At a time when religion is increasingly taking centre stage of the political discourse all around the world, the recently concluded 5th New Zealand National Hindu Conference has vowed to rejuvenate youths, women, and businesses as a part of their national strategy to build “stronger communities and stronger New Zealand.”

The one day conference hosted by Hindu Council of New Zealand (HCNZ) was held on Saturday, May 4, at Sudima Hotel, Auckland, and witnessed participation from more than 200 delegates, representing 40 Hindu organisations, temples and associations from Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington and Dunedin.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters inaugurated the event, which was also attended by Parliamentary Under-Secretary to Minister of Ethnic Communities, Michael Wood, National MPs Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Dr Parmjeet Parmar, Hon Consul of India Bhav Dhillon, and Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

Speaking on occasion Mr Peters said, “This conference gives New Zealand the chance to acknowledge and showcase the contribution that the Hindu communities have made to this country that we all call our home.”

“This country is a very isolated country geographically, but we have never been isolated culturally. From the eighteenth century when the first Hindu settlers arrived in New Zealand the Indian community has helped ensure NZ identifies the values of universal tolerance inclusiveness fairness and peace,” Mr Peters said.

Mr Peters was joined by key dignitaries and Vinod Kumar and Prof Guna Magesan, President and General Secretary of Hindu Council of New Zealand (HCNZ) respectively, in lighting the lamp and inaugurating the conference.

The conference had lined up four separate panels with guest speakers throughout the day, who shared their insights on a range of issues around migration, settlement, education, engagement with the government, business networking, and harnessing the youth and women power in building stronger communities.

Speaking to The Indian Weekender Swami Vigyanand, the founder of the World Hindu Congress, who has been behind the recent push for mobilising youth, women, and businesses within Hindu community of New Zealand said, “This conference is the first in the series of many conferences that HCNZ has planned for next year with a goal of showcasing Hindu contribution to the wider society.”

The daylong conference was organised in a manner that different sessions and panels delved upon how religion interacted with various aspects of post-migration diasporic lives.

The session titled “Working with government agencies” provided delegates with an opportunity to interact with multiple government agencies. The panellists were Inspector Rakesh Naidoo, Principal Advisor to Deputy Commissioner of Police, Paul Hunt, Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Peter Devoy, Assistant General Manager, Compliance and Border Operations, Jason Chand, Regional Relationship Manager – Immigration New Zealand, Maree Jeurissen, Manager ESOL, Migrant, Refugee and International Education, and Gaurav Hirde, Ministry of Social Development. 

Earlier conference coordinator Ms Nitika Sharma, while speaking at the inaugural session 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.

“Hindus are almost twice educated compared to rest of New Zealand population, in terms of percentage (as per 2013 census data), and Hindus also exceed the national average in paying higher taxes,” Ms Sharma said.

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 the Hindu community which resulted in creating visibility, acceptability and respectability for the Hindu community.

Preparations for first ever NZ National Hindu Economic Forum 2019 begins

The daylong conference ended with a networking dinner that brought together business community along with key stakeholders within HCNZ to start thinking ahead about the first ever NZ National Hindu Economic Forum, scheduled to be held next year.

The conference will be held soon after the 7thannual World Hindu Economic Forum (WHEF) to be held in Mumbai from 27-29 September 2019. 

A business delegation from New Zealand, mostly the members of Hindu Economic Forum New Zealand (HEFNZ), is getting ready to participate in that global forum and aims to bring back the experience of hosting NZ’s own first-ever Hindu Economic Forum in November 2019.

“Hindus have settled all around the world and linking those successful business people with New Zealand business community will definitely help New Zealand business, which also includes Maori business. Hindu Economic Forum aims to provide a platform for future generations, especially the budding women and young entrepreneurs, to prosper and emerge strong. The aim is to encourage, support and mentor them,” Swami Vigyananand said.