In his inaugural address during the 5th New Zealand National Hindu Conference held on 4th May, 2019 in Auckland, Rt. Hon Winston Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, highlighted the underlying values of Hindu Dharma that influences how well the community is received and perceived in New Zealand.
Nearly 200 delegates representing 40 Hindu organisations, temples and associations from Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington and Dunedin participated in the conference. Many youth delegates were born in New Zealand but majority of older participants were immigrants from South Africa, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Fiji, and European countries. The conference delegates included government agencies, Hindu community leaders, heads of organisations, temple executives, youth leaders, academicians, and business people. Three delegates from India also attended the Hindu conference.
The response of the delegates, speakers and government agencies were overwhelmingly positive.
Two keynote addresses were given in the inaugural Session. Ms Nitika Sharma, conference coordinator, emphasised that although small in numbers, Hindu community has been a contributing community in New Zealand in the fields of education, economy, health, and many others. As an example, take graduate, post-graduate and PhD education: Hindus are almost twice educated compared to rest of New Zealand population, in terms of percentage. In paying higher taxes Hindus exceed the national average of New Zealand. Her conclusions were drawn using 2013 New Zealand census data, especially with statistics on education qualifications, income and occupations.
In the second keynote address, Prof Guna Magesan, General Secretary of Hindu Council of New Zealand explained how the organization was serving New Zealand over the past 20 years. He shared how national conferences, festivals, working with Maori community and Government agencies, have helped in strengthening and organizing Hindu community which resulted in creating visibility, acceptability and respectability for the Hindu community.
Inaugural session was followed with four Panel sessions. In the first session “Working with Government Agencies”, five government agencies, including Human Rights Commission; Immigration; Education; NZ Police and Ministry of Social Development participated. Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt highlighted that everyone has a right to live with dignity. Human Rights need to be taken from being in books and in legislations and need to be applied to our living. All panel members also interacted with the Hindu community and responded to questions from the delegates. Some key issues discussed were Dignity in Death, Freedom of Speech, Education pathways, and Immigration related issues. The session was moderated by Inspector Rakesh Naidoo from NZ Police.
In the second Panel session “Hindu Youth – Creating Future Leaders for New Zealand”, youth from various social, educational, spiritual and linguistic organisations discussed and deliberated about future pathways. Rachna Shah-Apte, one of the panel members summed up “Our words are different, our tones are different, but we are all seeking the common goal of unity making stronger communities and stronger New Zealand”.
Many community leaders were surprised but were happy to see so many young people actively participating in the conference and also being in the organizing committee. In fact, the conference was organized by young people, led by Ms Nitika Sharma and Murali Krishna Magesan, as coordinator and joint coordinator, respectively.
“Soon after the youth session, representatives from various Hindu Mandirs and organisations approached me and asked me to come spend time and engage with their Youth, so we can work together collectively. This shows the success of the youth session,” said Murali Krishna Magesan, Chairperson of the Youth Session.
In the last two sessions relating to Hindu Organizations, Temples and Associations, the panellists showcased the work in the areas of social, cultural, educational, spiritual development and how they contribute to the wellbeing and support of the Hindu community and wider New Zealand society. The connections of such organisations with grass-roots people is invaluable.
“These sessions were very important because many people were unaware of the significant contribution of Hindu community to New Zealand society,” said Nitika Sharma, conference coordinator.
The day provided a source of pride and inspiration for the Hindu community of New Zealand recognising the contributions of the diaspora as a collective. With enthusiasm, and future projects planned, the work to making stronger communities contributing to stronger New Zealand is all but beginning.
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