A discussion forum on issues faced by parents in the key areas of education, culture & society in foreign soil.

On the 8th of June 2013, we conducted a Public Seminar / Discussion Forum on some of the key issues that we as migrants face when adapting or integrating into another society.

Chair:   Mr Sugu MaranSugu2

Special Guest:    Mrs Shanthini Arunothayaraj

Panel Members:    Dr RS Senthilkumar, Mr Sadiq Basha, Mr Ponnarasu Singaram, Mrs Shanthi Sivakumar


Provided below with thanks to Mrs Shanthini Arunothayaraj is the transcript of her speech during the discussion.

கலந்துரையாடலின் தொகுப்பை தமிழில் வாசிக்க இதை சொடுக்கவும் –  Click here to read the TAMIL version of the discussion forum.




Thank you for your kind words. We congratulate the effort taken by your dedicated team to make this school possible. It will be treasured by thankful parents and children who will reap its benefits for years to come.
Mrs. Shanthini Arunothayaraj

My warm welcome to everyone. It is humbling to see that so many parents have come to hear me share my views and thoughts. I am speaking as a mother from an ordinary family that has faced issues common to several migrant Tamil families here. Perhaps sharing our experiences   can help us all and give us confidence to tackle and adjust to life in a very different culture. I would also like to listen to and learn from your experiences during the discussion.

I believe, we are a sum total of the decisions our ancestors have made over generations. If our fore father had chosen to go to S. Africa or Fiji, we would have been brought up there. If someone had been an alcoholic or fraudster the family would have suffered the consequences. So, the decisions we make today will have an effect on our future generation. When we chose to migrate to Australia, we decided to take our children away from what we have known for ages and put them in a totally different culture…It is a very brave and bold step from where there is no return. However, most of us are not prepared for the consequences it will have on our children or know how to handle the issues that may arise as they grow up between two cultures. Indeed, migration is not something new. It has been done from the time early man stepped out of Africa. However, we do not have the abundant time they had to evolve and integrate. It is more sudden now just a few hours flight and we are in the midst of a totally different culture.

We have brought our children to a place where people live differently to what we were used to in India. It may appear to us that 7many of these ways clash with our values and therefore we cannot accept it. However to our children, who are not used to the values system in India, it may not appear wrong. When our children make decisions that are different to the ones we have made, fear takes over and we panic as we struggle to come to accept the choices they make.

This leads to conflict in the family. So how do we manage this? The answer is not necessarily about how to change our children’s thinking, but about how we can widen our own minds and show our children the best of both worlds.

The topic today is about Petror nokkum and Pillaykalin pokum..

What do we truly want for our children?

What do our children want for themselves?

We all want our children to develop good characters, have a good education, realise their full potential and be productive members of society, and have a happy family life.

(Note that I do not say ‘become a doctor, an engineer or white collar professional, earn lots of money, marry someone from the same community.)

What do children want for themselves? Exactly the same, even if they don’t say it as clearly. In reality there should be no conflict at all as we both want the same things.

22So why is there conflict? Conflict is there because while the goal is the same there is more than one path to get there.

The conflict between parents and children happens when we forcibly want them to follow certain pathways without actually considering their reasonable views and desires. We are still home sick for some of the values we have left behind.  And we compare the best things from our culture with the worst attributes of the new culture. We forget the flaws in our own and do not open our eyes to the good things that exist in the other. It takes courage to step out of our comfort zone and ask difficult questions about our own culture, especially as back home everyone thought more or less the same things.

However, our children in Australia have grown up in two cultures. We took them out of a well and have brought them to a lake. Their experiences growing up here are so different to ours. They do not see the same flaws as we do. TheShanthini2y cannot understand the fears of the parents and want to live their lives differently. They would like the freedom to form their identity. It may not be totally Indian or totally Australian, but rather something in the middle…

We as parents have n important duty to share the knowledge of our heritage with our children. It is necessary to give them a sense of identity and pride. We can do this by teaching them the language, our history, our religion etc.

