Limitoo News

'It's not enough to be a bystander' - Students make a stand against racism

Gargi Vaidya delivering her race unity speech in Auckland
Gargi Vaidya delivering her race unity speech in Auckland Photo: Ben Parkinson

South Asian high school students are increasingly standing up to champion better race relations in New Zealand, if the recent Race Unity Speech Awards are anything to go by.

Seven out of 22 semifinalists who spoke at the awards ceremony in June were from families who identify as Indian or South Asian.

"Each one delivered thought-provoking speeches on race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand," said Bev Watson, part of the national coordination team of the awards.

"(Central North Island regional champion) Gargi Vaidya even advanced to the finals and, ultimately, was awarded the Tohu Aumangea (Hedi Moani Memorial Award for Advocacy), which is a great achievement.

"Students of Indian ethnicity have been participating in the speech awards since the beginning and have featured regularly among the national finalists, with some even becoming the national champion."

Last year, Sheryl Chand of Solway College in Masterton was named joint winner of the competition after she offered practical suggestions for dismantling racism that included abolishing academic streaming in schools.

Wally Haumaha, chief judge and deputy commissioner of New Zealand Police, stressed the importance of giving young people a platform for sharing thoughts on promoting social harmony.

Suzanne Mahon, chief executive of the New Zealand Bahá'í Community, said the finalists were "outstanding examples of young people contributing valuable insights into an important discourse for Aotearoa's collective well-being".

Semifinalist Harshinni Nayyar was thrilled to be part of the awards, which were established in 2001 after the death of race relations advocate Hedi Moani.

"Not only did I network with others committed to social justice and racial harmony, the platform amplified my voice and enabled meaningful conversations about race unity," she said.

Vaidya said she had witnessed division in society with her own eyes.

"I have witnessed it in my community and experienced it personally.

"It has made me realise that racial unity is not a choice - rather a necessity for which every New Zealander should actively work towards.

"Alongside the awards, we attended a national hui, where we discussed ideas for a world free from racism."

Vaidya said communication was an important part of raising awareness about racial issues.

"Embracing other cultures by learning about them but also being attached to your cultural identity, overcoming stereotypes and implicit biases.

"In the world we live in now, it's not enough to be a bystander, we must be an upstander, which is to lead by example.

"We must root out the systemic barriers present in our workforce and the educational sector. Classroom streaming is being abolished, yet there are so many issues that unfairly favour some people over others. This needs to change."

"New Zealand should use the power of education to deconstruct racial narratives."

Nayyar supported such an approach.

"It is important to foster open and honest dialogue about racial issues.

"Encouraging conversations that promote understanding, empathy and respect can address underlying prejudices and stereotypes.

"This could involve creating safe discussion spaces, organising community forums and facilitating intercultural events. This is where people from diverse backgrounds can share their experiences and perspectives.

"It is essential to actively listen to each other's stories and perspectives, acknowledge marginalised communities' systemic challenges and work together to find inclusive solutions."

Other semifinalists from the South Asian community at the awards were Hawkes Bay regional representative Ariel Sajan, Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty regional champion Gayathri Dinesh, Waikato regional representative Rachel Koshy, Auckland regional representative Jappan Kaur and Auckland regional runner-up Hershal Randhawa.