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It was the year many of us had to put our lives on hold just as the world was entering the cusp of what seemed an eventful third decade of the twenty-first century, with so much to look forward to.

But it took mere weeks for a particularly virulent variant of a known SARS-causing virus to spread like wildfire from Wuhan in China to the far corners of the globe, casting a pall of gloom everywhere, bringing our world to a grinding halt.

In the blink of an eye, borders were shut, thousands stranded, families torn asunder, entire countries locked down, businesses put on ice if not in complete meltdown, livelihoods destroyed ––panic and fear reigning supreme. Never in recent memory had a virus wreaked such havoc across the world so quickly as what came to be named Covid-19.

Everything that followed was unprecedented: Deserted airports and transport; empty city squares and streets; shuttered establishments; a masked, socially distanced citizenry working, studying, doing everything from home. These were uncharted waters for everybody – from governments down to the individual citizen.

While our government in New Zealand, though slow in shutting borders, moved swiftly to not just isolate the ‘team of five million’ from the worst of the pestilence but also to provide sustained financial support to Kiwis. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership throughout the Covid-19 crisis has justifiably come in for high praise from all quarters.

Though the government’s communication machinery has been efficient for the most part, there is only so much that it can do, especially in such an unprecedented scenario that seemed like a perpetual moving feast. Sizeable sections of migrant Kiwis were left with unanswered questions on issues particular to them than the mainstream media would cover.

Rallying point

The Indian Weekender became a rallying point for the Kiwi-Indian and wider Kiwi-South Asian communities and before long, our phones, emails and social media platforms were inundated with messages asking for updates and advice on a host of matters.

Naturally, we didn’t have all the information, but our team volunteered to get their queries answered the best we could and consolidated them into articles online and in print, on social media posts and even getting back to them individually by phone and text.

The news media was rightly deemed an essential service and we never ceased to work throughout the pandemic, with our teams working from home, from our offices when conditions permitted it. We even reached out to communities if events and developments so demanded.

Working through the pandemic taught us that our Kiwi-Indian community saw The Indian Weekender much more than a media outlet. We were a trusted source of reliable information that was scarce to come by on mainstream media because it concerned very particular issues like how the situation would affect migrants’ immigration statuses, their families separated across continents, repatriation flights, the paperwork involved – not to mention the dozens of emergency situations that they faced.

As well as busying ourselves with these tasks while functioning throughout the pandemic as the full-fledged multimedia, multiplatform news and infotainment channel that we have grown to become over the past twelve years, we were called upon to assist in a range of humanitarian tasks during the height of the crisis.

Our team worked with dedicated community organisations and charities helping distribute life’s essentials, food parcels and clothing to the elderly and to people who had lost incomes and had no means of transportation. Our Auckland offices functioned as a stocking and distribution point for food rations and other essentials.

We worked closely with the High Commission of India in Wellington and the Consulate in Auckland coordinating information and assisting people with information as regards repatriation flights, the paperwork involved and dozens of other tasks.

Simultaneously we were working with organisations serving different sections of the Kiwi-Indian community to get the word out about how they were able to help and what changes in their services needed to be made because of the lockdowns. For instance, some of the services were made available online so that people could participate in activities remotely.

Amplifying the Kiwi-Indian voice

The Indian Weekender team took up cudgels on behalf of hundreds of affected desperate temporary workers who had been present in the country for many years on different work visas, paying their taxes but who had failed to neatly qualify under the eligibility criteria for the government’s wage subsidy scheme. We published story upon story of the plight of individuals, students, couples and families caught up in multiple issues wrought by the pandemic.

We highlighted how the lockdown had suddenly catapulted those previously ‘less-essential’, and hence less desirable workers, to the position of being frontline workers in the essential services needed to keep everyday New Zealanders’ daily lives going.

We championed their cause saying, “If a call to reward these temporary workers with a blanket residency might be an overstretch, then at least the government needs to change the immigration system to regard these, now proven, essential jobs as essential for the purposes of immigration.” This was authored by The Indian Weekender for the Radio New Zealand website.

We were pleased to see many of these stories amplified in the mainstream media and The Indian Weekender has been increasingly acknowledged as a source of credible information, with even our team members interviewed on mainstream television and radio on a range of migrant-related issues that we have covered. Like National Radio, we were featured on mainstream outlets like the New Zealand Herald and Stuff.

The pandemic brought our team to work close together with numerous community organisations that work selflessly for Kiwi-Indians. We profiled the work of places of worship and how they rose to the occasion taking their religious services online and chipping into every possible charitable effort to help the community. We told numerous stories of how community and charitable organisations were leaving no stone unturned to help.

We have always appreciated and recognised the role that the community and religious organisations play to serve our Kiwi-Indian communities, but the pandemic gave us the opportunity to work closely with so many of them, deepening our bonds in this time of need.

We were honoured and humbled to have earned the faith and goodwill of the Kiwi-Indian and South Asian communities as well as community organisations, the Indian High Commission, the Indian Consulate, community organisations across New Zealand and individual Kiwi-Indians during these tough and trying times.

Today, as we celebrate the inductees of the eighth edition of the Kiwi-Indian Hall of Fame, we equally celebrate the selfless role that many of our Kiwi-Indian community organisations and individuals played during the past eighteen months that have ravaged the world.

Our humble thanks to Kiwi-Indians, for reposing your faith in The Indian Weekender.

First appeared in the 16 June 2021 issue of The Indian Weekender.