Our children can surely be proud that our language is one of the oldest surviving classical languages in this world, that our thol kappiayam is more than 7000 years or so old, that we were writing and composing literature with grammar when half the world was still living in caves


However, just because we teach our children all these things they will not necessarily want to continue living exactly like they were back home. They will compare cultures and question things. While we may tell them how civilized Tamil culture is, they will ask… So, why do they use the main road as a toilet?

When we say how Silapathikkaram was a beautiful epic of honour and chastity, they ask why chastity did not apply to Kovalan and why Kannagi had to burn Madurai down with her anger. Isn’t being calm and controlling anger more important for human beings?

Why do people in India care so much about skin colour? Why do we call Australians racist when we care more about skin colour than they do? Yes, Aussies love to tan but they do not consider that as an important quality when they seek to marry.

When we say, how much we respect women in our culture, they ask, so why there are more than 4000 female unborn babies killed every year in Tamil Nad4u? And why is rape so common?

They may feel the saree is a more revealing attire than jeans and shirt.

Why is everyone so fascinated by gold? Why do they wear so much and flaunt it?

These are the questions my children have asked me. They were more compassionate to the poverty they saw around them. But it was all these things that bothered them. I had become used to these things. But my children, growing up in two cultures, have a very different way of seeing things. And I think this is a good thing.

To teach our children about Tamil culture, we need to understand both the good and bad aspects of it. We cannot pretend we are perfect, or blindly defend everything because our children will see through that. We also need to acknowledge all the good aspects of western culture, as well as recognising their problems.Managing to understand the good and bad shows maturity and a willingness to consider change for the better – and this is what we should teach our kids – they are neSenthilver going to be as ‘Indian’ as we are – so the next best thing is to give them the skills to pick and choose the best of both cultures.

This is not easy. I remember that initially in my mind I had only wanted to remember the good things in my culture and was only seeing the negative and bad things in Western culture. I saw the excesses of pop culture as Western Culture and was judging them with prejudice and ignorance.

When children live in Australian culture they need to understand the good and bad aspects of it fully. We should not cloud their judgement with our prejudices.

9And there are several good things about western culture. After all we all took great effort and choose to come here voluntarily. We must have decided there were benefits to living here.

And there are indeed benefits and things we can learn. From following a simple queue system to valuing human life there are so many good things to embrace in it.

Volunteering is a good example. In our community we are now seeing many volunteers like you and your team setting up schools, but it is hard to see everyday people volunteer their time for someone they do not know. Westerners are quick to volunteer for the homeless, for the drug addicts, for the troubled youth etc.

Westerners also take up careers because they love what they do, not because they want to please their parents or society. Their 12parents appreciate them no matter what their career choice. There is no pressure to be a doctor or engineer, just to be dedicated to a chosen career.

Independence is another great part of western culture – they want to be independent and physically active and productive till the end. We see so many elderly people who are fiercely independent and contribute so much to society.

Most westerners also appreciate other cultures and have an open mind to many things in this world – they respect and tolerate different points of view and are not afraid to be challenged on their thinking. They can agree to disagree – a concept that is rarely found in India.

Other positive things are lack of rampant corruption and fair go and equality for all. Everyone is treated the same. Ministers and rich men do not get special treatment. There is humility and no bandaa. There is no point in saying ‘Do you know who I am?’

ShanthiniThey can question anyone. Even their Prime Minister.

Punctuality. They understand the value of time and keep it.

They look after their disabled people with more dignity and humane kindness.

