The list of Kiwi-Indian women portrayed in this special issue, neither claims to be exhaustive nor selective in any manner conveying any particular preference, rather there is a complete acknowledgement that the list is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to celebrating the Kiwi-Indian women. The intention is to inspire many others who are going through their own respective journeys of a pursuit of success.

Nilima Venkat

General Manager, Shanti Niwas

Nilima Venkat is a well-known name in the community support sector of South Asian communities. She is the General Manager at Shanti Niwas Charitable Trust, a community organisation that provides social services to elderly and disables people of Indian and South Asian descent.

She has been with Shanti Niwas since 1998, starting as a volunteer for two years and in the year 2000 was appointed as a service coordinator and subsequently as a Social Worker. She was appointed as a Project Manager in 2012.

Mrs Venkat was awarded the Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2013 new year’s honours list for her community work. She is also a Justice of Peace of NZ

 She strongly advocates social change and is passionate about working for the betterment of the community.

Tryst with equality 

I have been fortunate to be among people and sectors of society where I never faced any kind of discrimination because I was a woman. Obviously, nothing in life comes easy. But the struggles I faced, might not have been different if I were a male.

What does women suffrage mean to you?

In my opinion, South-Asian communities are culturally biased toward a male-dominated society. And the problem is that we bring that culture with us wherever we go. We need to change that culture where women are not given equal importance. In our community in New Zealand, you’ll find more men than women when it comes to important decision-making roles. The domestic violence and elder abuse that our community members experience and where the victims are most of the times women are the results of a biased society where women have no value. Nevertheless, I can see this culture is changing, but slowly.

Hansa Naran

Treasurer, NZICA

Celebrating women’s suffrage is at the heart of Hansa Naran, who currently serves as Treasurer, New Zealand Indian Central Association – New Zealand’s oldest Indian Association – whereby she had recently organised an event in Waiapua to commemorate the launch of women suffrage petition.

Prior to this role, Ms Naran had been quietly engaged in work at the ground level for more than two decades, whereby connecting with people, associations, and communities, and assisting them to grow and deliver services to people.

She has been doing the groundwork in organisations like Pukekohe Indian Association, Manukau Indian Association and NZICA.

Tryst with equality 

The issue of women empowerment is dear to her as she found early in life how women could be burdened with societal expectations and responsibilities risking their progress in life when at 22 years she had to take care of her husband’s five siblings after losing her in-laws.

However, Ms Naran saw this as something which brought immense strength in her personality and motivating her permanently to serve the wider community.

What does women suffrage mean to you?

"There is lot more to be achieved in bringing true equality for women in our society, especially in changing age-old attitudes."

Ranjana Patel

Businesswoman and Social Entrepreneur

Ranjana Patel is a social entrepreneur of repute, who has developed a successful healthcare business, built a temple, created a groundbreaking anti-domestic violence programme, and continues to be a source of inspiration for many in the community.  A third-generation Kiwi-Indian, Mrs Patel, along with her husband Dr Kanti Patel, GP, has transformed a one-doctor clinic into New Zealand’s largest independently owned healthcare business – Nirvana Health Group – which operates 35 clinics, 29 pharmacies and a call centre, employs 1060 staff including 300 doctors and more than 200 nurses, and conducts 1.2 million consultations a year or up 4000 consultations a day. Ms Patel was awarded with the Queen Service Medal in 2009 and ONZM in 2017. Among many key achievements of Ms Patel, a few are – Deolitte Top 200 Visionary leader, inducted NZ Hall of Fame for Women Entrepreneurs, the finalist for 2016 Ernst Young Entrepreneur of Year for 2015.

Jit Kaur

Community Leader

Jit Kaur is one of the leading voices for women’s rights in New Zealand, especially within the Sikh community – a label that she politely refuses – as she believes her work focuses on the wider spectrum of Kiwi-Indian women.

