When Manuraj Shunmugasundaram left India and moved to Australia, it was to study physics. He had his heart set on a career in astronomy, which is why he chose ANU, the best ranked university in Australia for astrophysics. With a scholarship to support him, he packed his bags and boarded a plane to Australia.
When Manuraj left Australia seven years later, he had a completely different career in mind. He returned to India with a new focus: politics and social justice.
“The more time you spend in another country, the more you think about how things could work better at home,” Manuraj reflects.
Manuraj—who grew up in bustling Chennai—was initially shocked by how different Australia was.
“It was so empty and quiet,” he recalls.
“On the day I arrived at Burton and Garran Hall, someone offered to drive me to Belconnen so I could buy groceries. I was amazed to see that there was bushland between the suburbs.”
But soon Manuraj was thriving on ANU campus. He became involved in as many extracurricular activities as he could, like Inward Bound, and also held pastoral care positions at Burton and Garran Hall.
It was Manuraj’s curiosity to try new things which sparked his interest in pursuing a different career path:
“One of the key elements of being at ANU was having opportunities to explore other things beyond science.
“Politically, it was a really interesting time to be in Australia. And living in Canberra, I was in the hotbed of politics.
“I became involved in the activist community, volunteering for GetUp! and at Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services.”
Manuraj was in Australia for Kevin Rudd’s landmark apology to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. It compelled him to think about social justice in his home country of India, and the kind of impact he could make.
When he finished his Master of Philosophy at ANU, Manuraj decided to return to India and start a law degree at the University of Delhi.
Since graduating, he has co-founded the Ganesan and Manuraj Legal LLP law firm, and is the National Media Spokesperson for the DMK party. In these roles he advocates for responsible politics, participatory governance, and social justice.
Manuraj is also the Chair of the Australia-India Youth Dialogue (AIYD), and a passionate advocate for building strong bilateral links between Australia and India.
“With the AIYD, we wanted to build strong people-to-people links.
“It’s important that young people from India and Australia can understand their countries together.”
AIYD has now grown into a body of accomplished and emerging leaders. The organisation is endorsed by the prime ministers of both countries.
To this day, Manuraj speaks passionately about the value of studying at ANU.
“There’s nothing I would recommend more than an international experience.
“Having lived in another country, I understand how other countries come up with public policy solutions.
“In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is a greater question about collaboration and internationalisation of policy solutions. We need to share knowledge for the benefit of everyone across the globe and an international student experience positions you nicely for such eventualities."