Fijian-Indians are facing an identity crisis and missing out on key support and opportunities in areas like education and health because they are being classified as Asians and not Pacific Islanders in New Zealand, a community leader says.
Krish Naidu, president of the Fiji Girmit Foundation of NZ, said by not recognising Fijian- Indians as a Pacific community, the Government was disqualifying the community from sharing any of the resources and support allocated to these communities.
Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio, in a letter to Naidu last December, said that Statistics New Zealand's specific classification for Fijian-Indians falls under "Asian" followed by an "Indian" sub-classification", not Pacific peoples.
"The StatsNZ classification...is in line with an ethnographic profile, which includes people with common language, customs and traditions. I am also informed that the ethnographic features of Fijian-Indians are not of a similar profile to those of indigenous Pacific peoples," Sio said.
He said StatsNZ's ethnicity definition is used to capture data to understand the people of New Zealand.
"StatsNZ recognises ethnicity as the ethnic group or groups a person self-identifies with or has a sense of belonging to...it is not the same as race, ancestry, nationality, citizenship or even place of birth," Sio said.
Naidu believed the Fijian-Indian community in NZ was at least 90,000-strong although there was no official data to back this. He said they are the second largest ethnic community from the Pacific, behind only Samoans and ahead of Tongans.
In the 2018 Census, about 15,000 people identified with the Fijian-Indian ethnic group.
Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley said there is a strong case for treating Fijian-Indians as Pasifika, given their history and cultural identity.
"I personally would classify them as Pasifika if they come from Fiji. That has been my practice although what is confusing is the way official statistics are collected," Spoonley said.
"Indians appear in a range of different categories, and it is not always clear that those answering 'Indian' also happen to be 'Fijians'. StatsNZ do their best but unless they can link birthplace, Fiji, with ethnic classification, in this case Indian, many are classified as 'Asian'."
Spoonley said there was also no category for those born in New Zealand, but who are members of the NZ Fijian-Indian community.
Indians have been living in Fiji for more than 140 years, since the first arrival as labourers under British rule. Their descendants are referred to as Fijian-Indians or Indo-Fijians, and Naidu said the population had a culture, language, customs and traditions that were distinctively different to other Indians.
"Just because we eat roti and curry, watch Bollywood movies and celebrate Diwali doesn't mean all Indians are the same," he said.
"This issue of a failure to recognise us as a Pacific people is deeply distressing, and so far our efforts to get that corrected have largely been ignored."
Naidu said this was a "systemic, longstanding discrimination and racism" against the community in New Zealand.
"We are a community with an identity crisis, suffering the indignity of searching and establishing who we are and where we belong, and we cannot continue to be treated as driftwoods of the Pacific."
The Girmit Foundation was formed in 2013 to represent and advocate for Fijian Indian heritage, identity and diaspora.
Naidu said the foundation was calling for a formal review consultation, so that there could be a classification change at least in the Census.
"Our people are being seriously disadvantaged and marginalised so this needs to happen fast. Many continue to miss out on support and access to resources to which they should be legally and morally entitled.
"Most of us consider ourselves and identify ourselves as part of the Pacific peoples, but when our people knock on the door for assistance under this category, they are painfully turned away."