Their Greek, Latin are old classical languages and they have great philosophers, epic poems Classical Music, Literature, Art too.. Democracy, medicine, science and technology – things we all use every day have all been a product of western values in philosophy and innovation. (According to Scholars, Western Values is mostly based on the teachings of Christ. Something radically changed in their values after Christ. Until then, Gods were not supposed to be humiliated, stoned or crucified. Gods were powerful and destroyed evil with their lightning bolts and thunder. For the first time after Christ, humans Saranya1started thinking of forgiveness, humility and self-sacrifice, charitable service and value of hard work as Godly virtues. Whether they followed it or not is a different matter, they started believing that these values were Godly values)

So I ask, do any of us here have any problem with accepting these values? They are all things to be admired.

In Australia, in addition to these underlying western values, there is popular culture like love of Sports,AFL in particular, the outdoor life style and of course the BBQ and their own brand of humour. I call these the embellishments, the bells and whistles of a culture.

But like every culture, WesternSha02 culture also has its negative points. In Australia, there is also a callous lack of respect for authority and taking for granted many things of worth.

There is also a high incidence of drinking too much amongst the youth, a use of profane language, promiscuity, and more break downs in the family unit. These things are more common in the West because people have more independence to do what they want, and they don’t hide it. However, India is also changing fast and many youngsters end up imitating Western sitcoms, thinking they are now very cool and fashionable. They have no real idea of what the West’s true culture is. This is essentially like an Australian watching a few Tamil serials (dappan kuthu movies) and thinking that this is Tamil culture.

Unfortunately many of us do not know what our true Tamil culture is. We think that if we speak Tamil, wear sari and celebrate Pongal, it is Tamil culture and if we speak and swear in English, wear western clothes and eat burgers and pizza, it is western culture.

So what are true Tamil culture and values? A few of them include, (you may be able to think of more)Ganesh

Traditions of Respect, and Hospitality.

Education is an important value . We place enormous weight on it. Not surprising as our written language is one of the oldest in the world.

The glory and importance given to motherhood. Motherhood is an important job as it nurtures future generations.

This is not something relevant only to our culture but we do give it a lot of importance.



ஔவையார் அவர்கள், ஒரு நாடு பெருமையும் சிறப்பும் அடைய வேண்டும் எனின், அதில் வாழும் மாந்தரே அதற்குப் பொறுப்பாக வேண்டும். Tamil mothers are mostly examples of selflessness, patience and love. Many children have thrived and gone to lead successful lives, solely on the sacrifices of the mother. Sadly, family and motherhood is failing in many societies today. (Not only in the West but in India too) When family ties are not strong, it leads to insecurity in children, insecurity leads to lack of confidence and loss of identity. That leads to experimentation and dysfunctional individuals. It means the very foundation of human society is shaken.

RuthraapathyI will talk about another important Tamil value here “karppu”. It has been drillen into us that it the most important thing for a woman. So much so that legend states that Renuka wife of sage Jamagagni could carry water in an unbaked mud pot because her chastity was so strong. However one day the poor girl happened to look at some handsome heavenly gandharvas passing by and next thing her unbaked pot disintegrates. Oops, gone was her Karpppu and her husband is so enraged that he gets his son Parushuram to behead her..Ladies and gentlemen I would be without a head now if those sort of values were applied to society now. I admire Hrithik Roshan and George Clooney!! We have come a long way and things like this change with time. Anyway chastity, self-restraint and personal integrity are important Tamil virtues and it is important we talk to our children about these things.

In Tamil Culture also there are some bells and whistles. To mention a few, we usually get up in the morning and draw kolams.Parthasarathy

The wearing of the “Thali” has enormous significance in Tamil Nadu but very little in many parts of N. India. Tamil women used to apply manjal to their faces. I am not sure if they still do.

And of course a recent phenomenon “The Chennai Kings”.

If we accidently step on books or elders we will apologise. I remember 20 years ago in the UK,I was shocked to see a shop assistant pull out 2 copies of yelShanthini2low pages and step on it to help her reach the top shelf in a shop. Now I understand that to her it was just a book. She did not see Saraswathi in it. Our children may not “thottu kumbidify” when they accidently step on a book but they will pick up other things that are valued in this culture, for instance they will automatically say please and thank you and they will not rush past elderly people  to get into a crowded bus like it is done India..


