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The best (and worst) of 2023 for Indian New Zealanders

Kiwi-Indian Rachin Ravindra was the star for BlackCaps this year.

2023 was a year of mixed feelings for New Zealand's Indian community.

The year started with Labour's Chris Hipkins taking over as prime minister from Jacinda Ardern, who will always be remembered by the community for giving New Zealand its first Indian-origin Cabinet minister, Priyanca Radhakrishnan.

With much of the attention this year on the general election in October, Indian issues were often part of the campaign activities.

A record 14 Indian-origin candidates were included in the list of the main political parties, with two becoming lawmakers in October.

National leader Christopher Luxon and Hipkins tried to outdo each other by promising a trip to India as well as a free trade agreement.

Former Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta visited India in February, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hipkins met in Papua New Guinea in May.

With National forming a historic three-party coalition with ACT and New Zealand First, Trade Minister Todd McClay ended the year with a trip to the subcontinent, carrying forward discussions on the free trade deal.

The two countries also grew closer in geostrategic terms when two Indian naval vessels - guided missile destroyer INS Kolkata and multi-role frigate INS Sahyardri - visited ports in New Zealand on a four-day resupply stop. It was the first such visit since 2016, when INS Sumitra visited Auckland as part of the International Naval Review.

The bilateral collaboration extended in space when Auckland-headquartered GPS component manufacturer Rakon played a role in India's successful lunar landing.

Indian mangoes flooded New Zealand markets, while Kiwi business delegations showed interest in exploring the world's most populous market.

India's Independence Day and International Day of Yoga was celebrated with gusto nationwide.

Traditional Indian festivals such as Holi, Diwali, Eid, Onam, Ugadi, Pongal and Lohri were celebrated with typical enthusiasm, with the number of participants seemingly increasing every year.

Some of this could be due to increased immigration from India since borders opened in August 2022.

Meanwhile, reports of migrant exploitation, especially in the accredited employer work visa space, have dominated headlines for much of the latter part of the year. Some arrests were also made - a rarity in such cases.

Amnesty for overstayers - many of Indian-origin - and demands to reopen the parent category visa were other immigration issues of significance over the course of the year.

Alongside the rising cost of living crisis, a large number of aggravated robberies and ram raids affected the community and sparked long-term psychological trauma for some victims.

Indian real estate agents were disturbed by Yanfei Bao's homicide in Christchurch, sparking concerns over safety.

One of the sporting highlights of the year involved the semifinal clash between India and New Zealand, with Rachin Ravindra emerging as the one of the tournament's stars.

Hitendra Patel continues to make waves in the hockey coaching scene, while Vandana Patel became the second Indian-origin woman to represent New Zealand in hockey on the international stage.

The year ended with Auckland hosting the fifth New Zealand Sikh Games and the inaugural New Zealand Kabaddi World Cup - two of the largest Indian community sports extravaganzas in the country.

Meanwhile, an art collective sought to break barriers in New Zealand's art scene by showcasing works of Indian-origin artists at New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata in Wellington.

There was also recognition for achievers in the community in the New Year Honours and the King's Birthday Honours lists. And ethnic media outlets Indian Weekender and Indian Newslink ended the year honouring their own winners at separate ceremonies.

As the community looks forward to 2024, all eyes are on Luxon's promised visit to India, which is most likely to take place after general elections in the subcontinent are held in April and May.

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