While the Auckland Diwali festival is growing in strength and numbers every year, why is it being targeted? Is it the opinion of the larger community or self-proclaimed community leaders with hidden agendas?
The Auckland Diwali website states, “Tens of thousands of Aucklanders of all ages turn out each year for the Auckland Diwali Festival. The festival is a celebration of Auckland’s ethnic diversity and a chance to enjoy and experience traditional and contemporary Indian culture in its many exciting forms.
This alcohol-free, smoke-free festival is family friendly. It offers festival goers the chance to see live dance, music, puppet and theatre performances, see exhibitions and attend workshops, including workshops for kids, along with storytelling, amusement rides and games. This is Auckland’s largest vegetarian festival, where people can sample the flavours of India fresh from a host of street food stalls.
The event is rounded off with a fireworks display on Sunday evening.”
As a migrant Indian, when I read this, I am filled with pride at the thought of my culture being celebrated by tens of thousands of people in a land away from my home country. My heart is also filled with pride to be a part of a country that so willingly embraces the different cultures that make up the fabric of this land.
Speaking to a large number of members of the community, I realised that this is exactly how most people felt. However, there seem to be certain “self-proclaimed” community leaders that are trying their best to jeopardise this for everyone.
The general consensus from the community seems to be that the festival that is called the Auckland Diwali Festival is actually two whole days of celebrating the Indian culture at a large scale. Where else do you see Indian artists being showcased on a stage so big? Where else do you find Indian culinary artists being showcased at this scale? When else do you hear of Queen Street in the heart of the city, being closed off to savour the flavour of Indian street food and street performances? What better way to integrate the Indian diaspora into the mainstream?
The festival has become a way for all family and friends to spend time together while immersing themselves in their culture. We have seen scores of Indian families bringing along their friends from other cultures to come and share a slice of our culture.
Auckland has seen this festival grow from strength to strength, year after year and the participation of ATEED and the Council get stronger and stronger.
Nowhere in their own description of the festival does ATEED refer to this festival as “religious”. None of the thousands of people participating in the festival attend this in the name of religion. While India itself boasts of being a secular state, history has it, that some power hungry people have used religion to divide the country. It now seems that such influences are beginning to surface here in this peaceful land of Aotearoa. This needs to be checked. Also, the aggressive path all this bickering and complaining is beginning to take could lead to Auckland losing its biggest and the much-loved Indian showcase. It may be pertinent to remind such “self-appointed” leaders that this festival has now, for years, brought people of all religions, cultures and ethnicities together and it is the thread of our culture that keeps the entire festival together. Creating a rift in this celebration of the Indian culture creates a blotch on the entire community.
The festival this year has been announced on October 17 and 18. This falls almost at the end of Navratri and right in the middle of the festival season. Indian Weekender took this aspect of the festival to the community and we also asked what they thought of the festival in general and here is what people had to say:
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi
MP National Party
ATEED does a fantastic job in organising Auckland Diwali each year. Some issues has been raised regarding dates of celebrations for 2015 Diwali. ATEED has responded positively to these issues and assured increased consultation towards future events. I hope all of us living in Auckland will enjoy Diwali celebrations as always organised by ATEED.
President – HOTA Forum
ATEED have agreed to work with us from here on. They have also asked us to respect what they have done so far and will not be easy to change this year but more than willing to allow our input next year. Remember this has been going on for last more than 10 years. ATEED has got NO intention to damage our culture, they have AGREED to include us in the decision process.
Also, this is the only event that I know of where part of Queen Street is closed. What does that tell us?
Auckland Diwali is huge and takes months to plan. Having worked with Auckland Transport, they ask for traffic plans and H&S and input by traffic police. It is NOT a small task and I have been there and done it. It takes a lot of meetings. It is not an overnight thing.
Only 20 year ago Diwali used to come and go. And we would not know it has come and gone. Today non-Indians remind us. At least those kids NOT born in India have started to know Diwali. Although it is NOT how and what we want but we have made this aware to nearly all the people of Auckland.
