Christchurch Sikh community increases 10-fold since earthquakes

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Quality of life trumps the lure of larger cities with more jobs, Uber driver Yadwinder Singh says.

He is part of a Sikh community that has grown rapidly from about 1000 people pre-earthquakes to more than 10,000 who call Christchurch home.

Singh moved to Christchurch with his wife and 20-month-old daughter eight months ago from Auckland.

After moving from Punjab in 2015, a job opportunity as a kindergarten teacher for his wife brought them south.

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It is the quality of life, the lack of traffic, and the affordability of housing that will keep them here. “We are happy here,” Singh said.

The family have now got residency and hope to buy a home in the next six months.

‘’[Christchurch] looks like Punjab [Northern India] because it’s all flat. I really like that as well.’’

Arwinder Singh, left, and Narinder Singh Warraich, right, came to NZ as a student and now owns several businesses in Christchurch.

STACY SQUIRES/Stuff

Arwinder Singh, left, and Narinder Singh Warraich, right, came to NZ as a student and now owns several businesses in Christchurch.

Canterbury Punjabi Association president Narinder Singh Warraich said the city’s rebuild initially attracted Sikh manufacturers and builders but has grown with the arrival of drivers, restauranteurs and agricultural workers.

Warraich moved to New Zealand in 2009 as an international student moving to Christchurch in 2012 for work in a sawmill. He now owned food outlets in Amberley and Woodend, and had a taxi business.

Shortly before the quakes, the Punjabi Association had bought an old church to convert into a temple but it was severely damaged forcing them to hold weekly prayers at the Cashmere Club for about four years.

The growing Sikh community now fill two temples for Sunday prayers – about 700 in Woolston and 300 in Riccarton – each week.

Christchurch has two Sikh temples; in Woolston and Riccarton.

Stacy Squires/Stuff

Christchurch has two Sikh temples; in Woolston and Riccarton.

Charity work is a large part of the Sikh religion with an expectation they donate 10 per cent of their income to the temple’s volunteer efforts, or on chosen charities.

Food is prepared after prayers and given to anyone in need.

Stacy Squires/Stuff

Food is prepared after prayers and given to anyone in need.

Both temples had an open-kitchen policy and donate food to the homeless every week. Due to Covid-19 safety restrictions, it was now delivering groceries instead of home-cooked meals.

Following the March 15, 2019, shooting they offered a place to stay to Muslim families and many like Warraich volunteered at the Hagley crisis centre.

March 15 was “scary” for any migrant or ethnic minority, and even he reconsidered living in Christchurch, he said.

“The day of 15 March, I was not feeling safe, but after one week I said, this is my town, it is safe.

“The future is looking good.”

Yadwinder Singh with his wife Gagandeep Kaur and their child Gursifat Kaur 2

Stacy Squires/Stuff

Yadwinder Singh with his wife Gagandeep Kaur and their child Gursifat Kaur 2

Every spring Sikhs celebrate Canterbury Turban Day in Cathedral Square, where members of the public can learn how to wear a turban.

The turban, considered a crown by Sikh men was part of their identity, along with long hair and beards. “We keep it as we got from our God naturally.

Sikhism is the country’s fastest growing religion according to the latest Census, with about 41,000 now in New Zealand.



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