Notably, Ms Kaur had established the New Zealand Sikh Women’s Association (NZSWA) in 2002 after being encouraged by none other than the former Prime Minister and friend - Helen Clark - something which she cherishes deep in her heart even today. A heart-breaking case of murder-suicide involving an Indian mother and her child in South Auckland then was the main motivator behind this phenomenal journey.

Since then, Ms Kaur had dedicated her life to support the victims of domestic violence in a bid to be that friendly, reliable and a non-judging face that any woman can talk to when in need or trouble. She works closely with Victim Support, Police and the Ministry of Social Welfare to help the victims of abusive relationships through counselling and rehabilitation.  Her organisation is also involved in the cultural activities such as Ladies cultural night in order to give women in the community some me-time. 

Tryst with Equality

Yes, indeed I have faced many challenges, in fact, to an extent of strong opposition, when we first started NZSWA. People told me that we were breaking their families and homes. They were ashamed of their personal matter (domestic violence) brought out in public because of our culture. We were accused of not giving a fair hearing to men generating some threats as well. Because we were women fighting for our rights and safety. But that couldn’t stop us.

What does suffrage mean to you?

Suffrage is the first step towards women empowerment. Our country has come a long way in having an elected woman Prime Minister who delivered a baby while being in the office. However, we still need to keep going to achieve much more in the field of women empowerment.

Dr Malvindar Singh-Bains

Neuroscientist A Research Fellow at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research, Dr Bains is a reflection of Kiwi-Indian woman’s intellect and will to break through the field of science and research – a predominantly white man’s forte in NZ even in this age and time.

Currently focusing on brain inflammation in conditions including Huntington’s and Alzheimer ’s disease, Dr Bains has been a top-three finalist in both 2015 and 2016 for the University of Auckland Young New Zealander of the year award for her ongoing commitment to promoting brain health and awareness of neurodegenerative diseases including Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Tryst with equality

I think the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries offer many job opportunities, but in New Zealand, only 28 per cent of these roles are held by women. Interestingly, the field of brain research in New Zealand seems to attract more females. However, we still have a lack of representation of women at higher levels, such as the level of Professorship.

What does women’s suffrage mean to you?

I am born in a country that was the first in the world to allow women the right to vote, however, if we reflect on our own history over 125 years since that milestone, only 38 per cent of our current MPs are women – the highest it’s ever been. In so many professions, women continue to be paid less than men, and are more likely to be unemployed or in unpaid work, and experience higher rates of violence and abuse. I still believe that we should be far more ahead considering what our 19th-century suffragists have achieved. Today I think we can reflect on the many milestones our predecessors have accomplished, but also work together with our modern trail-blazers to reach more milestones in the fight for women’s rights in all aspects of life.

Aisha Duga Punga

CEO, Starship Foundation

Aisha Duga Punga is the Chief Executive of Starship Foundation and is a remarkable reflection on the value that a Kiwi-Indian woman brings to the land of Aotearoa. Ms Punga has been associated with different industries in her professional life from telecommunications, FMCG, Innovation Industries in sales, marketing, logistics, new ventures and general management. She has held governance roles for Life Education Trust, a charity for the education and empowerment of children for over a decade and had recently been appointed as the Chief Executive of Starship Foundation. 

Tryst with equality

“What inspires me is that we as a nation have demonstrated that we could lead the world not only in changing attitudes but changing behaviours. It also reminds me of my ‘Dadimai’ (grandmother) – and all those brave pioneering women who made the first trip from India to Aotearoa, New Zealand. Both suggestive of stories that celebrate, honour and appreciate the sacrifice of the women who came before us,”

What does women suffrage mean to you?

I have been very fortunate to suffer little equality issues in my life.  I have been brought up in a family environment that encouraged (and expected) me to believe that I could achieve anything I wanted.  My mum went to school with Benazir Bhutto, and this was the testament to this philosophy. I often get comments of “it’s great to see women at the top”,  I have mixed emotions as I appreciate the challenge that prevails for many but I also hope (know) that I am the best person for the job.

