Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Racism blamed for bar ban

An Indian migrant believes he's been treated differently because of his ethnicity

IT worker Sandesh Gopal says he is often made to feel he is not welcome in New Zealand. Photo / Richard Robinson
IT worker Sandesh Gopal says he is often made to feel he is not welcome in New Zealand. Photo / Richard Robinson

An Indian IT worker wonders if it was racism that made a bouncer stop him and his friends from entering a bar at Auckland's Viaduct Harbour on New Year's Eve.

Sandesh Gopal, 30, a software project manager from Bangalore, said he and a friend were singled out and asked to show IDs but were told by the bouncer they could not enter.

"Others, white customers, were let in, and the bouncer just couldn't tell us why he stopped us," said Mr Gopal.

"We just wanted to celebrate the New Year like everyone else, and this just spoiled the mood for us."

Mr Gopal, who has travelled to Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore for work, says he feels New Zealand is "most racist".

"The racism here is not overt, but it's the small things that make us feel that maybe we are not welcomed."

Since coming here to work here in 2011, Mr Gopal has had many sour experiences and believes they are because of his ethnicity. A rental car company representative asked, "Are you from India?" when he could not find a GPS machine he had left in the glove compartment of the car, he said, and a bus driver singled him and his Indian friend out to check their tickets to see if they had paid enough for their ride.

Mr Gopal said he was also told by a department store representative to "read the instructions" when he asked for help to fold a pram he bought, but the same representative was happy to talk a European customer through the process.

"It's just a shame that a developed nation like New Zealand has developed this kind of rude atmosphere."

A United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last March singled out New Zealand's "persistent discrimination against migrants, particularly of Asian origin".

Discrimination on the basis of religion or ethnicity is illegal under the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Commission receives between 550 and 570 complaints about racial prejudice and abuse, and nearly a third of those are substantiated.

A 2011 Massey University report on Indians in Auckland also found "widespread presence of discrimination".

The study by sociologist Paul Spoonley found Indian immigrants arrived in the country as "well-educated and skilled newcomers" but were less accepted by employers than those from Britain and South Africa.

Many experienced "considerable downward occupational mobility" and about 40 per cent of participants said they had experienced bigotry in the streets.

However, research by the Asia New Zealand Foundation showed a marked increase in positivity towards Asian people in New Zealand in the last 15 years covered by the study. Just 32 per cent thought Asian immigration was positive in 1997, but that rose to 55 per cent in 2011.

The report explained: "The main reason for New Zealanders' change in perceptions in the 15 years was more contact with Asians - there were more of them around - and this helped to reduce some of the prejudice that had previously coloured many New Zealanders' attitudes."

- NZ Herald

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