The past two weeks have been interesting for the Indian community in New Zealand.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since Paul Henry’s mischief-making comments on the surname of the Chief Minister of Delhi and his very public questioning of the Governor General’s nationality and the extent to which he sounded like a New Zealander.
New Zealand Indians have, quite predictably, taken offence to the treatment meted out to the most respected member of their community. There has also been international reaction, which was perhaps not anticipated.
Apart from Paul’s comments being broadcast in several countries, there has also been a sharp reaction from the Indian Government, and our High Commissioner in New Delhi had to apologise on behalf of the New Zealand Government.
While the initial reaction of Television New Zealand (TVNZ) was slow, its Chief Executive Rick Ellis eventually suspended Paul Henry and publicly said that his statements were unacceptable. Appropriate apologies have been made and more will follow to the Governor General, to India and to the Indian community of New Zealand.
With the resignation of Paul Henry from TVNZ, the matter rests, or so it seems.
There are those who will see this most unfortunate occurrence as being of little consequence.
I ask those who feel this way to “walk a mile in the shoes” of the Indian migrant. You can be sure that for many coming to New Zealand and setting up a home has not been easy. They have probably had to re-train for jobs in New Zealand or accept positions at a level lower than those they had in the countries they left behind. They have had to learn life as a New Zealander and in all probability make changes and transitions. Many would also have embraced their new national identity as New Zealanders.
For them, the appointment of an Indian as Governor General would have confirmed that the decision to make New Zealand home was the right one because here no doors were closed to them and their children if they had merit, appropriate qualifications and experience.
Many would have looked to Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand for inspiration and motivation for themselves and their children.
I believe this to be the case but the Paul Henry incident shakes this belief in our community and its implications can be disastrous. I find it difficult to understand the motivation of people in positions of power, like a national broadcaster, who promote division.
I struggle to understand what possesses them to ask such objectionable questions and to ask them in such an ill-conceived manner.
In his interview with Prime Minister John Key on October 4, Paul could have made a significant contribution to the thinking about the qualities of the next Governor General and in so doing informed his audience.
He could have asked Mr Key his thoughts about the successor to the present Governor General. He could have discussed the names being proposed.
We can only conclude that Paul was displaying his own bias when he questioned whether the next Governor General sounded like a New Zealander and if he was born here.
Paul would have known the answers to those questions. There is consensus that Sir Anand and Lady Susan Satyanand have performed exceptionally well.
The Sunday Star Times ran a full-page story on their duties and performance in its October 3, 2010 issue.
A serial offender?
New Zealand Indians have some justification in believing that Paul was becoming a serial offender when it came to ridiculing them. Had he not raised questions about an Indian businessman who had bought a rather expensive house in Takapuna three years ago? Had he not questioned the cleanliness of Indians who were growing hothouse tomatoes? Was he not deliberately drawing attention to the English translation of an Indian name to ridicule it? Was he not now impugning that the Governor General was not sounding like a New Zealander enough for his liking?
It is not therefore surprising that New Zealand Indians have taken offence.
I do not understand why Mr Key did not take up the best opportunity he had of killing immediately what Paul was raising. He could have simply asked Paul to stop questioning the nationality of people of Indian origin who are New Zealand citizens.
Had he done so, the headlines on news items would have been, “Prime Minister stands for all New Zealanders.”
It is a pity that he missed an opportunity.
Leaders must show zero tolerance of bias and prejudice based on race, colour, culture or ethnic origin.
For all New Zealanders, there is a bigger question to ask. “Who is a New Zealander?
Are all our migrants who have now made New Zealand their home, entitled to believe that they are New Zealanders? Are they entitled to the same citizenship rights and responsibilities as everyone else?
One Status for all
I think they have because the alternative would be different classes of New Zealanders and that would be neither acceptable nor right.
Frome the range of responses received from different quarters over the past two weeks, it is clear we all have some work to do as a nation to be comfortable with our growing diversity.
People will always climb the bandwagon when a group is being targeted by someone.
I see former Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws’ comments about the Governor General in the same light.
It takes greater leadership to stand up for all of the people of New Zealand, to see the value in our diversity, to promote understanding and acceptance, and to reflect on the changing 21st century New Zealand, which makes us proud.
We cannot expect to benefit from the world in which we live if we do not show greater awareness of its peoples, customs and traditions and be prepared to reach out beyond our comfort zones.
Paul Henry was closing our options.
Dr Rajen Prasad is Member of Parliament on Labour Party List and its Associate Ethnic Affairs Spokesman. The above article is exclusive to Indian Newslink ©