Indian Students Subjected to Racial Abuse in New Zealand

From The Times of India 25 Feb 2009

“Indian students studying in New Zealand’s southernmost city Invercargill have been targets of racial abuse and called terrorists by local people, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Four of those targeted are Sikhs who wear turbans, which they said made some ignorant people confuse them with Arabs or Muslims, the Southland Times reported.

One victim, Jasdeep Singh, told the paper he had defied his religious principles and had a haircut to avoid wearing a turban because he feared for his safety.

“I haven’t told my parents yet,” he said. “They will be shocked and quite angry.”

Five students out of a group of 25 who arrived in Invercargill this month to study at the Southern Institute of Technology said they had experienced 16 incidents of racial abuse in the last 12 days.

Jasmail Singh said the abusers, men and women, were generally in their early 20s and the attacks, including calls to leave the country, had put them off walking around the city after dark”

Recent increases in migrant numbers have caused tensions to rise in the town where around 90% of the population was born in New Zealand.

Things got so bad last year that mayor, Tim Shadbolt and chief executive of the Southland Institute of Technology Penny Simmonds arranged a meeting with local skinheads.

Ms Simmonds said that two Indian students decided to return home after they were abused by a carload of youths. Other Southland leaders told of mothers being ignored at day care centres, 6-year-old children making racist remarks and migrants in rural areas feeling so isolated they visited the library to talk to someone.

Mr Shadbolt recommended that a designated student area with a hostel be set up away from the central business district because anyone walking through the city at night faced the risk of being abused “even if you go out with a police patrol”

“I’d hate to be wearing a turban walking up (the street in) Invercargill,” he said.

In March of this year a couple were forced to flee their Earn Street home after it was trashed by a white supremacists group that had moved in to number 43.

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Other residents also suffered wilful damage to property, intimidation and threatening behaviour from the group.

But it’s not just migrant groups that have been subjected to abuse in the town, Gypsies have been targeted recently too.

Around 60 Gypsies, in the town for the annual Gypsy fair over the Easter weekend, called Invercargill the “worst town in New Zealand” and said that they dreaded going there because of violent attacks and vandalism from local hoons.

There have been calls for a “zero tolerance” approach to racially motivated crimes in Invercargill and the problem has been widely acknowledged to exist, yet the community either lacks the resolution or the resources to tackle it head on.

International press covers more stories of racist attacks on Indian nationals
From 1 June 2009
by Ajay Bharadwaj
“Chandigarh: After Australia, there are now reports of racial attacks on Indians in New Zealand. A 23-year-old student from Ludhiana was reportedly attacked by a drunken youth this week.

Nitesh Khanna, a student of diploma in business studies at Auckland, was attacked when he was on his way to work. The youth tried to rob Nitesh of his car and even damaged it. Nitesh’s calls to the police for help went in vain.

The assailant chased Nitesh’s vehicle till his workplace where his employer came to his defence. Nitesh informed his family in Ludhiana about the incident.

His father Rakesh Khanna says, “The incident is an offshoot of racial attacks on Indian students in Australia over the past four-five days.”

The case is not an isolated one.

Sunil Sharma (name changed), doing hotel management course in Auckland, says, “I am subjected to frequent incidents of discrimination. But, I don’t want to get any case registered. Recently, a brick was hurled at me by some youths when I was returning home”.

“I know several other Indians facing the same situation. But, none of them will come on record, fearing problems in their academic careers,” he says.”

How many more students keep quiet, fearing reprecussions and a backlash if they make a complaint? I suspect the problem is much worse than is reported by the New Zealand press.

Update: sensing a chance to cash-in on the recent troubles in Australia the following press release has appeared in numerous publications aimed at Indians around the globe recently

“New Zealand Portrays ‘Safe’ Image To Attract Indians”

“Auckland: The number of Indian students heading to New Zealand has been steadily increasing over the past five years. This year the government is making efforts to see a marked rise in enrolments, marketing itself as a safe alternative to neighbouring where many Indian students have faced racist attacks.

Although Australia has nearly 90,000 Indian students and New Zealand only about 6,000, it is a huge rise from the 500 in this country five years ago.

“India has become an important source for students in recent years. The New Zealand government very much welcomes this growing Indian student body,” says New Zealand High Commissioner to India Rupert Holborow.

New Zealand invests about NZ$3 billion annually in the tertiary (universities and polytechnics) education system where most of the Indian students are enrolled. And following a spate of attacks on Indians in Australia, the New Zealand government has asked its trade and enterprise office in India to market the country as a nation with a culture different from its neighbour.

“What we want to do is to remind education agents in India that New Zealand is a different country from Australia – in the nicest possible way,” Robert Stevens, chief executive of Education New Zealand, was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald in June.

Many Indians living in New Zealand agree.

“I came here in February 2008 and I haven’t faced any racial discrimination,” says Joseph Lenus, an Indian pursuing a Diploma in Business at the Waikato Insitute of Technology (Wintec) in Hamilton.

Pharbhu Parsotam, an Indian origin resident of Hamilton, represented the New Zealand hockey team in the past and has coached various club teams. He believes that the country is very accommodating of people from other nationalities.

“I have never faced racism in all my playing days and after. In fact, I had been subjected to howling occasionally on roads but nothing in the sporting area or ground,” says Parsotam.

Nagaraj from Channai, who has been studying physiotherapy at the Waikato University from July 2008, says he likes New Zealand’s educational system because unlike in India it is student- oriented.

“Here we have a more relaxed way of learning and the tutors are casual in their approach. So adapting to studies and life is easier,” says Nagaraj.

There are also a lot of job opportunities in New Zealand despite the global recession.

Gurminder Singh, who hails from Punjab’s Jalandhar district, is pursuing a Diploma in Business Administration at Wintec and also doing part-time work.

“I work for 20 hours per week and earn nearly $200. With this money I could cover my living expenses as well as save and send for my family back home in India,” says Singh.

Students enter New Zealand through a one-year student visa, which gets converted to a graduate open work visa for one year and allows them to opt for any job.

After one year, they can opt for a two-year work visa. Meanwhile, they can apply for permanent residency and get one if they get maximum points in the skilled migrant category.

Daphne Bell, a community organiser in Hamilton who teaches immigrants English for free and has authored “New to NZ: A Guide to Ethnic groups in New Zealand”, says that Indian migrants provide a symbol of multi-culturalism that is essential for New Zealand.

Indians work harder than the natives and New Zealand should make all efforts to tap the potential of the migrants,” she says.

New Zealand is a multi-ethnic country and is predominately populated by the white population known as Paheka. The indigenous Maori community constitutes 16 percent of the population.

Historian and Auckland Institute of Technology professor Paul Moon says that though the Maori population was initially cold to Asians, there is now a better understanding among them for political rights.

“This is reflected in the election of Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi of the ruling National Party as a member of parliament,” says Moon.

Suman Kapoor, New Zealand secretary of the Global Organization for People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), says Indians are safe in New Zealand because of the political clout that they enjoy.

“Indian origin people enjoy enormous political influence because political parties look up to them for funding during the elections,” says Kapoor”

If you’re an Indian student thinking about studying in New Zealand I hope your research can see through a press release.