Exclusion and discrimination daunted Indians in Aotearoa

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Book reveals the persistent history of racism, despite the rhetoric

Venkat Raman
Auckland, July 11, 2021

There could soon be representations from the members of the Indian community appealing to the government to issue an apology for the excesses that some of them and their forerunners suffered in New Zealand for long.

That is, if a book dedicated to Indians and their sufferings, to be released next month impacts on the community and prompts them to debate and act.

‘Dawn Raids’ motivation

Such an appeal could also be motivated by the government’s recent announcement that it will apologise to the Pacific Island communities over the ‘Dawn Raids’ of the 1970s. Fijians (mostly of Indian origin) have asked the government to include them in the ‘Dawn Raids’ apology, stating that their parents and grandparents were also victims of the infamous actions of officials, especially the law-enforcing authorities.

Indian community leaders agree that while there have been private talks of the trauma, insult and discrimination that their forebears from India suffered over several decades in New Zealand, there has been no concerted effort to appeal to the government.

There are well-documented incidents of discrimination based on racism that Indians had to endure – late 1890s through to almost the first half of the 20th Century.

A turning point perhaps

Now, this all-revealing book, written by Researcher and Writer Jacqueline Leckie should make New Zealanders pause and reflect on the injustice that migrants from India had to suffer. They were not indentured labourers but were subject to inhuman treatment.

Titled, ‘Invisible,’ the book is due for release by the Massey University Press in August 2021. Ms Leckie is well-known to us and hence we are confident that the 248-page publication will reveal much information about the not-so-well-known and so-often-talked-about sufferings of the members of the Indian community. Their sufferings began soon after their arrival in New Zealand and continued long after their settlement in various parts of the country.

Jacqueline Leckie (Photo Supplied)

 

We respect the wishes of the publishers and promoters and would not like to give much away but we repeat what we received: “This galvanising book uncovers a story of exclusion that has rendered Kiwi-Indians invisible in the historical narratives of the nation. ‘Invisible’ shares stories of resilience while also revealing the real impact that racism has on the lives of Indian New Zealanders.”

Underlying racism

Ms Leckie said that despite our mythology of benign race relations, Aotearoa New Zealand has a long history of underlying prejudice and racism.

“Over the course of the twentieth century, discrimination against Indians in Aotearoa New Zealand slowly changed at the legislative level, but this did not mean an end to racism, which persists in many guises. Casual racism has been one of the most painful challenges to Kiwi-Indians, and one of the most difficult to erase; stereotyping and everyday hostility has impeded many from settling and making a livelihood here,” she said.

In ‘Invisible,’ Ms Leckie’s research presents a history of inequality and hurtful discourse against Kiwi-Indians, making this an essential contribution to the conversation on racism and diversity in New Zealand.

Through selected documents, newspapers articles and photos dating back to the early nineteenth century, the book shares the experiences of Indian migrants and their descendants, opening the eyes of the reader to the complicated racist past that so many Indian people have had to endure.

About Indian Settlers

Jacqueline Leckie is the author of ‘Indian Settlers: The Story of New Zealand South Asian Community,’ a book commissioned by the New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) and released in Parliament on November 13, 2007. NZICA Immediate Past President Bhikhu Bhana presented a copy of the Book to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on Thursday, October 27, 2016, when we accompanied the then Prime Minister John Key.

‘Indian Settlers’ provided some answers. As its publicist said, “The first gold discovered in Otago, which led to the rushes of the 1860s, was found by Edward Peters, an Anglo-Indian firm from Goa. The permanent Indian community can trace its origins to the arrival of two Sikh brothers in about 1890.”

Most subsequent settlers were from the Punjab or from Gujarat and some from Sind. Until 1945, most of the settlers were male, some intermarrying with local women, Maori and Pakeha. The first Indian business, Abraham Singh & Co, was established in Wanganui in the late 1890s but since then, settlers have applied themselves to full range of jobs and enterprises, from scrub cutting to running fruit shops to dairy farming and professional work. 

About ‘Invisible’

Ms Locke said that ‘Invisible’ follows from her historical research and friendships with Indian people in Aotearoa dating back to the mid-1970s.

“The book is also my response to the outrage I have long held about our history of discrimination towards Asians, specifically Indians. I wrote a PhD thesis on the history of Gujaratis in Aotearoa and have published several articles on the Indian diaspora here, notably ‘Indian Settlers: The Story of a New Zealand South Asian Community’ (Otago University Press, 2007). A few years ago, at the book launch of India and the Antipodes (an excellent collection edited by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay and Jane Buckingham), I met Manisha Morar, General Secretary of the New Zealand Indian Central Association. The association had been sitting on a report compiled by Nigel Murphy that summarised some of the prejudice that Kiwi-Indians had been subjected to. Manisha asked me to develop and expand that report. Then came the horror, grief and anger of the 15 March 2019 Christchurch massacre. After talking with two Indian women who grew up in Christchurch, I knew the nation’s untold story of exclusion and discrimination against not only Muslims but also Indians needed to be told,” she said.

About Jacqueline Leckie

Jacqueline Leckie is a Researcher and Writer based in Dunedin. Her other books include ‘To Labour with the State’ (1997), ‘Colonizing Madness: Asylum and Community in Fiji’ (2020), and ‘A University for the Pacific: 50 Years of USP’ (2018).

She is an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Stout Centre for New Zealand Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and Conjoint Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Newcastle in Australia. She is a Fellow of the New Zealand India Research Institute, and an affiliated Researcher with the Centre for Global Migrations at the University of Otago. Her research has concerned the Indian diaspora, development, gender, ethnicity, mental health and work within the Asia–Pacific.

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