(Mr Vinod Kumar represents all Hindus in New Zealand being the head of all Hindu forums and organisations)
President, Bharatiya Mandir
The Auckland Diwali festival is an excellent opportunity to showcase the Indian Community and our culture to the wider community. ATEED do a great job in organising it and the festival has grown before our eyes becoming widely popular. They have never referred to it as a religious festival and people gather together irrespective of religion, caste, creed and colour. While the Indian community needs to be able to participate in its organising and planning, it is incorrect to try and raise controversies and demolish the hard work that they do in organising the festival. We hope that this festival continues to grow and develop year after year.
Auckland Council’s initiative is very welcoming. Celebrating Diwali is one way of promoting Indian culture and acknowledging the contribution of the Indian community in New Zealand’s society. It hardly matters when and what day it is celebrated as long as it is celebrated. There is no need to bring politics into the celebrations.
It is really heartening that such an event is being held in Auckland. Being far away from home, I thought I will miss Diwali this year but this celebration hopefully will make me feel at home. Whoever is opposing this event, I think is doing it to get cheap publicity.
Being this far away from home, any opportunity to socialise with our own people is something to look forward to. Festival is only an alibi for coming together and enjoying. I feel politics should be kept strictly away from this event. Opposing for the sake of opposing will show our community in poor light.
Auckland Council can’t celebrate all Indian festivals. It has chosen Diwali and has been celebrating it in a big way for many years now. We should be thankful to Auckland Council for taking such an initiative. I don’t care what day the event is celebrated as long as it is on the weekend when all can go to the designated place and be a part of the event.
This event reflects the multicultural mindset of Auckland Council. To people who are opposing this event, all I want to ask is how many countries or cities around the world celebrate our festivals? Does India celebrate any of New Zealand’s festival or event in this grand fashion? Being a spoilsport is just a way of seeking attention and publicity.
Simrat Pal Singh:
It is nice to see Auckland Council celebrating our Indian festival. In a multicultural society, when an event relating to our culture takes place, it becomes easy for others to understand us better. Last year many of my non-Indian friends, who came to the event, enjoyed themselves. Rather than pointing out mistakes or errors in the event, people should come out in open and be a part of the celebration. Date and time of the event hardly matters.
This kind of event really helps people understand our culture. It will be easy for people from other culture and nationality to identify us through such events. It is not just an advertisement for our culture but also a way to strengthen the bonding between Indians in New Zealanders. People who generally would associate themselves with different states of India will come together and be identified as only Indians on that day. All I can say to people who are opposing this event is not to politicise the issue and make Indians look divided in front of others.
First of all we should all thank Auckland Council for organising an event for our community. On Diwali, we have a public holiday in India and everyone gets together to celebrate but here in New Zealand, Diwali is just any other day in the office for everyone. Therefore, it doesn’t matter to me if the event is taking place on the actual day of Diwali or not. The only thing that matters is that someone is spending time and energy to organise this event for us.
Sandeep Singh Minhas:
Suppose the event is held on a weekday, who would be able to attend it in the first place? Auckland Council is a responsible organisation and they would have thought about pros and cons before finalising the dates. I wonder if people opposing this event even understand the real essence of Diwali because if they really did, they wouldn’t be obstructing this event.
I stay in North shore where Indian community is not big. When events such as these take place, you don’t feel left our culturally in the society. Auckland Council is being generous and we should definitely thank them for conducting this event year after year. I feel there is no need to bring politics into such matters, and I hope people who are opposing this event show maturity and responsibility. If they feel that by opposing an event such as this will make them bigger personality in the community, they are wrong.
Surpal Raj Singh
This event shows that this country cares for us and respects our culture. Auckland Council should be congratulated for holding the event. To be honest, they really don’t have to be doing it in the first place. If they don’t organise this event, no one will blame them. Rather than disrupting them we should thank them and celebrate with all the communities in the city.
Every other flight that lands in Auckland’s airport has at least one Indian in it no matter where it is coming from. With so many Indians living in Auckland, it’s a nice gesture by Auckland Council to hold such an event. Diwali is one festival that is celebrated by all Indians. I see no reason why it can’t be celebrated earlier keeping in mind the convenience of people of the city. Politicising the issue will show a lack of understanding within our own community.