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‘Our Lives Don’t Matter’: Indian Businesses Want Action On Retail Crime

Jithin Chittibomma Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Indian business owners continue to express dismay over the government's efforts to tackle violent retail crime.

The disappointment follows the unveiling of the coalition's latest quarterly action plan by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on Monday, saying the measures would "have a strong focus on making Kiwis safer and restoring law and order".

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Indian businesses claim they were disproportionately impacted by violent crime in 2023, with latest data from Victim Support showing that almost a quarter of aggravated robbery victims last year were of Indian descent.

Jithin Chittibomma, chairperson of the Sandringham Business Association, said the Indian community was being "attacked".

"It seems our lives don't matter. We contribute left, right and centre to the economy but our human rights are violated every day," Chittibomma said.

"This has been going on for three-and-a-half years, and I am at a loss of words now," he said. "We feel nothing will ever change for Indian businesses in New Zealand.

"When the government points towards the reduced number of ram raids as an indicator of crime getting under control, it ignores the fact that offenders have simply shifted to aggravated robberies. This is much, much worse."

Narendra Bhana is president of the New Zealand Indian Central Association.

Narendra Bhana Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Narendra Bhana, president of the New Zealand Indian Central Association, agreed.

"Ram raids usually happened after hours [and], while it did result in loss of property, at least our lives were not in danger," Bhana said. "But with aggravated robberies going on unabated, we feel this is the worst time for small Indian businesses in New Zealand in the last 20 years."

"Auckland is not a safe place to do business anymore and we have no trust left in the New Zealand justice system. While we are grateful to the New Zealand Police for doing their job, offenders have no respect for the legal system and are able to walk free."

Jaspreet Kandhari, general secretary of the New Zealand Indian Business Association, said members were increasingly running out of patience.

"The situation [in terms of violent retail crime] has gone from bad to worse in recent months," Kandhari said. "There is a dire need to put strict laws in place urgently. The police and justice minister mustour act ... swiftly. Laws and regulations change the world over ... to reflect the need of the hour. [This] must happen in New Zealand as well."

Kandhari acknowledged that Luxon had pledged to crack down on crime because Kiwis were "sick of it".

"[But] it provides no relief or assurance to the Indian community," he said. "He is no ordinary citizen. He has the power to do something ... if he indeed is sick of it."

Many small business owners from the Indian community have called on the government to clarify and amend New Zealand's self-defence laws.

Sunny Kaushal

Sunny Kaushal Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Sunny Kaushal, chair of the Dairy and Business Owners Group, said it had been a long-standing demand by the community.

"Small business owners ... have asked for guidance on how best to defend themselves against aggravated robberies," Kaushal said. "This has been indicated to the coalition government in several representations since the start of this year.

"Essentially, we want the government to amend the self-defence laws along Australian federal law lines to give retailers more power for self-defence."

Paul Goldsmith

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith remained non-committal about amending self-defence laws, telling RNZ he was "still on receiving advice from officials on this matter".

Other demands from the community included expanding the powers of citizen's arrest and introducing criminal liability for parents of serious young offenders.

Jagjeet Sidhu, general secretary of the Auckland Indian Retailers Association, said the community was preparing a petition that would be submitted to Parliament soon.

"These young kids are not aware of what they are doing, so while we want tougher sentences for them, we also want measures in place which ensure right outcomes for these young offenders," Sidhu said. "Whenever we meet Police Minister Mark Mitchell, he is always concerned [about] rising crime and promises to look at changing legislation to make things better for the community."

Kaushal noted that a similar petition was submitted to Parliament last year by the Dairy and Business Owners Group, adding that it was already in front of the Justice Select Committee.

Siva Kilari was the highest-ranked Indian-origin candidate on the National Party's list in the 2023 election.

Siva Kilari Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Siva Kilari, a former National Party candidate for Manurewa and the highest-ranked Indian-origin candidate on the party's list in the 2023 election, claimed the government was working hard to tackle crime.

"The crime situation was really bad six months ago, but now it is better than before," Kilari said. "The National Party has controlled crime before and will do so again this time. We have solid plans in place, such as launching military style academies, introducing a young serious offender category and reducing discounts on sentencing. But parliamentary procedures take time."

Kilari claimed the government was also focused on victim support.

"That has been shown in how ministers have reached out to victims of crime and provided support," he said. "My appeal to the community is to have patience."

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