Desis in NZ tell their stories

After a racist gunman shot down 50 people at two mosques on Friday, Bengalureans living in that country tell Metrolife their stories

People pay tributes to those gunned down in Christchurch, NZ, on March 15.

New Zealand is the latest addition to a growing list of countries hit by terrorism. Fifty people were killed on March 15 when a gunman opened fire inside two mosques last week.

The authorities have charged Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man, with murder in connection with the incident.

The peaceful country is shocked by what it describes as the “worst terror attack ever,” but calls for unity are louder than ever.

Metrolife spoke to some Bengalureans and a native New Zealander to understand the mood out there.

Minorities gather after tragedy

Hrishikesh Varma, filmmaker and director of an art company called Eleven FX based in Auckland, migrated to New Zealand in 2013. He has seen a groundswell of sympathy for immigrants in the wake of the tragedy.

“There has been an outpouring of love and support from the authorities and communities. I took part in a vigil for the victims at Aotea Square, public area in the CBD of Auckland, the day after the incident and was comforted by the huge turnout,” he told Metrolife.

Ashwathy Subramaniam, a data analyst, agrees people have come together in the aftermath of the tragedy, with peace protests and vigils all over the country.

“The Muslim community has received a lot of support from other minorities and pakeha (a Maori-language term for New Zealanders of European descent). We never thought we would see gun violence here, but people are finally starting to wake up to racism in New Zealand and realise that white supremacy is terrorism,” she says

Screaming at an Indian waiter
Hrishi, as filmmaker Hrishikesh Varma is called, says he was mentally prepared to face racism overseas but was still rankled when he faced it personally.

“I used to part-time wait at a restaurant during my film school days. Once, there was some delay in serving a table occupied by a Caucasian family. The man threw a tantrum when I told them there would be a bit of a delay. He started to imitate the ‘Indian accent’ and screamed at me in front of his family. The restaurant took no action and I had no idea how to deal with a situation like this back then,” he recalls.

Indian names, accents, clothes ridiculed
Techie Ashwathy explains the concept of subtle racism. “I am lucky to be living in Auckland and to have the privilege of being a ‘model minority’, but I have still experienced subtle racism--if you can’t assimilate you are going to have a hard time. Indian accents, religions, clothes, dishes and names are all targets of ridicule. My parents told me to expect a lot of job rejections just on the basis of my Indian name. We are commonly passed over for jobs in favour of white people. Cultural appropriation is also rife where the dominant culture feels
entitled to interact superficially with minority cultures in a dehumanising way, walking over what is considered sacred to us. Think beer yoga.”

She goes on to add, “New Zealand has a history of racism but Maori history and colonisation is still not taught properly in schools. I only learnt the extent of how they were dispossessed by pakeha in specific university courses that not everyone would take.”

In praise of kind PM
Jacinda Ardern, the world’s youngest female head of government and New Zealand Prime Minister, created a stir globally when she refused to name the shooter in her parliament address:

“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety. And that is why you will never hear me mention his name.”

The statement was met with praise and calls for more political leaders and media houses to follow her example.

So what do Indians in New Zealand think of their new PM?

“I have been following the news closely and truly appreciate that she is there for the victims and their families. She has asked the country to be united and shown us the way with her words and actions,” says an Assamese living there.

Ban on semi-automatic guns
Will New Zealand’s proposed ban on semi-automatic guns to make a difference?

Prime Minister Ardern and other leaders have been vocal about the need for significant changes to New Zealand’s firearms laws.

The Cabinet had decided in principle to reform gun law, but details needed to be worked through, Ardern said.

In the wake of the Christchurch shooting, the Police Association has called for a ban on semi-automatic weapons.

Hrishi is vocal about his aversion for weapons of any sort and doesn’t see the need for them in a country like New Zealand.

“A partial ban will not work. Privileged white Kiwis need to realise that an attack on immigrants is as an attack on them. Dealing with the root cause is the answer. We are as Kiwi as they are,” he says.

Kiwi in Bengaluru
Emily Ford, who interned at Deccan Herald, is a native of New Zealand. She is now back in her country.

“Everyone in New Zealand is understandably shocked because this has never happened in our country before. We are all rallying around our Muslim communities to let them know they’re supported and loved,” she told Metrolife. She favours restrictions on guns to prevent potential attacks.

Happy case
An Assamese living in Auckland, who prefers to not be named, says he has experienced no racism anywhere in the country.

“New Zealand is home to a number of people from different parts of the world and they are all treated equally,” he says.

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