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Invisible: New Zealand’s history of excluding Kiwi-Indians by Jacqueline Leckie

In Invisible: New Zealand’s history of excluding Kiwi-Indians researcher Jacqueline Leckie has uncovered the racism and discrimination which Kiwi-Indians have been subjected to in New Zealand over many years and how they have challenged or endured it.

She paints a disturbing picture, which has remained unknown until now because Kiwi- Indians have largely been excluded from our historical narratives, rendering them invisible.

Racism and discrimination against Kiwi-Indians go back a long way in New Zealand. As early as 1857 Edward Peters who discovered the source of the Otago goldrush was denied recognition and was not awarded the1000 pound prize. He died a pauper.

Unlike the Chinese, a poll tax was never imposed on Indians but immigration restrictions were one of the most persistent forms of institutional discrimination.

After World War One there was severe unemployment. Returned servicemen believed they had a right to farmland and that they should not have to compete with foreigners. This led to the passing of the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act in 1920 which restricted most new Indian immigrants.

Pukekohe especially became a hotbed of racism and discrimination even though only a very Indians had settled there. It was here that the White New Zealand League was formed. It was strongly opposed to Indians leasing and buying land and soon garnered public support about the supposed moral, sexual and health threat posed by Indians through its pamphlets. These contained images of dirty ‘Hindu shacks’ which Indians were said to occupy. Discrimination against Indians became embedded in this community. Barbers refused to cut their hair. They were banned from the dress circle in the Pukekohe cinema and were denied entry to bars and hotels.

In other parts of New Zealand pro-white organisations were also established. Even the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) gained a foothold here. KKK branches were formed in Auckland and Wellington to stop ‘Oriental Migration.’ Many other examples of racism and discrimination have been unearthed in this book.

The last chapter of the book deals with Contemporary Exclusion. In some ways I found this part of the book the most alarming because the past is the past and we can learn from it and move forward. But the present is in our hands.

In the late 20th Century progress was made at the legislative level. Immigration policy became more liberal towards Kiwi-Indians by the late 20th century, especially after the 1987 Immigration Act. And New Zealand’s 1993 Human Rights Act offers protection against discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, or nationality. But this has not stemmed racism and discrimination.

On the contrary Jaqueline Leckie reveals an appalling record of not only discrimination towards Kiwi -Indians but also the scars of physical violence. And Kiwi-Indians continue to face myriad forms of casual or covert racism in the 21st Century.

So, what can we do? Meng Foon, our Race Relations Commissioner, offers some sound advice in the introduction to this book:

‘It should motivate us all to stand up to racism, the one aspect of New Zealand history we must banish to the past. In Aotearoa, diversity is our strength.’

New Zealand’s history of excluding Kiwi-Indians has been published at an opportune time as the introduction of the new history syllabus is imminent. The text is interspersed with cartoons, letters to the editor, and flyers. The photographs and stories about Kiwi-Indians and their resilience makes history come alive and will appeal to students. It should find a place in every school.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Massey University Press


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