Coming back to the topic, so when we try to guide our children the path they take what should we teach them? In other words, what should our nokkam be?


We can start by teaching our children the fundamental true values – whether they are from Indian culture or Western culture. These are called the Universal Core Human Values .Values, that are eternal. They are timeless and relate to all people. They are followed and valued by all humanity. So, what are they? According to studies done on the 7 major religions of the world (which includes Hinduism, Christianity and Islam) most important Core Universal Human values are,29

1. Values that we extend to ourself – that is To seek and withold Truth, Justice, Self-Respect, Humility, Self Control ,  Discipline, To act responsibly with Conscience and to avoid greed, selfishness.

2. To extend to others Compassion, Care, Tolerance, Forgiveness, to serve and help the community and human kind. Treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness • To care for all living things (including animals) and our environment.

3. Last but not least to understand the connectedness between people and to search the higher purpose and meaning of one’s existence.

I think everyone here will accept these values and everyone in Australia will have no hesitation in teaching and wanting these values for their children.

So, it’s the simple values that have been praised by Thiruvalluvar and our other epic poets for ages. Our nokkam must be that. If we can follow these values, without prejudices and appreciate these values in other human beings (whether they are black or white) we will be fine. If we can fill our children with these values we can trust them to do the right thing wherever they go and relax.

21These values, rather than restricting our children and leading to resentment and rebellion, will give them strong foundations and roots to stand up to peer pressure and make their own decisions. It will also give them wings to soar high and realise their potential without coming to any harm for they will know what is right and what is wrong. We do not build a majestic ship to anchor it in the harbour and admire it. Its greatness lies in it battling rough seas and conquering the vast ocean. So too with our children. Let them go like King Dasarathan allowed his dear son Ram to go with Visvamithra to fight evil – do not cling to them.

I have realised that when we are able to appreciate and follow what is good in our culture and accept, recognise and denounce whole heartedly what is bad in it…

When we are able to accept magnanimously what is good in others culture and stay away from what is bad, we become very good human beings. More importantly, we can live as an example without prejudice and judging. That is the best thing we can do for our children.

Then we can truly understand and take it to the next level proposed by our wise men from ages ago…10

உலகம் முழுவதையும் ஒரு குடும்பமாகக் காணவேண்டும் என வலியுறுத்தி

யாதும் ஊரே ; யாவரும் கேளிர் ;

தீதும் நன்றும் பிறர்தர வாரா ;



Analyse and question your all values critically. Make sure, what you believe to be right is Truly Right. Not because it has been taught to you as such from a young age. If after all the questioning, critical analysing you truly believe without prejudice in a value, withhold it and follow it strongly. Live by it. If not, have the courage to change it.

I will give an example of a value that may shake after questioning. Eg Always respect elders and teachers is a Tamil/Indian value. We were taught not to question elders. Yethithu pesathey. However is this always right? The truly great people in history questioned authority. Jesus questioned the rabbis in the Jewish temple about their corrupt ways. Buddha questioned meaningless rituals and the caste system. Mahatma questioned untouchability and Nelson Mandela questioned Apartheid rule. There is nothing wrong in questioning because questioning exposes wrongs, refines our belief system and defines truth. So let our children be respectful but to insist that they should not question authority or elders is not right. They will respect elders and teachers who are worthy and deserving of respect and let us make sure that we teach them that.

Now, to discuss about certain issues that we as parents worry about.

MeeraWe worry if some habits and values that are important for healthy living will be forgotten. We worry about Smoking, Drugs, Over indulgence in Alcohol, Gambling. These days it must also include playing excessive violent video games or living their whole life in social media (face book) or sexualising themselves too much. Sadly pornography is readily available too. These are universal problems and exist rampantly in India too. Do not think that we are forced to deal with these problems just because we have moved to a Western country.

