It all started with a 2008 headline in an Auckland newspaper: “Number of Indians rising in Mt Eden prison” – or words to that effect. Engineer and businessman Giri Gupta, an Auckland resident for more than a decade, was horrified. Was this evidence of an Indian criminal class in his adopted country? Then, as he read on, his horror turned to anger about the way the story was being reported. The number of Indians in Mt Eden prison had gone from three (yes, three) to five – hardly a crime epidemic given the 100,000 Indians living in Auckland at the time.
Indian Weekender co-founder Mr Giri Gupta
Why was it, Gupta wondered, that Indian New Zealanders only read about themselves when things went wrong, not when they were successful? The idea of a fortnightly weekend newspaper highlighting the achievements of New Zealanders of Indian origin was born. Gupta teamed up with friend and fellow businessman Bhav Dhillon, owner and director of construction products company Cemix, and the paper was launched in April 2009.
There were two more founding principles, Gupta says: controversial issues (like the recent story about Kiwi companies exploiting Indian students) were to be treated as topics for debate, not censure, and above all there was to be “no Masala news” – a reference to the popular spicy Indian tabloid gossip.
“Our main purpose is to project the positive-ness in the Kiwi Indian community here. Because you could fill volumes and volumes about Indian people that are achievers. And instead you only hear about the one Indian person caught stealing from a petrol pump.
“I wouldn’t have considered it if it hadn’t been for that article. Now it has become a passion. Now I won’t give it up.”
In recession-hit 2009 New Zealand, everyone said the paper would be dead in six months.
They were wrong. Four years on, the Indian Weekender has passed its 100th issue, has a readership of around 60,000 and an average of 20,000 unique visitors to its website every month. There is a 4500-subscriber newsletter, and iPad and smartphone apps. The paper has just started being distributed in Christchurch and there are plans to go to Hamilton and beyond.
But the focus is still the same, Gupta says: to celebrate local heroes and highlight Indian success stories.
A glance through past issues shows no shortage of Indian talent to highlight. Take Anand and Sarita Kumble, biochemists who trained in India and worked at top US universities before setting up an Auckland-based biotechnology firm, Pictor Ltd. The there’s Jacob Rajan, internationally-acclaimed playwright and actor (Krishnan’s Dairy, The Pickle King and others), or Ranjna Patel, founder and director of the East Tamaki Healthcare Group, or Vanisa Dhiru, CEO of Volunteering NZ and a nominee for young New Zealanders of the Year in 2010.
Indian Weekender’s “Kiwi Indian Hall of Fame” issue profiles more than 60 successful, talented New Zealanders of Indian descent.
Still, whether the message about Indian Kiwis is permeating beyond the Indian community is debateable. Sure, if you are an Indian-born sports star, you are going to be high-profile. And some Indian Weekender stories have been picked up by other media, Gupta says.
But it’s hard not to feel most Indian achievers are largely invisible to the mainstream media; Indian success stories are not much more likely to be reported now as they were in 2008. Take the most recent New Zealand New Year Honours list.
Of the eight people of Indian origin on the list (Gupta is one of them) and only one, cricketer Parbhu Kanji, appears to have been profiled in the mainstream media. On the other hand, the majority of the Pakeha achievers have been been interviewed at some stage for print, radio or TV.
“We are there to give talented people a voice that’s unheard in the Fairfax papers or the New Zealand Herald,” says business manager Gaurav Gupta, who worked in television in India before joining the Indian Weekender 18 months ago.
Other roles the paper plays include valuing and protecting Indian heritage and culture, and letting the community know about news and events that affect them, says editor Shriya Bhagwat-Chitale. She says reporters are working with the Auckland Council to highlight information (from dog licence rules to new rates provisions) that a new immigrant might otherwise miss. And the paper also profiles the major festivals and events in Auckland of potential interest to an Indian audience.
The paper is the media sponsor for many big-name Indian acts coming to New Zealand, Gaurav Gupta says.
“There are 180,000 New Zealanders of Indian origin. They may become Kiwis, adopt English, but they prefer to listen to Bollywood songs, so our role is to make them aware of who’s coming here.”
The Indian Weekender business breaks even – not a bad result for media organisation in these troubled times.
But making money isn’t why Giri Gupta runs the paper. “It’s not a business. It’s a community service. It’s my way of giving back to the community.”
Gupta’s chain of four Auckland motels “puts food on the table”, and Gaurav Gupta says his boss rejects any suggestion of a cover price – however small.
“He wants everyone to get a copy who wants one.”
And whatever profits the paper makes are ploughed back into charities like St John Ambulance.