Harshad Patel of Auckland Indian Association and Manjeet Singh of Pukekohe Indian Association were honoured with Life Membership of the New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Association held on Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Hamilton.

The Indian Weekender spoke with the duo and the President of NZICA Biku Bana about the importance of this honour and plans of the organisation.

IWK: Biku Bana, you are the President of NZICA, can you please tell us the importance of the honour of Life Membership in NZICA?

Biku Bhana: Life Membership is a prestigious award given to the most deserving member of NZICA through a democratic voting procedure. The criteria to fit the nomination is very strict, and the nomination can be from the top down or bottom up, or by executive members or by an individual at Annual General Meeting. The nominee will have to be voted with an absolute majority of 32 percent for life membership. In the past, when we did not have 32 percent voting, we have not been able to give out this award, but this year we are fortunate to have selected two members for this honour. Once awarded, the Life Members can be a part of any meeting, AGMs, the voting process, and are invited to meet delegates and prestigious events.

NZICA was started 92 years ago when the population on the Indian community was limited, and it was made to lobby the interest and concerns of the Indian community to the government.

IWK: How does it feel to be awarded Life Membership?

Mr Patel: I can’t describe in words, I feel most honoured. I have never worked for an award, and it’s the people who recognised my efforts and service for over a decade at NZICA.

Mr Singh: I felt blessed and honoured for being a part of this prestigious organisation. I have been a part of NZICA for 13 years, and it is a platform that keeps you connected with the community.

Harshad Patel (IWK Picture)

IWK: Mr Patel we would like to know more about you and your interest in the community works? 

Harshad: I came to New Zealand 40 years ago and had a degree in Chemistry. It was after a brief struggle I got a job in the Research and Development Department of NZ Farmers Fertilizers, and later I moved to Auckland Regional Council, and I still work there as an analyst.

I joined Auckland Indian Association as a member, where I had a passion for music and used to perform and play at concerts that made me the chairperson of entertainment in the organisation.

With more work and service over the years, I became president of AIA and later as VP and President of NZICA.

This certainly came at the cost of sacrificing family time.

Mr Singh: I hailed from Haryana and moved out of the country to Muscat at the age of 19 in 1974. Then I moved to Dubai in 1976 until 1987 where I worked as a truck driver and later as a supervisor running 80 trucks under my watch. Until 1987, while working in Dubai, I travelled to England, Canada and the United States. In 1987 I moved to South America where I owned a piece of land, but I did not find many prospects for my family. I was returning to India from Bolivia via New Zealand that changed the course of my life. During transit at Auckland Airport, I came across an Immigration Card that gave me a cue that I can stay in this country as well if I have a job. It took me two months to get a job here, and the rest is history.

IWK: What is NZICA doing now?

Mr Bhana: The vision is to serve the Indian community, and with the rapid migration of Indians from every corner of India, it is important that we engage with everyone. We have our representations in Christchurch, New Plymouth and Rotorua and we look forward to getting representations from all 29 Indian states be a part of NZICA.

Manjeet Singh (IWK Picture)

We are liaising with new associations and making changes in our constitution and getting other community representations part of NZICA.

IWK: What is your message to the community?

Mr Patel: Be together and united and promote one cause- be together as Indian.

Mr Singh: There are no shortcuts in NZICA, one has to work hard, start at the bottom, and contribute time and energy to the cause of the community. We are there to help.