Photo of Shane Jones by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

How Shane Jones’ fire is burning New Zealand’s Indian community

Shane Jones’ inflammatory remarks on arranged marriages have caused outrage, frustration and hurt among the New Zealand-Indian community, writes Gaurav Sharma.

Let’s start with a story. The story of my wife and me – a scientist and a journalist, young and professional, contributing members of a society. Also, an Indian couple.

We moved to New Zealand five years back. Since then, I have launched two multicultural newspapers here, material emblems of my belief in journalism for diversity. Meanwhile my wife, until recently a scientist for a Crown entity, has launched an app to help children with autism spectrum disorder learn social interaction skills.

I am not plugging my newspapers or her app here, just humbly submitting that both of us have done nothing over the last half-decade but try to make the New Zealand society we live in – and consider ourselves very much a part of – a better place for everyone. In whatever little way we could.

But all that is moot now. For all intents and purposes, politicians in New Zealand (I don’t mean just Shane Jones here; if you are not condemning his words, you are in effect encouraging them) have reduced both of us to just Indians whose sinister aim this entire time had been to bring their “whole village” over to New Zealand.

This is what political rhetoric does. These are what caricatures are.

A whole village? Really?

To be fair to Shane Jones, I know of cases where large numbers of people, from an entire village in India, have shifted here.

As Ramesh Bhana, president of the Christchurch Indian Association, established in 1935, once told me, almost all the early Indian immigrants arriving in New Zealand in the early 1900s hailed from a village (now mid-size town) called Navsari, in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Still, I would argue that these Kiwi-Indians have played a major role in shaping modern New Zealand – along with Māori, Pākehā and other communities – during their more than century-long presence here.

A moment during an Indian Hindu wedding. Photo: Getty Images

What started this

This whole controversy arose when New Zealand First MP Shane Jones defended a recent change in approach by Immigration New Zealand that effectively ends the recognition of culturally-arranged marriages, which are still the norm in the Indian sub-continent.

Here’s an example of the way this policy is already impacting New Zealanders. Nayandeep Nayyar is a Kiwi-Indian who shifted to New Zealand over a decade back. He completed his studies here, got his citizenship, and is now employed by ANZ. He’s a keen cricketer, and a proud son of Rajesh Nayyar, a member of the first Indian women cricket team, formed in 1974, who now serves as a board member of the Indian Cricketers Association.

Early this year, Nayandeep got married. It’s been more than five months since he applied for his wife’s visa, and they are yet to be allocated a case officer. Even more devastatingly, the young couple is not sure whether they can ever live in New Zealand together, if Immigration New Zealand does not recognise their culturally-arranged marriage.

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Frustrated, and wondering whether his new home even wants him any more, Nayandeep last month filed a petition to Parliament. He was a constant presence at local election meetings across Christchurch this spring, standing in silent protest with placards that said ‘Labour Breaks Family’ and ‘Stop Separating Families’. If all else fails, he’s planning to shift back to India for good.

And he is not alone. The Indian community in New Zealand is full of similar cases.

Good on immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway for trying to correct this massive wrong, and directing his officials to come up with a solution. The Nayyars, and many other such young couples, are waiting to hear what that will be.

Gaurav Sharma is the editor of the Multicultural Times, New Zealand’s first nationwide multicultural newspaper 


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