Let us educate ourselves first about the harmful effects of these vices and then have a conversation with the kids – not lecture them, but allow them to ask questions and answer them patiently. Please start talking about these issues when they are very young. Under 7 ideally. Start early when they still believe you are God and know everything…Explain to them why it is wrong. After telling them why it is wrong please let us not sit and watch Tamil movies where the hero does all these things so casually and the heroine is sexualised so much that one does not know whether she is a call girl or the heroine. Let us be careful with what we watch, speak and follow at home so that we will have the moral authority to tell our children what is good or not good.

We now live in a society where alcohol is associated with having a good time and celebration. What do we do? We have to explainpon1 to our children the ill effects of it from a very young age. Not just say it is “bad juice that bad uncles drink” but explain the pros and cons of it. For that we must first educate ourself about it. Give examples of the tragic results of indulging in drunkenness and drugs. Talk about car accidents where innocent people get killed, downfall of ordinary citizens to celebrities due to alcoholism, violence, broken families etc. Learn about the irreparable damage it does to the brain. Make them aware that joking and boasting about drinking too much and reckless behaviour is stupid. Please also talk to them about what drinking in moderation is about. 3 glasses of wine or beer a week is not evil. Back home in those days a man was considered of excellent character if he did not drink or smoke, never mind if he was the most wicked in character. So, let’s put things in perspective here. Because we now live in a society where drinks are associated with celebration, children may choose to have a glass of wine. They should at least know what the right drinking behaviour is if they choose to go down that path. We do not want their teenager friend advising them about it.

Let us tell them about the dangers of gambling and smoking.

When it comes to casual sex, seedy night life, pornography, etc. talk to them about why it is worthwhile preserving their Self for the right person. The unnecessary trauma of an unplanned pregnancy, a disease, or the distress of breakdown of a relationship. Talk to them the importance of self-respect, self-control and to be mindful of their behaviour. Never to do things that would demean their self-respect. Let us teach them to value dignity, discipline, decency and self-esteem. To lift their values to behave, dress in a way that will evoke respect and admiration. To use language respectfully. Swearing and profanity is just that. Profanity! There is nothing impressive or cool about it. Make sure that when it comes to the really important things in this world, they hear it from you first rather than from a confused well-meaning friend! Respect their friends; make sure their friends understand your family values. It also helps if you get to know their friends parents.

Peer pressure,

ShanthiI find that parents succumb to this more than the children. So and so has got a home, his children have passed these exams, they have got an investment property, went for a holiday here, her kids learn dancing, they have this car, on and on it goes. Our whole life is spent in comparison with others. It is wrong. Our life and our children are unique, precious and should never be compared with someone else.

If our focus is on chasing, comparing and discussing material and superficial things, it will teach our children the same. If we consider material possessions as hall mark of successful living they will do the same. If their friends have something, they will want to have it or want something more expensive. He has the latest ipad, I must have one. He wears brand name clothing or shoes, I must have designer wear. He had a big birthday,wedding, arangetram  party I must have a more luxurious one. I must have all the cosmetics, handbags and shoes etc .They learn from us.

Let us be ourselves and not gossip and compare our lives with others. Let our energy be focussed on helping our children discover what is special about them, their talents, then encourage them to follow that path and be a very productive member of society and more importantly, be happy as well.Ponnarasu

Independence is another major issue that we struggle with. Children from western culture have more independence. They are mostly left alone to do what they want with their life. Nobody is telling them to study for this course or play less sport or disapprove of their girlfriends! Our children cannot understand why we Indian parents fret. Whilst our kids may complain that we continuously ask them to study and do this or not do this they also know that there are some great perks in having Indian parents. Not kicked out of home. Great support forever with everything from good home cooked meals to looking after grandchildren etc etc. So it’s a balance. Let our kids know that when they enjoy all these perks they also have to abide by some rules.

