At the 1951 census there were 2,425 Indians in New Zealand. In 1981, they numbered 11,244. But by 2001, the Indian population had surged to 62,646.
Twelve years on, in 2013, a total of 159,333 people said they had Indian, Fijian Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnicity. However, as some may have claimed more than one ethnicity, this is only a rough guide to the total Indian population.
Until 1981 steady growth was due to a number of factors, including a marked post-war diaspora of Indian people, and the arrival of the wives of the first Indian immigrants. During the 1980s, changes in immigration policy, along with political instability in other countries, brought many more Indians to New Zealand.
After the Second World War Indian women arrived in greater numbers to help in businesses that their husbands and fathers had set up. With the birth of children in New Zealand, the Indian community became more balanced and settled, and also more self-sufficient. Although the New Zealand government saw the arrival of women as assisting assimilation into the wider community, in some ways it had the opposite effect. The home-making contribution of women made it more feasible for Indians to follow traditional dietary practices. Women also revived some daily religious observances centred on the household.
It was difficult to follow a traditional Indian diet in 1950s New Zealand, especially for vegetarians. Many ingredients were unavailable, so some lateral thinking was needed. Indian women grew their own chillies, coriander, garlic and eggplant. They ground rice flour by hand, and bought rosewater and cardamom from the chemist. These days other New Zealanders also have a taste for Indian food, and restaurants offering different regional cuisines abound.
Before the 1970s it remained difficult for Indians not related to the earlier immigrants to enter New Zealand. However, a small number of Fijian Indians arrived in the mid-1960s. In 1972–73, 243 Asians (including many of Indian ethnicity) were accepted as refugees after being expelled from Uganda.
In the 1980s the official attitude towards Asian immigration relaxed and some business migrants arrived. Following the 1987 and 2000 military coups in Fiji, many Fijian Indians were accepted on humanitarian grounds. And since the 1990s small numbers of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have become established. In 2013 there were 2,853 Pakistanis and 1,476 Bangladeshis.
From the 1970s the opening of supermarkets changed shopping patterns. It was about this time that many Indians invested in dairies (convenience stores), which could make a small profit by operating for extended hours. Others started video stores or restaurants in the 1980s. While many Indians are still employed in retail work and market gardening, others, both men and women, have moved into skilled jobs and the professions, including medicine, education and information technology.