Amninder Kaur and Amrit Singh live individually but they exist in each other’s worlds. They share a life together, they share the same values, they even work together at Ashburton’s local Countdown supermarket; but their connection extends beyond their material life. Similarly, their biographies complete each other and you are invited to delve into the first one and then come back to it when you experience the other.
Amninder Kaur is from Northern India, more precisely from Punjab. She lived there all her life before migrating to New Zealand to further her studies. She graduated with a Diploma in business in India and decided to move forward with a degree in commerce and learn English at the same time. She chose New Zealand because she responded; like so many migrants, to New Zealand’s overseas demand for foreign input into the country. Yet, it was a collective decision. Her parents accepted her request to a foreign country and then pooled their resources together so that she could enroll in a school here in New Zealand and study while experiencing what it was like to live abroad. New Zealand’s ethnic migrant communities; especially from non-Western European countries are often framed in terms of what New Zealand has done or can do for them. In comparison, what they can do for the country is often reflected upon under the one sided labels of work force, manual labor and low level employment. Wanderlust brought Amninder here; not greed.
Amninder arrived in Auckland in 2013. She set out to lay some roots in the city immediately but found it difficult to break through the mold that the majority of Indians who migrate to this part of the world are immediately cast in. She explains that it was very difficult for her to find housing, especially because she was Indian and even more so because she as an Indian girl. Another major obstacle to overcome was the cultural stigma that the majority of the Indian migrant population faces in the bigger cities where Indians are much more visible than in smaller towns. Prejudice against the Indian migrant population is nothing new and it is not something that is confined to New Zealand. On the contrary, New Zealand is one of the more tolerant nations against the Indian migrant population; but the prejudice nevertheless does exist just below the surface and while it is not overt and aggressive like in neighboring countries, it still affects them. This stigma expressed itself in an inability to find work or create social bonds outside of the Sikh community. Amninder tells us that she wanted to work but had many difficulties finding anything in Auckland and when she did, it was often very poorly paid labor that relied on migrants’ willingness to compromise. She also felt very lonely before she met Amrit. Yet, Amninder is not a shy girl. She has a delightful sense of humor and great positive energy. Her love of life is contagious and she gets excited about everything! Her inability to create social bonds was therefore not a consequence of character. Luckily, her parents, who had read an advert in the paper about a young Sikh man who had also migrated to New Zealand, planted the seed for her and Amrit to get in touch with each other. The rest is history…
Amrit and Amninder found not only a friend in each other but also love, companionship and grounding. Amninder is happy and uses the word ‘happy’ a lot. She was happy when she met Amrit, happy when they got married, happy in Ashburton and happy that she can represent Sikh women here. Sikhism is at the centre of both Amrit and Amninder’s lives although they approach it differently. Amninder’s celebration of her spiritual life is playful and interactive. As a Sikh, she has been a minority both at home and in New Zealand While she only got baptized here, she has had to justify her religious beliefs and watched her parents, who are not baptized yet; do the same. But she is not defensive about her life choices. She lives them fully and embraces them totally! She explains that she is proud to be Sikh and that everyone should be proud of their culture. Amninder respects and enjoys many things about other cultures she has learned about here. For instance, she talks about how she loves to look at the way women from other cultures dress, walk and hold themselves but she also has a very deep understanding of who she is and what Sikh values she seeks to uphold.
Amninder thinks that it is important for ‘everyone’ to learn about the cultures and values of people around them because it is our cultural and religious differences that will help us grow as a community. She nevertheless insists that she doesn’t necessarily want what she sees and that she thinks other cultures should respect that. She knows that some people don’t like her because she is Indian but she refuses to let their ignorance affect her judgement and impact on her ability to feel compassion towards them and others. There are many lessons to be learnt from this.
Amrit is more cautious and more philosophical. Amrit reflects on his experiences as a Sikh man in a predominantly white community more deeply. He also has very strong kinship bonds to other Sikh men and women around the world and feels deeply connected to what they are feeling and experiencing too. It is a beautiful balance. Together, they have grown a very strong relationship in New Zealand… They have mastered the art of cooperation and have come out more successful as a result. They are a fantastic team!
Amrit and I live with other people so we really enjoy having some time together, just the two of us. Before we got married we were both quite lonely in New Zealand. I lived in Auckland and Amrit lived in Napier. Our parents suggested that we should meet and that if we liked each other we could go further. After we met we started talking on the phone all day every day! We have been together since.
This is my normal routine. Every day I cook an Indian dish for everyone at home. In this photo I am making onion Bhaji. What you don’t see is that I am also listening to Sikh hymns. Sikh are vegetarians because we believe that everything generated by nature has a life cycle. We are all part of this life cycle. By not eating animals, we minimize our damage to nature’s and humanity’s life cycle. Our vegetarian diet in addition to our spiritual practices helps us to deepen our understanding of who we are and to elevate us to a higher level of spirituality. The hymns I listen to make me more present in my cooking and we believe that this will imbue the food we make with more vital energy that we can then use to do good.
I smiled so much during my wedding! I wasn’t scared at all; just really excited! It was the first time that I saw Amrit wear the traditional outfit and I thought he looked really smart. Red is the traditional color for weddings in India and women also wear a lot of jewelry and my sisters helped me choose what I wore. Weddings also last a few days in India. Ours lasted three days! Amrit makes me very happy. I feel like I have a bodyguard, a friend and support. He also cooks very well! Amrit means “nectar”. He is naturally very sweet.
Amrit and I became baptized in Sikhism after we got married. We decided to embrace our true religion and wear the turban because the turban is part of our true Sikh identity. Changing and embracing our religion was easier here and easier together. In India, there is a lot of prejudice against Sikh. Change is the law of nature. Our relationship has become stronger because we changed together and because we are learning together.
I was the only Sikh and the only person wearing a turban in my class, and at my graduation. I was really proud to be the only Sikh girl representing my people. Amrit and I worked so hard so I could receive my diploma. He worked six days a week so I could study. We both struggled, but it was really worth it. Men and women are equal in Sikh religion and Amrit and I are equal in our relationship. Being a Sikh girl gave me the confidence to stand up, be the only Sikh person in my course and do well. Amrit is proud of me too.
Amrit really likes this dress! It is a traditional Punjabi outfit called a shalwar kameez. In India, women wear the shalwar kameez every day but here I wear it for special occasions. I feel pretty, happy and different in it. Sometimes people ask me to explain what it is. I don’t mind. I feel proud sharing my culture! Yes, I wear a turban because of who I am and because I respect my religion but that doesn’t mean I am not in touch with my feminine side.