21 July 2012

Asian Arrivals - Indians in New Zealand



Indian theme on foreign stamps



Indians first settled in New Zealand in the late 1800s. Most of these early migrants came from the regions of Punjab and Gujarat, and were temporary labourers. They numbered only a handful – an estimated forty-six persons in 1896. They were overwhelmingly men. In 1896, only one Indian woman was listed as resident in New Zealand! Most of these early migrants did not intend staying here, but wanted to earn money before returning home.

Migration increased until 1920, when the New Zealand Government introduced restrictions under a ‘permit system’. By this time, there were just over 2000 Indians in New Zealand.

Around this time, there was increasing prejudice and fear about Asian migrants. The White New Zealand League emerged in 1926 with the slogan ‘Keep New Zealand a White Man’s Country’. It found strong support in the press and from local bodies. Indians were criticised for living in shacks and ‘introducing alien views of life and standards of conduct’. The White New Zealand League warned that the intermingling of Indians with both Päkehä and Mäori would result in the ‘halfcasted citizen of the future’ – a prospect it regarded with alarm . But the New Zealand Indian community was still overwhelmingly a society of men. Many of them lived and worked communally. While a few set up shops, most found work as hawkers, bottle collectors, and kitchen hands in the larger towns, or as labourers in the market gardens of Otahuhu and Pukehohe. Others worked building railways or draining the swamps of the Hauraki lowlands.

In some places where Indians were perceived as ‘taking over’, prejudices ran deep and lasted a long time. In Pukekohe, Indians were not allowed to join the local growers’ association, some landowners refused to lease them land, and they were not allowed into the balcony seats of the picture theatre. Until 1958, only one barber’s shop in Pukekohe would cut the hair of Indians !

The discrimination Indian migrants encountered, and their increased commitment to settling in New Zealand permanently, led to the formation of the New Zealand Indian Central Association in 1926. After the introduction of the ‘permit system’ in 1920, the number of new migrants from India dropped. However, of those who did make it here, a greater proportion were women and children. By 1945, families (mostly of shopkeepers and fruiterers) were getting established, and marriages of second-generation New Zealand Indians were to become increasingly important.

But Indian weddings in New Zealand remained rare, even after World War Two when more liberal attitudes allowed for easier entry of Indian migrants into New Zealand. Indians tended to settle in concentrated pockets rather than throughout the country. Punjabis settled in Waipa, Waikato, Otorohanga, and Taumarunui, while Gujaratis settled in Auckland, Pukekohe, and Wellington.

Until the 1980s, over 90 per cent of New Zealand Indians traced their roots back to Gujarat – especially to the Surat district in the south of the state. Most were Hindu. The next biggest group (6 per cent) came from the Punjab, and were usually Sikh. In 1981, Fijian-born Indians accounted for less than 14 per cent of Indians resident here. At this stage, just under 45 per cent of a total New Zealand Indian population of 11,577 had been born in New Zealand, while 31 per cent had been born in India.

Today, Indians living in New Zealand are not restricted to the few trades that they were in before World War Two. Now few Indians (less than 5 per cent) are involved in agriculture, while nearly a third (30 per cent) are involved in professional, managerial, and administrative positions. Indians are prominent in a number of sections of New Zealand society, including business, medicine, education, politics, sport, and the arts.

Since 1987, New Zealand has become home to highly skilled, affluent migrants from North, South and South-East Asia. By 1996, 82,000 people of Chinese origin, 44,000 Indians, 13,000 Koreans and 7,000 Japanese identified themselves as New Zealanders

NZ Post released this stamp as part of the 1998 set of the " A New Beginning - Asian Arrivals"   .

- Kenneth Sequeira - Dubai, United Arab Emirates

email :  kenneth.sequeira@hotmail.com

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