By Ram Khatry, Sydney
29 December 2016
The Embassy of Nepal in Canberra as well as community leaders within Australia’s Nepali diaspora strongly agree that an aggressive campaign targeting international students from Nepal must begin by November 2017 in order to prevent rising drowning fatalities of young Nepalis.
The Nepali diaspora in Australia have been regularly hit by devastating news of drowning deaths of young men who are often unaccustomed to Australian waters. Sujan Sharma and Sujan Adhikari, both under 30 years of age and both international students, died on Christmas Day and Boxing Day respectively. The tragic news brought the total drowning death toll of Nepali students to three (in 2016 alone) – a trend elders in the community are getting very concerned with.
According to a recent article published by southasia.com.au, the festive seasons around Christmas and New Year are proving to be particularly fatal for excited but less-experienced revellers from Nepal, a mountainous nation where swimming is not the most important part of social life.
The acting head of the Nepali embassy and a number of community leaders now agree that six deaths in a matter of two years (for a small community such as the Nepali) is unacceptable and so something needs to be done immediately.
Chargé d’Affaires at the Embassy of Nepal, Rajendra Pandey, said his office stands ready to work with NRNA (Non-Resident Nepali Association) and other stakeholders in spearheading an awareness-building programme. “There is nothing else you could do other than a strong community awareness programme,” he said, expressing regret that some of the drowning deaths appear to have occurred for sheer lack of precaution. His community is usually guided by festive moods and that always poses a risk when it comes to partying in a country like Australia where water is everywhere, he expressed concern.
Mr Pandey regretted that the Nepali youth who recently died in Kangaroo Valley did not have his life jacket on just when he waded into the deepest part of the water. “So our focus should be to tell them (young men and women) that whether you know swimming or not, life jacket is a must,” the seniormost diplomat at the Nepali embassy asserted.
President of NRNA Australia Surendra Sidgel agrees that his organisation needs to come up with some form of action plan to stop these increasing tragedies. “We are already talking about this within NRNA and we all agree that something big needs to happen to raise awareness about water safety,” he told southasia.com.au. I was contacted by an Australian journalist yesterday and I personally requested him to lobby with the government to help us lead a major campaign to raise awareness,” Mr Sigdel added. In this regard, NRNA plans to work with dozens of Nepali organisations that exist in Australia.
Melbourne-based psychiatrist Dr Anupam Pokharel is the first community leader to see a “pattern” in these drowning deaths of Nepali youths. He and his colleagues engage in social media debates about the issue and have penned articles in an effort to raise awareness about the fact that swimming in the ocean is not taking a dip into the small rivulets of Nepal.
In his article which southasia.com.au published on December 27, the community forerunner pointed out that drowning deaths of Nepali youths have occurred either late December or early January. “Hence, we must target these festive seasons right from November,” the practicing psychiatrist who also seconds as the president of Nepalese Association of Victoria (NAV) said.
Mr Pandey agrees with Dr Pokharel in that both understand that an aggressive social media campaign will go a long way in making young people aware of the risks of swimming in Australia. The different nature of water here is a major factor that must have contributed to these tragedies, Mr Pandey indicated.
According to Dr Pokharel, time has come for Nepali Australian community leaders to be proactive in tackling this menace. He claims that the Nepali community’s response to these tragedies is “reactive” at best, which fades away as time passes. Or, sadly, until another tragedy devastates the community.
Diaspora leaders called on members of the community media to keep the spotlight on the issue, throughout the year.