When it comes to education, we can have the tendency to unnecessarily fret about their studies, because education is very important in our culture. Because we are so used to exams and rote learning from LKG in India we think our kids here do nothing at school. The education system is different here but it is good. If not, why do you think so many rich people from India send their kids here as internaG1tional students to do higher studies. However, if we think children have too much time and not enough homework to keep their minds stimulated let us get them involved in extracurricular activities. Travel with them. Get them to take an active interest in what is happening in other parts of our world. Develop regular study habits for them very early. So that when the homework increases from year 8 or 9 onwards they already have good study habits. But, let us not put undue pressure on them or force them into career paths they are not interested in e.g. please choose this course, because you will earn heaps of money and you will have status in society. The encouragement should be to inspire them to become the best that they can be –to choose a profession that they love and enjoy and one which will allow them to have a good life as well. My son wanted to become a “storm chaser” and chase tornadoes when he was in year 5.Whilst we allowed him to dream, I was not going to actively encourage him to do that. There are no tornadoes to chase in Australia and I could not imagine him chasing one in Oklahoma as well!G2

With courtship and finding a life partner, how many of us here would have preferred to have had the opportunity to get to know a little bit more about our life partners before our marriage. Their values, priorities, interests etc. We grew up in a society that did not allow that. Our Indian matrimonial ads go in this order: wanted. Fair, beautiful, educated, bride from this caste for our son who earns a handsome salary. Or wanted fair, tall, handsome, professional, well settled groom for our girl. These are the values we seek when choosing our life partner! It is sad. We believe as long as the looks are good, life is going to be great. There is no mention of kindness, loving, caring, family values, character, nothing at all. Our children may want a choice. Why deny it to them. Let them get to know the person they would like to marry. If you believe you have taught them the right values, they will choose their life partner well and we do not have to fear. It is our fear and prejudices that may lead to conflict.

When they make a gG3ood choice, respect it, accept it. Whether it is regarding their future education or choosing their life partner.

Religious values. It is important to inculcate in our children spirituality but they may not relate to it in a way that we do. Spirituality is a personal journey. For some it starts when they are very young, for some when they are middle aged, for some never. Each one’s idea of spirituality is also different. For some of us it means going and sitting in the temple for hours and seeing all the rituals. For some it is serving humanity, for some it is simply living as a good human being. So, let us not be alarmed if our children do not find all the rituals in our temple absolutely riveting. Plant the seeds of spirituality in them but give them the freedom to develop their own relationship with God. All the noble souls in our scriptures like, Valmiki, Arungiri nathar etc did not realise God through their G4parent’s upbringing – they found God in their own way.

Another important thing is mum and dad should function as a UNIT. They should say the same thing and withhold the same values. So, unity, respect and understanding between parents is very essential for stability of the children, especially in a migrant family.

Let us have a sense of humour. Laugh at oneself and do not take things too seriously all the time. Enjoy and cherish the talents of the children whether it is Bharatha Natyam, or Hip Hop.

Even after all this we may find that our children may wander away for some time. Continue living by example. If you live by example, the children will come back to you once they have found out for themselves what is right and wrong. I find that some parents, in order to be “friends” with their children start changing fundamental values themselves. This is very sad. They will lose G5their authority and moral right and respect forever. Or they put unreasonable pressure on their children. If you do not get into this course or behave like this, we will lose respect in front of our friends…what will our friends think of us? etc.. This is wrong. It frustrates children and fills them with fear and anger. They feel utter failures and the resentment starts. And believe me parenting is a funny thing. The power balance swings on the parents’ side for only the early years. Once the children grow up a little the balance swings the other way. They can totally reject us out of their lives. So be kind to your children and give them roots, trust them and give them wings.

May God keep our children safe and healthy and I wish them and all of you the very best.

Thank you for your kind attention.

– Mrs. Shanthini Arunothayaraj



Editor Note: We thank our Special Guest Mrs Shanthini Arunothayaraj for sharing her experience and insights on the topics discussed in this meeting. We also thank our panel members for sharing their insights.


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