A “DEBATE” about the construction of a mosque is an odd concept for Abhishek Awasthi.
Growing up in Himachal Pradesh – the northern-most state of India – he came in contact with people of a variety of faiths on a daily basis.
Now living in Bendigo, Mr Awasthi looks back to his upbringing when faith was just another part of every day life.
“I studied in a Sikh school, I had a Muslim roommate,” he said.
“When I was growing up, every religion was a part of every day life. Each religion plays a part.”
Mr Awasthi moved to Melbourne to continue his biochemistry studies, eventually finishing with a Master’s degree.
He developed a fascination with Victoria’s regional cities and moved to Bendigo to work at La Trobe University.
As the mosque debate started up in the city, Mr Awasthi watched on with a mixture of intrigue and bemusement.
“It has been a bit new to me. I always thought everyone was just a part of the world,” he said.
“Whether it’s a temple or a mosque, of course it has a right to be built.”
Working as a student engagement officer, Mr Awasthi encounters people from a range of backgrounds living in Bendigo, including dozens of Muslim people.
He used his experiences to contribute to the city’s Interfaith Council, representing the Indian community.
Mr Awasthi said the mosque has become a common talking point among people he encounters from day to day.
“We do talk about these things, the most common issue is just how long it’s taking to build,” he said.
Despite taking an active role in student life in Melbourne, Mr Awasthi said he had never encountered animosity from Australians.
It was the same story in Bendigo.
“I never faced or heard anything, no slur of any kind. No one I know has faced that in Bendigo either,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s any fear in Bendigo, there are so many community leaders here today reflecting what this community believes.”
Mr Awasthi stood proudly with other members of the Interfaith Council on Friday morning – a long way from Himachal Pradesh – but once again part of a diverse and accepting community.