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Meet Meena Singh who champions legal rights of Aboriginal Australians

Meena Singh, at SBS Punjabi studio Source: SBS

'I'm the Aboriginal girl with the Indian name', says Melbourne lawyer Meena Singh, who is the Associate Director of Aboriginal Services at Victoria Legal Aid.

“I have both Aboriginal as well as Indian heritage; I can’t deny one identity or the other, because I’m clearly both”, said Meena Singh to SBS Punjabi.

"My grandfather was born in Jaipur (in Rajasthan, India) and moved to Fiji many decades ago. My father then migrated to Australia in the early 1960s and met my mother, who was a Yorta Yorta woman. The rest as they say, is history."

Meena is one of three sisters, who were all born and brought up in Victoria. “My father named me after the famous Bollywood actress Meena Kumari, and gave me the middle name Pushpa, which actually is his sister’s name.”

Talking more about her Indian heritage, Meena laughingly said, “ I know enough Hindi to get me into trouble, and probably not enough to get me out of trouble.”

 “Ironically, it was my mother who ensured that I learnt Hindi when I was growing up, because as an Aboriginal woman, she greatly valued language and culture, knowing how it feels when you're denied to speak your language or connect with your culture."

 "My mother could speak some Hindi as well, and we all spoke it whenever we went to Fiji to meet my father's family. They all just loved my Mum."

 Speaking about her Aboriginal heritage Meena said, "I grew up knowing I was a Yorta Yorta woman - my mother ensured that we clearly recognised our cultural heritage and identity, even though we didn't grow up in the community."

Meena Singh at SBS Punjabi studios
SBS

Talking about her professional work Meena said, "I'm like an internal consultant at Victoria Legal Aid, where we try to service clients of Aboriginal background in a culturally appropriate way. Of all of our services only about 4 per cent go to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is a really small percentage.”

 Meena points out, "There are many issues, the first being that the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal women is extremely high. In fact 80% of Aboriginal women in jails are victims of family violence. Women and children of Aboriginal background are far more likely to be victims of violence, and generally, Aboriginal people are over-represented in prisons."

"Our aim is to ensure that our justice system meets the cultural needs of our Aboriginal clients, without stereotyping them. Koori courts are a great example of this, where the same laws are enforced as in other courts, but sentencing is different - two elders are involved in the sentencing court, so that the client is held accountable not just to the law, but also to the community."

Meena answered may more questions including 'what should new migrants know about indigenous Australians', 'what do they feel about new waves of migration and refugees', 'is applying the modern Australian law incongruous with ancient customs that the Aboriginal community has lived with', and finally, a message about 'why languages are important, in the context of SBS's National Languages Competition  2017 currently underway.'

Meena simply said, "Ours is an oral history - our culture and traditions are passed down the generations through languages. So they are extremely important to learn and preserve."

To hear the full interview with Meena, please click on the audio link above.

Meena Singh at SBS Punjabi studios
Meena Singh at SBS Punjabi studios
SBS

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