Census reveals rise of Indians in Australia

Its official – Punjabi is the fastest growing language in Australia, Hinduism is the fastest growing religion, and Sikhism is among the top 20 religions practiced in the country, according to the census figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While there were only 23,164 Punjabi speakers in Australia in 2006, that number has grown by 207% over five years, with 71,230 people stating Punjabi as their mother language in 2011. Punjabi is now listed among the top 20 languages spoken in Australia (coming in at number 13), as 0.3% of the Australian population speaks the language. Hindi is included in the top 10 languages, with 111,351 Hindi speakers in Australia, representing 0.5% of the entire population.

Victoria seems to be preferred by Indians and Punjabis alike, with 2.1% of the state population being Indian born – a growth of 110% over the last five years. For the first time ever, the population of Punjabis in Melbourne has outnumbered that of Sydney, with over 31,000 Punjabi speakers residing in Victoria and 21,704 Punjabis in New South Wales. Queensland has just under 9,500 Punjabis whereas South Australia and Western Australia are home to 5,000 Punjabis each.

More than 80% of Punjabi speakers are first generation migrants who were born in India, whilst 12.5% were born in Australia, presumably children of Punjabi migrants. Whilst a handful of Australian Punjabis were born in quaint countries like Norway, Bahrain, Kuwait, Zimbabwe, etc, and 15 even declared an aboriginal status, only 663 Punjabi speakers of Australia were born in Pakistan.  It is also important to note that 1.4% of the total Australian population was born in India.

Although Punjabis have been migrating to Australia since the 19th century, they’ve only begun to arrive in large numbers over the last ten years. Historically, British Indians formed 0.1% of all migrants entering Australia in the year 1911, and until the 1970s, only a handful of Indians / Punjabis ventured their way to the lucky country. But this was a mere trickle, since the first year that a hundred or more Punjabis came to Australia was 1975, and the first year that 1000 or more Punjabis arrived in Australia was as recently as 2003! But ever since, there has been a steady wave of Punjabi arrivals, peaking sharply in 2008, when 12,630 left the land of the five rivers to come to the land down under.  It is worth noting that the population of Indians in Australia has doubled in a matter of five years, the largest component of which is from Punjab, as the census figures show that 37,389 Punjabi speakers have arrived in Australia between 2006 and 2009 alone!

Hinduism is now the fastest growing religion of Australia, with 275,534 people or 1.3% of the entire population stating that they are Hindus. Overall, Christianity is the dominant faith in the country, with 61.1% following it, and people believing in “no religion” are the second most numerous group – 22.3% of Australians claim to have no association with any religion or faith. Buddhism comes in at third place, with 2.5% Australians following it, Islam is fourth (2.2%) and Hinduism fifth (1.3%).

Sikhism is predominant religion among Punjabi speakers of Australia, with 81% Punjabis (or 57,641 people) stating they are Sikhs. Hinduism comes second, as 13.3% Punjabis are Hindus, and Islam comes in third, with1.4%. Sikhism is now included in the top 20 religions practiced in Australia, coming in at number 16. A total of 72,296 people in Australia practice Sikhism, which equates to 0.3% of the country’s population. There are more Sikhs in Victoria than in NSW and interestingly, Victoria is the only state in which Punjabi speakers outnumber the Sikh population. In all other states, there are more Sikhs than the number of Punjabi speakers.

Looking at the other data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), it seems plainly obvious that the recent surge in Indian, especially Punjabi arrival into Australia, is directly attributable to the presence of international students here. The most common age for Punjabis in Australia, both male and female, is 25-29 years.  Only 37% of Australian Punjabis are citizens of the country, whereas 60% are not; only 8% Punjabis own their houses outright, 27% are paying a mortgage, but nearly half of them, 45%, live in rented houses. These statistics make a striking contrast with the national average for Australia. Even more stark is the fact that 27% of Australian Punjabi women don’t earn any income, which again, is way above the national Australian average. Yet, the overall household income of Punjabi households reflects the national average of $1500-$1999 per week.

All of the above figures were based on the census carried out by ABS on August 9, 2011, preliminary results of which were released last month. The total population of Australia, which was deemed to be 21.5 million on that day last year, has already increased by 1.1 million, to 22.6 million in June this year. Considering that, the number of Punjabi speakers would already have grown close to 80,000 and other figures can be projected accordingly.

Manpreet Kaur Singh

This article is written by Manpreet Kaur Singh, who is the presenter of the SBS Radio Punjabi service.

To get a detailed snapshot of Punjabi speakers in the country, visit www.sbs.com.au/punjabi and to get similar information about any other language or parameter, visit www.sbs.com.au/census


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