Arunima Dhingra

Businesswoman

Arunima Dhingra is a successful businesswoman and a known face in the community as the director of an immigration law firm in Auckland and a vociferous voice on women and equality issues. Ms Dhingra started her Kiwi journey as a student at AUT and soon became quite familiar with the issues experienced by international students in NZ. She worked hard and alternated between the normal 9-5 job and supporting her father’s newly started immigration firm. Her success in business, and strong voice on immigration and women issues makes her a source of inspiration for many in Kiwi-Indian community.

Tryst with equality

I have been fortunate enough to not face equality issues at work; however, I must add that being a professional, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a homemaker – striking that delicate balance between all these commitments is quite tough. Often when you cater to one facet, the other commitment suffers.

What does women suffrage mean to you?

Suffrage, according to me, is an evolving phenomenon. It’s not about voting anymore; it’s about the skewed perception society has of women being ‘less able’ – just like it prevailed in the 18th or 19th century. We all hear of women coming home after a full day at work and then engage in cooking, cleaning, looking after the children and there is a natural expectation that has been passed on to families for generations. I believe that this inequality in the perception of women’s roles within the family is something as the next frontier for all suffrage-crusaders. We have to start demolishing age-old attitudes which perpetuates inequality in our society as the next level of commitment for the advancement of suffrage in Kiwi-life.

Ashima Singh

Lawyer, Businessowman

Ashima Singh is a lawyer, co-founder and Partner at Legal Associates – a South Auckland based specialised legal services. She specialises in Property Law, Commercial Law, Wills & Trusts, Family Law and Employment Law. She was instrumental in starting ‘legal clinic’, an initiative to provide free legal assistance to the needy every Saturday at its office.

Tryst with Equality

Yes, in my early days as a lawyer I often faced traditional attitudes toward women intellect and ability to excel in the legal world.

The legal profession is infamous for a thriving culture of misogynist attitude despite all our social progression in the last 125 years. To succeed in this predominantly boy’s world one need to believe in one’s ability to do anything they want. However, I am fortunate to have full support of my family, friends and loved ones in overcoming challenges imposed on us for just being a woman.

What does women suffrage mean to you?

Women’s suffrage is a privilege for all women for it allows us to voice our opinion about who we are and what we are. We are no less than anyone; we are lovely daughters to father and dearly wives to caring husbands. We are proud workers and successful businesswomen. We can be whatever we chose in our minds to be. Suffrage is all about the feeling of empowerment.

Ella Kumar

Local Board Member and Physical Wellness Coach


Ella Kumar holds the unique recognition of being the first elected Kiwi-Indian women representative in a local council board. A New Zealand born first generation Kiwi-Indian woman, Ms Kumar was elected first to Puketapapa local board in 2010.

Ms Kumar wears different hats in public life alternating between being an elected representative, being a physical fitness coach and a professional Bollywood dance trainer. She loves working with people, one who doesn’t like anything on a silver platter and believes in hard work to get successful outcomes.

You would often find her at various community events wearing various hats of an event coordinator, or a performer or a dance teacher. Her giving-back-to-the-community attitude can be seen in her volunteer work for some of the largest community festivals in Auckland such as Diwali Festival or Lantern Festival. She carries with her the energy and smile that never fades

Tryst with Equality

While I got fairly equal opportunities while working in the community, I feel that being an Indian female did have some reservations to hold me back from my elected position at the Local Board.

In past, I feel that an agenda has played a role when it comes to giving equal opportunities to women in leadership roles, which might be a result of cultural background. 

The various decision-making committees in the community are mostly dominated by males. Although New Zealand raised its voice long ago to give equal rights to women, I think our communities are still getting there. The women in our community are stepping up. To break the barrier the current generations will have to acknowledge that a balance is important to be maintained in males and females. The opportunities should be given on the base of merit and not gender.

What does women’s suffrage mean to you?

Suffrage acts as a great emancipator for women. Being an elected representative in the local board, I am myself an example of what women can achieve by suffrage. However, as said earlier we as a country have a lot to achieve.