Five teenagers from the Kiwi-Indian community – Aksheen Dhillon, Ishie Sharma, Nishita Ganatra, Meghshyam Prakash and Sakshi Hegde – have been selected by MPs based in Auckland – where predominantly a large chunk of Indian diaspora in New Zealand lives, to a region as far as Northland – to represent them in Youth Parliament 2019.
Every three years, about 140 young New Zealanders experience Parliament as Youth MPs and Youth Press Gallery members.
Each MP selects their own Youth Member of Parliament to represent them and young people in their local electorate for a six-month community-based tenure, including participating in the two-day Youth Parliament 2019 event.
National MPs Simon O’Connor, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Matt King selected Aksheen Dhillon, Nishita Ganatra, and Meghshyam Prakash respectively, whereas Labour MPs Michael Wood and Priyanca Radhakrishnan selected Sakshi Hegde and Ishie Sharma.
The fact that five teenagers, including three girls, were selected as Youth MPs is nothing short of coming of age of the youths within the Kiwi-Indian community.
This is a big leap from the last time when in 2016, according to available information, only one Indian-descent youth (Karan Kalsi, who was selected by Labour’s David Cunliffe) could make to the Youth Parliament.
While many would argue about the growing aspirations within the Kiwi-Indian community of being represented in the parliament, and thereby at different levels of politics, same could not have been said with similar confidence, about the youths in the community.
For the youths all over the world are often accused of progressively losing interest, and thereby aspirations for everything serious in life, largely distracted by the recent strides in technology and levels of comfort attained by human society – and politics is indeed a serious business.
To make it even worse the youths from migrant ethnic communities within the western world, often are additionally distracted – as they cope with growing up in a vastly changed home-environment and the manner in which their parents and families struggle to relate to the world outside.
Indeed, they can be excused if they choose to not step-up to the demands of engaging with politics – probably one of the most serious and the least rewarding work of our times – especially if one is not gifted with charisma or not immediately likeable by everyone.
However, defying many odds so easily attributed with the youths, especially in ethnic migrant communities, these five Kiwi-Indian teenagers were selected this year as Youth MPs for 2019 – bringing a sense of pride for their parents and the larger Kiwi-Indian community.
It is also important to acknowledge that this year apart from these five exceptional teenagers, many other equally talented, focused and aspirational youngsters from the Kiwi-Indian community, had put up their hands to be part of the phenomenal experience of Youth Parliament, offering to bring their talents on the table.
It’s only because of the quality of applications being too high and competitive that the number of Kiwi-Indian teenagers that finally cut the list was restricted to only five.
Here, The Indian Weekender is putting a spotlight on the exceptional achievement of these five selected Youth MPs from the Kiwi-Indian community.
Unsurprisingly, each one of them has an astonishing sense of clarity about the importance of the opportunity of being a Youth MP, be it for self-development or for driving the much needed political and social change, more the later.
Aksheen Dhillon along with National MP Simon O'Conor and Leader Simon Bridges
Aksheen is a Year-13 student at Auckland’s Diocesan School and is passionate about economics and political science. This year she received a distinction in NZ Economic Competition at the University of Auckland and as per the information on the school’s website was the only student in her class to have managed to attain Distinction.
Earlier in the July school holidays, she had attended a summer school programme on “Leadership and Global Engagement” at Brown Leadership Institute, Brown University in the United States. The stint has given Aksheen a major global exposure.
“I believe that mere academic excellence is not enough to drive the change that we want to see in our world and for which we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone,” Aksheen told The Indian Weekender.
“It is amongst people in our communities where all problems, issues, and challenges rest, and we need to be prepared to work amongst the people, Aksheen said.
She was selected on the basis of her essay on the issue of communication challenges faced by the youths in 2019 in the wake of social media, fake news and other technology-related challenges.
“Dealing with the rise of fake news and its dissemination through numerous sources that we cannot trust all the time, is one big challenge of my generation, and I am committed to focus upon as the Youth MP for Tamaki,” Aksheen said.
“Aksheen’s essay on the importance of freedom of expression and tolerance for different viewpoints was exceptional. Aksheen articulated her concerns and hopes for the future in an eloquent and sophisticated style,” National MP Simon O’Connor said.
Saakshi is a Year-12 student at Mt Roskill Grammar School and was chosen by MP Michael Wood to represent him in Parliament in 2019. She has lived in the Roskill area for most of her life and is passionate about the wellbeing of the community.
“I am very passionate about the wellbeing of our community and wanted to be part of anything that would have a positive impact on it and help us grow together,” Ms Hedge told The Indian Weekender.
“Politics are policy decisions made that impact everyone to some extent or another which is why I do strongly believe that everyone should be interested in politics.
“The Youth MP position will not only enable me to see what Parliament would actually be like and how decisions are made there, it would also allow me to give back to my community by representing them in those decisions,” Ms Hedge added.
Eighteen-year-old Ishwanka Sharma is pursuing a conjoint degree in Law and Global Studies at the University of Auckland.
“I am passionate about making a positive difference in the world and I see there are opportunities for me to do that through politics. I am a big advocate for utilising every possible medium that one can get to make positive change. I am good at public speaking and therefore I believe is a very essential skill of a politician to voice his concerns and opinion,” Ishwanka told The Indian Weekender.
“I think Youth MP will be a wonderful opportunity to experience parliamentary procedures, improve my knowledge of NZ issues and spend some time with like-minded young people from across the country,” she added.
Meghshyam Prakash with local MP Matt King
Sixteen-year-old Meghshyam Prakash is a Year-12 student at Springback School in Waipapa, a small town Kawakawa in Northland. He intends to pursue a Commerce Degree at the University of Auckland and eventually set up his own enterprise in Northland.
“I gained the passion for politics while doing business studies at school and doing Mock United Nation’s Assembly (MUNA) this year where I met a lot of like-minded people.”
Meghshyam’s inspiration to apply for becoming Youth MP came after local MP Matt King’s visit to his school and his speech of making Northland a better place for the community.
“I want to put forward new ideas to the national stage, making Northland a top priority in sectors such as growth, employment, and improvement of infrastructure,” Meghshyam told The Indian Weekender.
“Politics is always seen as laws that we all must abide by. But Politics is more than that. It’s the people. People are the reason for our dynamic system-which is ever-changing-and politics, is what drives us to do better in this world,” he added.
Nishita Ganatra is a Year-10 student at Avondale College and he essay for the Youth MP emphasised on the issue of youth crime and its impact on the lives of the community and everyone attached to it.
“I am keen to know how the NZ Parliament functions, bills and policy are made in the Parliament and I am also a member of the National Party and Young Nats,” Nishita told The Indian Weekender.
“I want to address this issue of youth crime to wider community including government, families, friends and the community and want to enforce stricter laws for the offenders.
“Politics runs through our family as my father is actively involved in the National Party activities, and my grandfather worked with the BJP back in the 1980s in Gujarat, India.”