Meaningful engagement generates empowerment

Venkat Raman

The importance of rising above petty politics and focusing on placing issues of community concern above personal interests, creating an environment for Members of Parliament of Indian origin to function better, and promoting meaningful relationship with the Indian High Commission in Wellington were among the issues that were discussed at the ‘Kiwi Indian Policy Forum.’

Inspiring Initiative

An initiative of the Manukau Indian Association (specifically its President Veer Khar, Secretary Ram Lingam and Executive Committee Member Roy Kaunds), the event was held under the auspices of the New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) at the Ellerslie Convention Centre on March 15, 2015.

MIA President and NZICA Special Committee Chairman Veer Khar said that the Forum has been established as an action-oriented entity with ‘Community Empowerment’ as its core theme and objective.

“The Forum has broad representation of the Indian community since it includes NZICA life members and Chairpersons and members of the Executive Committee, Presidents and Executives of various other Kiwi Indian organisations; community stalwarts, academicians and high achievers within the community. We should discuss issues openly and move forward as a community,” he said.

Nothing personal

Mr Khar said that the Forum would not become a platform for addressing personal grievances or promote the political or other ambitions of individuals but would be an ideal avenue to focus on real issues.

“We will adopt a timely and consultative approach to decide the way forward. It is time to realise the growing power of Indians, who have emerged as the fastest growing community in New Zealand. As our population increases, so would our responsibilities. We should work together and should not remain in isolation any longer,” he said.

One of the major outcomes of the meeting attended by about 150 members of the community was that Kiwi Indians should shake off their ‘exotic image,’ and claim their rightful position in the society.

Increasing importance

An audio-visual presentation by Mr Roy underscored the changing demography of the country and the increasing contribution of the Indian community to the GDP, retail sector, real estate and other areas. He said that Diwali, as ‘The Festival of Lights,’ brings together hundreds of thousands of people in various cities to experience the rich culture, cuisine, colours and costumes of India.

The Panellists

A Panel of five speakers discussed various issues of concern to the Indian community and the existing inadequacies in addressing them.

Analysing the statistics presented earlier, they said that Kiwi Indians should realise their strengths and pool resources so that their voice can be heard louder in Parliament and across the corridors of the government.

“There are a number of imbalances that need urgent attention. Kiwi Indians should claim their right place in all aspects of New Zealand’s political, economic, cultural, social lives and aspirations,” they said.

The Panellists included Dr Sekhar Bandyopadhyay (Director, New Zealand India Research Institute, Victoria University), Dr Edwina Pio (Professor of Diversity, AUT University), Dr Rajiv Chaturvedi (Public Relations Officer, Hindu Council of New Zealand), internationally acclaimed journalist Dev Nadkarni and the Editor of this newspaper.

Student exploitation

According to them, the plight of international students in general and those from India in particular, their living and working conditions and employment opportunities should be treated as issues of great concern.

“It should be noted, with sadness, that most of the employers who exploit, abuse and misuse Indian students are of Indian origin. Our students are overworked and underpaid, often less than the minimum wage. It should also be noted that a majority of students leaving India have no intention of returning to their home country,” they said.

Participants at the Forum said that the Indian High Commission in Wellington works under increasing pressure and hence there was a need to strengthen its complement of staff to improve efficiency and customer response.

“We should engage with the officials better, understand their position and assist in finding solutions. There is scope for improvement,” some participants said.

Involving youth

Harshad Patel, (NZICA President) Ranjna Patel (NZICA Women Forum Sub-Committee Chairperson), Vinod Kumar (New Zealand Hindu Council President) and Ashok Darji (Auckland Indian Association President), who were on the Monitoring Panel, said that community organisation should step up from cultural enrichment to other areas of empowerment with higher involvement of women and youth in decision-making.

As the winds of change begin to flow, the Indian community in New Zealand should reflect on its values, ability to manage the change and be the change itself.

Indian Newslink will bring more news and features on the Kiwi Indian Policy Forum along with articles from community leaders in its ensuing issues.

Photo :

Ram Lingam speaks about the objectives of the Kiwi Indian Forum with Roy Kaunds and Veer Khar behind him. The picture also features a section of the audience at the meeting held on March 15.

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