First time in eight years Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has hosted a Diwali state reception for Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities.
The evening was full of colour, curry and controversy.
Premier Andrews made it a point to showcase he is not behind other Australian politicians in celebrating Diwali with Goddess Lakshmi and God Ganesha’s pooja with Hindu Priests reciting the shlokas.
He did ‘aarti’ at a carefully designed stage while Hindu, Sikh and Jain religious and community leaders watched curiously.
However, the Victorian Premier’s Diwali state reception has run into controversies for a variety of reasons as people are saying Premier Andrews has no understanding of cultural sensitivities.
As Victoria is about to go for election in almost four weeks’ time Premier Dan Andrews decided to charm Victorian Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities by organising a state reception for them on the occasion of Diwali.
In his two tenures as Premier, this is the first time a Diwali state reception is hosted.
Victorians really welcomed the move, however, scheduling it on the actual Diwali day when people have their religious and family duties to perform had put a large number of people to decline the invite.
Jai Krishna is a well-known leader of the Hindu community and communication officer of Victorian Hindu Mahasabha.
Mr Krishna says it’s an important social event for the Victorian Hindu community, I want to be there as we were waiting for it for years.
However, a visibly upset Mr Krishna told The Australia Today:
“Nothing can be more culturally insensitive of Premier Dan Andrews than hosting the Diwali state reception on the same day as on the actual festival night.”
“I have two young kids who need to learn that Premier’s state reception is not as important as following religious rituals and doing pooja with family.”
“I wish Diwali dinner would have been hosted on some other day so that everyone could have participated.”
Monika Sharma Raizada is the founding director of Vedic Global a Hindu charitable organisation based in Melbourne.
She told The Australia Today, Premier Andrews should take advice from the Hindu community’s stakeholders on religiously sensitive issues.
Ms Raizada observed:
“When the Premier of the state invites you for the Diwali state reception, I want to be there. However given the choice between attending Premiers’ Diwali dinner and my Diwali pooja (rituals), I will always choose my Diwali pooja.”
The Australia Today understands almost 650 people were invited for the Diwali state reception across the party line from Victorian Labor, Liberal and Greens beside Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist community members.
While Greens leader Samanta Ratnam attended the Diwali dinner, the Leader of the opposition from the liberal party Matthew Guy declined the invite by saying, “a significant religious festival day like Diwali should be left for family and friends.”
When The Australia Today contacted Premier Dan Andrews’ office inquiring about the upsetting choice of Diwali state reception’s day and time. Premier’s office replied that they have consulted a number of community stakeholders before setting up the day and time.
The statement read:
“The government consulted with peak Hindu organisations and community on an appropriate date for the Premier’s Diwali Dinner.The Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important occasions for Hindu people here, and throughout the world.”
The Premier’s office also supplied written statements from two Hindu organisations saying they were happy to attend the Premier’s Diwali state reception.
However, The Australia Today can reveal that the Premier’s office “tricked” at least one of the organisations into writing the statement in support of the date and time of the Diwali reception that too after we raised the question with the Premier’s office.
The Australia Today is not revealing the name of the Hindu organisations as requested by them.
Murali Rashmi* (name changed) does not want to give her identity as she works as a cultural competency advisor.
She told The Australia Today, “I am dismayed at the cultural insensitivity of Premier Dan Andrews and his office.”
“Imagine if he was to organise a Christmas state reception on actual Christmas day or an Eid-ul-Fitr state reception on actual Eid day. Social commentators would have critised/called out and made him to change the date for the state reception.”
Ms Rashmi says Hindu, Sikh and Jain Victorians are not as politically empowered as Christian, Jews and Islamic communities. Which leaves them in a vulnerable position to be dictated even around their own religious festivities.
Molina Swaroop Asthana is the National President of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association based in Melbourne.
Ms Asthana told The Australia Today, “It was great to attend the Premier’s inaugural Diwali dinner and to see the Victorian government embrace this important Hindu festival and celebrate it with the community.”
“I hope that the tradition continues in the future and that Diwali is recognised as at least an optional public holiday as has been declared in Newyork state in the USA.”
But not everyone who attended the Diwali state reception was happy as ‘Wine and Beer’ were served while religious activities were in progress.
Bhakta Das is the chairperson of the Victorian Multifaith Council and has attended the Diwali reception.
Mr Das told The Australia Today, “I was very impressed by Premier’s speech, it was wonderful.”
But his smile was short-lived as he saw while the religious rituals were in progress at the stage, alcohol was served at the tables.
Bhakta Das told The Australia Today, “I was upset with ‘Wine and Beer’ flowing at a religious/spiritual occasion, it should have certainly not happened.”
“I certainly think that it would have been appropriate if alcohol was avoided. There is no reason we should have alcohol at every function.”
The Australia Today can reveal that one of the prominent Hindu organisations wrote to the Premier’s office prior to the Diwali state reception explaining why no meat and alcohol should be served at the event which is religious in nature with Hindu deities Maa Lakshmi and Prabhu Ganesh present and prayed by the priest.
Talking to The Australia Today Hindu organisation still gave the benefit of doubt to the Premier’s office and said, “Somehow we presume by an oversight they served alcohol however they did listen and not serve meat.”
“Premier’s office was informed of this oversight after the event. Being the first of such Hindu event they have assured us that they will note it for any subsequent Diwali events in years to come.”
Federal Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood has also weighed in via a social media post saying, “I have been receiving calls from the Hindu community with regards to the Diwali event organised by Dan Andrews named Premier’s Diwali.”
Shadow Minister Wood said,
“It’s sad to see the utter disrespect towards the Hindu community.”
“I have been informed that alcohol was served during the prayer ceremony which is highly offensive according to the Hindu religion. Victorian Labor Premier’s Diwali was more of a political rally than a Deepavali celebration, there were apparently Labor MPs and Labor candidates at almost every table,” he added.
The Australia Today asked six specific questions of the Premier’s office however we have only been provided with a generic reply.
“The Hindu community is predominately vegetarian – all food provided was vegetarian and alcohol was only available on request and not placed on tables,” said government spokesperson.
Here are our questions to Premier Daniel Andrews in case you want to seek answers to them.
Q1 – Was wine and beer served when religious activities were happening at the Diwali dinner hosted by Premier Andrews?
Q2 – Do you know alcohol is not permitted where Hindu God Deities are established even temporarily?a- If yes, why was the alcohol served? b- If not, why Hindu stakeholders were not consulted?
Q3- Did Premier Dan Andrews consume wine at last night’s Diwali dinner as some photographs were received by The Australia Today?
Q4- Did any community member personally request Premier Andrews not to consume wine at the function?
If yes, what did Premier say to him/her?
Q5- Were Labor party candidates from seats that have significant Hindu, Sikh and Jain populations invited and attended the Diwali dinner?
If yes, please name and why were they invited even though most are not from Hindu, Sikh or Jain backgrounds.
Q6- Will Premier Andrews apologise to Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities for this disrespect to their religious practice?