AIA: A conflux of the past and the future

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Auckland Indian Association marks its Centenary on September 12, 2020

Narendra Bhana

Hundred years ago, Auckland was a different place.

Narendra Bhana

The Indian community was small, faced a number of challenges including discrimination, restrictions on employment, family immigration and other issues.

In fact, a ‘white barber’ would refuse an Indian client- racism was pronounced and rampant!

And yet, there was no platform for the small, suffering Indian community to get together, collect its thoughts and experiences and voice them in public.

It was this dire need that encouraged a few members of the community, who had by then spent a decade or so in Auckland, to come together and consider the possibility of forming a community-service organisation. Meetings were held in garages of homes since public halls and venues were unaffordable.

Birth of an Organisation

The Indian pioneers came together, and meetings were held in garages of members’ homes to discuss matters of community interest and concerns such as discrimination, employment, immigration and other matters.

That was how Auckland Indian Association was born in 1920, with Chhotubhai Patel, a pioneer of the community, as its first President. He and his friends were visionaries and saw the Association as a body to consolidate and promote Indian values, including culture and heritage.

All of them came from the Saurashtra region in Western part of India. The State of Gujarat was formed on May 1, 1960. More about this later.

As the number of members grew, so did the need for a venue, to satisfy which, the Association purchased a plot of land that contained three houses at 156 Victoria Street in Auckland Central Business District.

That was in 1936 or thereabout. The houses were rented, the income from which helped in the construction of a Community Centre.

Meanwhile, the Freedom Movement in India was building and many of the Association members went to their homeland to participate in the struggle.

Gandhi Hall opens

The ‘Gandhi Hall’ was built on October 2, 1955, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. The inaugural ceremony was a grand event, with a cross-section of the community in attendance.

Growing economic prospects spelt the need for more migrants, encouraging the government to relax its immigration policy. Two coups in 1987 in Fiji, saw an exodus of people, mostly of Indian origin, to various parts of the world, and New Zealand became a major destination.

The increasing population of the Indian community necessitated a larger venue for conducting meetings and organising festivals.

The management of the Auckland Indian Association purchased the property of the old Findlay’s Bakery located at 145 New North Road in Eden Terrace. The Year was in 1989. In many ways, it proved to be the most significant decision.

An icon in Eden Terrace

Today, the Mahatma Gandhi Centre, as the complex is called, is the most sought-after venue for small, medium and large gatherings including meetings, conferences, festivals, weddings, exhibitions and a host of other events of not only the Indian community but also of others.

The complex has at its threshold, the Radha Krishna Temple, with its own Priest, who conducts individual, family and community Poojas everyday of the week. With ample free parking, the Mahatma Gandhi Centre is a busy venue. It also houses a number of commercial organisations and the offices of AIA and the New Zealand Indian Central Association.

Activities for the community

One of the key objectives of the Auckland Indian Association is to protect and preserve Indian culture in New Zealand. We run a Sunday school at which about 70 children of Indian origin learn about Indian culture and language.

The Association celebrates all Indian cultural and religious events with the real Indian spirit.

Its Health and Fitness Committee conducts three fitness classes a week, while the Mahila Samaj (Women’s Wing) promotes women’s well being in New Zealand and the Senior Citizens Committee organises various activities throughout the year.

We are very fortunate to have a team of dedicated volunteers who provide invaluable support to the Association. Successive Presidents and Executive Committees continue to carry on with excellent honorary work and this is what keeps the organisation close to the community.

Auckland Indian Association will mark its Centenary on September 12, 2020.

The celebrations will showcase an Exhibition, world-class cultural and musical programmes, Bhagwat Katha by Jignesh Dada from India, a Gala Dinner with high profile personalities and a Special Centenary Publication.

The event will also recognise invaluable contribution made by Presidents, Officers, Board Members and volunteers.

Narendra Bhana is President of Auckland Indian Association. Indian Newslink is privileged to be a part of the Organising Committee for the Centenary Celebrations of the Association to be held on September 12, 2020 at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre.

Mahatma Gandhi Centre Trustee Kanu Patel, National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Former Auckland Mayor Les Mills, the then Labour MP and now Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and former AIA President Parshotam Govind at the 25th Anniversary of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre held on November 15, 2015 (INL File Photo)

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