Indians in New-Zealand

Punjab and Gujarat
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 laborers. They numbered only a handful - an estimated forty-six persons in 1896 - and were listed in occupational statistics as 'pedlars, hawkers, and domestics'.
They were also 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. The number of Indian women had grown to 142, as some of the Indian men living here sent home for their wives or, if they were single, for brides. The total population of Indians in New-Zealand is 240,000 which is 5.01% of the total Population


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 laborers in the market gardens of Otahuhu and Pukehohe. Others worked building railways or draining the swamps of the Hauraki lowlands.

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 Pakeha and Maori would result in the 'halfcasted citizen of the future' - a prospect it regarded with alarm.

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 theater. 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.

Fijian-born Indians

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.

Table of Immigration

Since the early 1980s, the total number of Indians resident in New Zealand has increased to over 62,000. The make-up of that population has also changed dramatically, reflecting more arrivals from Fiji since the coup of 1987 (see table)

Birthplace of Indians resident in New Zealand, 1971

  NZ Fiji India Other Total
Number 3,398 964 2,957 441 7,760
Percentage 43.79% 12.42% 38.11% 5.68% 100.00%
New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings, 1971

Birthplace of Indians resident in New Zealand, 1981

  NZ Fiji India Other Total
Number 5,160 1,617 3,615 1,185 11,577
Percentage 44.57% 13.97% 31.23% 10.23% 100.00%
New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings, 1981

Birthplace of Indians resident in New Zealand, 2001

  NZ Fiji India Other Total
Number 17,946 19,593 19,053 6,054 62,646
Percentage 28.65% 31.28% 30.41% 9.66% 100.00%
New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings, 2001

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, hile 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.

Population Growth

At the 1951 census there were 2,425 Indians in New Zealand. In 1981, they numbered 11,244. But by 2001, the Indian population had surged to 62,646.
Until 1981 steady growth was due to a number of factors, including a marked post-war diaspora of Indian people, and the arrival of the wives of the first Indian immigrants. During the 1980s, changes in immigration policy, along with political instability in other countries, brought many more Indians to New Zealand.
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