By Qiuyi Tan | NZ Herald |
Mandeep Kaur cried a lot in the six years she was separated from her two children.
She had to leave them in India with her parents when she came to New Zealand – “the saddest years of my life”, the 52-year-old police officer recalls.
This month, Mandeep became the first India-born woman to reach the rank of senior sergeant in the New Zealand Police. A poster child for ethnic and gender diversity in the public service, her children have grown up and she is a proud grandmother of two.
Official data from February 2021 shows nearly 426,000 migrants in New Zealand, up 18 per cent from 2011.
Many of these journeys started with failure.
“Dark spots can either push you deeper into the ditch, or [make you go] up somewhere to find the light,” Mandeep tells the Weekend Herald.
Born to a conservative family in Punjab, Mandeep is tall for an Indian woman. When she was growing up her mother would say, ‘you could have joined the police if you were a boy’. But uniformed jobs in India at the time were for men, and women did less adventurous work. “It was my mother who gave me the police dream,” she says.
She was married just before she turned 18, and gave birth to her daughter at 19 when she was in her final year of college. She was breastfeeding when she took her final written paper.
She pressed on and got her degree in political science and sociology. It was an arranged marriage and had its ups and downs, so she knew that being independent was important, and a university education was a big part of that.
Her marriage ended in 1992. She moved back to her parents’ home with two young children in tow, and waited for her husband to come back for her. In her culture, broken marriages are often blamed on wives.
“It’s not the norm, so you get judged when your marriage doesn’t work and you become dependent on your family.”
Her husband never came. She was miserable, but it pushed her to pack her bags for an opportunity. She’d overheard her parents chatting to their neighbours whose son was in Australia. He had only been away for six months and already sent home tens of thousands of rupees. She wanted to do the same for her family.
The day of her departure, her father took her two children out for a KitKat. Amardeep was only 6 and Parneet 8 at the time. They did not say goodbye, not knowing she was going away. It would have been too hard, too emotional, she says. For many years after that, she did not eat KitKat. It still hurts when she thinks of that day.
She couldn’t speak much English when she landed in Australia in 1996. For the next six years, she would be a long-distance mother, prevented from bringing her children over by a complicated custody battle with her ex-husband.
Her first job in Australia was a door-to-door salesperson getting homeowners to change telephone services. She remembers what it was like on the sidewalk on a rainy day, trying to keep a flimsy piece of paper out of the rain because it has her lines written on it.
“I was able to read and write but I couldn’t really speak. So I’d written my pitch on a piece of paper and I’d go door to door to sell.”
She learned to use cardboard wrapped in plastic and how to read a map. “It helped me build the confidence to speak with people and go beyond the sale to talk about other things.”
She also drove a taxi, a job she continued when she came to New Zealand in 1999. One night she was discussing happiness with a passenger, a psychologist who said that realising a childhood dream can be a source of happiness. That got her thinking about her old police fantasy.
Read the full story, ‘From taxi driver to top NZ cop: Indian woman’s incredible story’ (NZ Herald, 20 March 2021), here.
This is Mukhjot Kaur from Hong Kong Police (Asia Samachar, 25 Feb 2021)