New $85 million High Commission building to open this year
An Indian Newslink Report on ‘India Day’ will appear soon
I am delighted to be here at Mahatma Gandhi Centre to participate in India Day, launching the Centenary Celebration of the Auckland Indian Association.
Today, we are joined by several Indian Diaspora organizations for two reasons: first to commemorate the journey and settlement of early Indians in Aotearoa and second, to celebrate the collective achievements of India as a nation.
Help during the Pandemic
The Centenary Celebration of Auckland Indian Association, which was conceptualised to be held last year, is taking place against the backdrop of a global pandemic. During a difficult year, the High Commission was at the forefront of looking after the welfare of distressed Indians by providing them help in the form of food, shelter, transportation of mortal remains, arranging funerals and repatriation of more than 4000 stranded Indians by special flights. We also brought in an equal number of Pravasi Indians back to New Zealand who were stuck in India. In our common endeavours, we received help from all quarters, especially from Indian community and charitable organizations. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all.
Many congratulations to Dhairesh Patel on being selected one of the 15 winners from around the world of Bharat Ko Janiye Quiz. As part of the prize, you win a fully arranged ‘Bharat Darshan’ trip when international travel opens. I wish you all success in life!
Growing bilateral relations
It has been a year and a half for me serving as the High Commissioner of India to New Zealand. During this period, I have felt a strong and mutual desire on both India and New Zealand sides to take the relationship forward.
Bilateral trade has grown substantially in the last five years, with the trade in services having more than doubled. However, there is a huge, untapped business potential. We are working on a business partnership focusing on technology, innovation and best practices. With this objective in mind, we will be holding a two-day India-NZ Business Summit on March 17-18 in Auckland. I invite the business community to participate in the Summit, which is being organised by India-NZ Business Council (INZBC).
Sharing Colonial History
Both India and NZ share a colonial history. We also became independent from the British rule in the same year i.e. 1947. The diplomatic relationship was founded within a few years of our independence, which has evolved into a beneficial partnership over the last seven decades.
It is worth mentioning that India was one of the first Asian countries to have established a diplomatic post in Wellington- first a Trade Commission in 1950, which was soon upgraded to a High Commission in 1952.
This year when we are marking 70 years of our diplomatic relationship, our dream of moving to a modern and spacious High Commission building which is being built at a cost of approximately NZ$ 85 million will be realised later this year.
We intend to make our new premises a hub of business, cultural and community activities in the heart of Wellington.
The new $85 million Indian High Commission Building in Wellington will be among the best in the world (Image Supplied by Indian High Commissioner)
First Indian Settlers
The modern history of New Zealand begins in 1769, the year it was explored by Captain James Cook. In December, the same year (1769), the first two Indians- Mahmud and Nasrin- landed in Northland, as Captain Cook’s first Endeavour expedition was leaving New Zealand waters.
They were not settlers but sailors (lascars).
Indian sailors continued to visit New Zealand on board sealing and timber ships, but it would be a few decades before they began to settle here.
The first recorded story of the settlement is traced back to 1809/1810 when one sailor jumped ship (in the Bay of Plenty), married a Maori woman and settled down.
The first settler was neither a Gujarati nor a Punjabi, but a Bengali.
Steady immigration begins
Steadier Indian migration to New Zealand began in the 1890s.
By 1896, the number of Indians in New Zealand had grown to 46. The numbers fluctuated over the next 20 years as people arrived and departed. They came mostly from the Navsari and Surat regions of Gujarat province, but also from Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur in Punjab.
By the end of the 19th century, there were not more than 50 Indians recorded in New Zealand.
Today, there are about 240,000 persons of Indian origin living and doing well, comprising almost 5% of New Zealand’s population and contributing NZ$ 10 billion to the economy, according to a recent report.
Hindi today is the fourth most commonly spoken language in New Zealand and thus, a natural candidate to be included amongst the top second languages to be taught in Schools.
The Indian community is the fastest-growing ethnic group, which is becoming more and more engaged in New Zealand politics, business, and socio-cultural life.
We feel proud that for the first time two India-born young achievers, Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Dr Gaurav Sharma have entered New Zealand Parliament as electorate MPs.
It is also for the first time that a leader of Indian origin has become a Minister in the New Zealand government. In January 2021, during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention, the President of India conferred upon Ms Radhakrishnan the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award for her contributions to public life.
We feel honoured that Sir Anand Satyanand, a most distinguished person of Indian origin, is present amidst us today.
Rini Dhadeech captivated the audience with her superb rendition of old Lata Mangeshkar songs
(Photo by Hemant Parikh)
Beginnings of Auckland Indian Association
Let me take you back to September 12, 1920, the day a handful of early and suffering migrants, mainly from Gujarat, came together in a spirit of fraternity and perseverance in an alien land to create a platform and collective voice.
The Auckland Indian Association was set up as a community service organisation with Chhotubhai Patel as its first President at a time when the number of Indians in this country was merely 671 if we go by the data compiled in 1921.
A hundred years ago, New Zealand was a different place. It had 1.24 million people; The Labour Party, the oldest extant Party was only four years old; and first Radio Stations had not gone on air. The Indian community was small, hardly conversant in English, faced a number of insurmountable challenges including restrictions on employment, family immigration, discrimination and host of other issues.
Two things, however, were definitely in favour: the indentured system (Girmit System) had just been abolished in January 1920 and the national movement under Mahatma Gandhi had become a truly mass movement in India.
Today let us remember those founding pioneers and salute their vision.
The growing Indian Diaspora
Globally, we have more than 30 million people of Indian origin living in different countries. Our Diaspora is an extended family. As high achievers, people of Indian origin are enhancing the prestige of India. We welcome our Diaspora to remain connected with India and contribute to the achievement of national goals of peace, prosperity, and development. In order to promote broader cultural understanding between the two countries, we have conceptualised to hold a Festival of India in New Zealand.
This was being planned for 2020. We would have to wait for things, especially international travel to become safe and normal.
As we celebrate 100 years of Auckland Indian Association, I would like to propose some ideas to be taken up during the year:
First, the High Commission would like to jointly host a day-long convention, either in Auckland or in Wellington, on the theme ‘Indian Diaspora in New Zealand: Past, Present and Future’ in association with New Zealand India Research Institute (NZIRI), Victoria University of Wellington and Indian community organisations, in particular the Auckland Indian Association. The objective behind this deliberative forum should be to how to connect with recent migrants, especially the youth and professionals.
Second, display of ‘125 Years of Indians in Aotearoa’ Exhibition of the New Zealand Indian Central Association with additional panels on diplomatic ties at the upcoming High Commission building later this year or early next year.
I also propose that an E-version of this exhibition is made for wider dissemination.
We would like to support this project financially.
Let us work together and step-up efforts for the installation of a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Auckland, coinciding with the 75 years of India’s Independence next year.
I felicitate Auckland Indian Association on turning 100 and wish all success in the years to come. I urge all Indian community organizations to promote Indian values and act as forces of unity, integration and India connection.
Muktesh Pardeshi is High Commissioner of India to New Zealand based in Wellington. The above is a slightly edited version of the speech that he delivered at the ‘India Day’ celebrations organised by the Auckland Indian Association on February 13, 2021.
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