Mt Roskill is one of the better suburbs in Auckland. Drawn by top quality schooling and a highly eclectic environment, an increasing number of educated Indians are beginning to settle here. If there is one place in New Zealand that is likely to develop a Little India, it is going to be Mt Roskill.
However, going by the state of New Zealand race relations of late, that development has been postponed well into the distant future.
It was late last year that Mt Roskill resident Ambrish Gupta painted a huge swastika on the roof of his house as a sign of religious devotion. But weeks later, the sign had become the focus of virulent attacks in the media, surprising the genial Gupta, who is shocked by the bitter remarks directed at him.
|The swastika had become the focus of virulent attacks in the New Zealand media, surprising the genial Gupta, who was shocked by the bitter remarks directed at him
Many of the protestors were Gupta’s neighbours. “The symbol is distasteful. It’s not necessary, it’s actually stupid. It’s insulting to the neighbours,” said one man who didn’t want to be named.
But Gupta says when he painted the symbol, he didn’t mean to offend anyone. He painted it on his roof as a symbol of protection for his family and house. He says he had no idea it had another meaning in western culture – as the mark of the Nazi regime – when he painted it. “If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” he says.
Another neighbour, whose house gave her a direct view of Mr Gupta’s roof, says she didn’t particularly like it. “When it first went up, I thought it was an insult.”
Mr Roskill resident Lindsay Johnston noticed the painting on the roof in April. He says he was horrified. “I found it very offensive.” Johnston was worried it would be visible to traffic when the new expressway is built through the area. “People would be driving along wondering what kind of a country this is,” he says.
The story attracted over 200 comments when it appeared on the national news website Stuff. People were divided over issue, with some saying Gupta should leave it or lump it. “It’s simple, he’s not in India, he’s in New Zealand. In New Zealand this is offensive. Get rid of it,” said one.
Aucklander Vipul Patel says he’s shocked by the outbursts from the average person on the street. “I’m horrified that one of our most revered symbols is considered offensive. I hope the ongoing debate will enlighten New Zealanders so the symbol is recognised positively,” says Patel.
Not likely. One caller to a radio talk show said: “Did this guy live in a toilet all his life? Doesn’t he know about the swastika’s connection to Hitler, against whom so many New Zealanders died fighting in WW II.”
As the protests grew shriller, senior national politicians got into the act. Mt Roskill MP and defence minister Phil Goff visited the Guptas following a formal complaint. “We spoke to the owners of the house who are very decent people and who were most concerned that the emblem had been misinterpreted,” said Goff.
“Far from being a white power group identifying with the policies of Hitler, the family’s beliefs are in fact the opposite,” he assured
The pressure tactics had the desired effect. In May this year, Gupta removed the sign, saying, “At least people here have come to know the swastika signifies something different, positive in Indian culture. But to keep people happy, better to get rid of it.”
Gupta may have given in, but Indians in New Zealand won’t be forgetting the snub for a very long time.