations.
However first generation immigrants from India are still hesitant to allow their children the same degree of freedom in relationships that exists in mainstream Australian culture. These parents expect to have some amount of say in the personal lives of their children and would like to see them choose life partners who comply with specific requirements of religion, race, ethnicity and caste. This is not only a consequence of the deeply-ingrained tradition of arranged marriage practiced in India but is also one of the ways that older generations expect their children to maintain a degree of “indianness” in the new country. As a result, children of the first generation Indian immigrants are encouraged to choose their dating partners from community events like marriages, cultural celebrations and religious festivals. These events not only guaranteed a certain similarity in culture, caste and religion but also offers opportunities to go hunting for a son/ daughter-in-law in a perfectly non-committal way.
Dating websites are hugely popular among Indian-origin young men and women looking for a suitable partner in Australia. These sites may vary from popular Australian dating portals like Rsvp.com.au or datingdownunder.com.au which have separate sections for Indian partners to dating sites like Indianshaadi.com.au which specifically target Indian-born or Indian-origin Australians. The main advantage of these sites is that they allow Indian men and women with common cultural and ethnic backgrounds to get in touch with each other which might otherwise be difficult in a land where they are a minority ethnic group.
In recent years there has been a huge influx of Indians seeking professional and vocational degrees in private Australian colleges. To a large extent this demand for private vocational courses is fuelled by a desire to gain permanent residency status in Australia. This has resulted in a significant Indian student population in Australia with the campus turning into a popular hunting ground for dating partners. A number of Indian students associations in Australia not only help the newcomers to adjust to a different culture but also provide ways to reach out and make new friendships. However the recent spate of attacks on Indian students in the country has put a dampener to the Australian dream. One consequence of the attacks may be a greater sense of insecurity among Indian students in other cultural settings and a greater desire to stick to people of similar racial and ethnic backgrounds.
There are many shades to Indian dating in Australia since the ethnic Indian population does not comprise of a homogenous block. The community straddles across various religious linguistic and cultural groups besides varying in the length of time the members have spent in Australia. Some may have just arrived in the host country while others may have been staying here since three generations. Again there are direct migrants from India while some have settled in Australia after living in Singapore, Malaysia or other countries. All these factors influence cultural practices, including dating and marriage, of the ethnic Indian population in Australia.