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In the six years that Mandeep Kaur spent apart from her two children, she wept a lot. She had to leave them in India with her parents when she arrived in New Zealand - "the hardest years of my life", the 52-year-old police officer recounts.

Mandeep was promoted to senior sergeant in the New Zealand Police in 2021, making her the first woman of Indian descent to hold that position.Her children are grown up and she is a proud grandma of two and a model for ethnic and gender diversity in the public sector.

 Official data from February 2021 shows nearly 426,000 migrants in New Zealand, up 18 per cent from 2011.Not everyone becomes successful,many of these journeys started with failure.

According to Mandeep's comments to the Weekend Herald, dark spots can either push you deeper into the ditch or [make you walk] up somewhere to find the light.

Mandeep was born into a traditional household in Punjab, and she has an unusually tall height for an Indian woman. Her mother often reminded her as she was growing up that if she had been a boy, she may have joined the police force. But, at the time, men were the only ones allowed to work in uniform in India, and women were relegated to less dangerous positions. She believes that her mother is the one who inspired her to pursue a career in law enforcement.

She got married shortly before she became 18 years old and  had her daughter when she was 19 years old and was finishing up her final year of college . While she was taking her final written exam, she was breastfeeding her baby.

She didn't give up and eventually earned degrees in political science as well as sociology. Because it was an arranged marriage that had its ups and downs, she was aware of the significance of becoming independent, and she understood that obtaining a university education was significant.

Her marriage ended in 1992. She took her two young children with her and moved back in with her parents while she awaited the return of her husband to take care of the family. In her society, wives are frequently held responsible for broken marriages.

She said, “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 in a terrible situation, yet it spurred her to get ready to take advantage of this opportunity. She had eavesdropped on her parents' conversation with their next-door neighbours, who had a son living in Australia. Even though he had only been gone for half a year, he had already wired tens of thousands of rupees back to his family. She hoped to do the same for her own family.

On the day that she was leaving, her father took both of her children out for a KitKat. At the time, Amardeep was only 6 years old, while Parneet was 8 years old. Because they were unaware that she was leaving, they did not say their goodbyes. According to her, it would have been too challenging and too emotionally taxing. After that incident, she abstained from eating KitKats for a considerable amount of time. She still feels the pain thinking about the day.

When she first arrived in Australia in 1996, she had a limited command over the English language. She would have to raise her children from a distance for the next six years because she was locked in a complicated custody battle with her ex-husband, which prevented her from bringing her kids over.

First gig in Australia 

Her first employment in Australia was as a door-to-door salesperson in Australia, where she was responsible for convincing households to switch telephone providers. She can still vividly recall the experience of standing on the sidewalk during a rainstorm while attempting to protect a flimsy piece of paper from the precipitation because it contained her lines.

"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 became proficient in reading maps and using cardboard that had been wrapped in plastic."It helped me build the confidence to speak with people and go beyond the sale to talk about other things."

In addition, she worked as a cab driver, a profession she kept after moving to New Zealand in 1999. She was travelling one night when she struck up a conversation with a passenger who turned out to be a psychologist. During their conversation, the passenger mentioned that achieving one's childhood desire might be a source of happiness. That sparked her memory of an old police fantasy she used to have. Mandeep Says that she realised early that people love to help people who help themselves.

Kiwi Dad-Her support system 

She talks about a retired police officer named John Pegler, who passed away. She refers to him affectionately as her Kiwi dad.

Mandeep resided at the YMCA women's lodge in Auckland, and Pegler worked there as the night receptionist there. Pegler would prepare her a steaming mug of Milo at the end of her shift as a cab driver, then sit and listen to her while regaling her with tales from his previous career as a police officer.

She related to him her aspiration to one day become a member of the police force. He was the first to bring her a career info pack after springing into action and being the first to do so.

"I remember him saying how important it was for New Zealand migrants to have people of their own ethnicity represent them in the police force."

Pegler gave her hope that her dream could come true. Her parents, children, friends, and a long number of individuals in her life, including police officers who teach physical education, have all supported her along the road, she adds.

"If you look around you there are always people who can help. Look for those opportunities and reach out. Grab them to make a difference within yourself, then you can make a difference in the world out there."

Shunning her inhibitions to succeed

Learning to swim, which was a necessity for her to join the police force, was the most difficult thing she's ever done. She had never been in a swimming pool before because she came from a very traditional family. She further claims that in order to "become fit," she had to shed 20 kgs.

Her children arrived in New Zealand as teenagers in 2002. She put on a police uniform for the first time two years later. Talking about her own failures and tribulations she says,"It makes you better at understanding people who may be in the same place you were once at." 

She believes that everyone has strengths that should be found and boosted with confidence. Everyone faces difficulties. She used to be a senior policeman who helped victims of family violence. She enjoyed her work but was disappointed that she couldn't advance to a decision-making position and do more. She was mourning  her mother who she had lost and then Covid hit.

"I must have applied for so many positions to be promoted, and so many times I didn't get it," she said.

She'd tell herself, "One more time," every time she didn't match the standard. She was promoted to senior sergeant, a position below Inspector, one of those occasions. Senior sergeants make up 5% of the police force, and they frequently have tactical command and lead policing actions across an entire district.

In 2021, Mandeep relocated to Police National Headquarters in Wellington for her new position as senior engagement adviser in a team responsible for preventing damage in New Zealand's ethnic groups.

"My grandkids were born here. I want to leave this country a better place for them so they don't face issues as the children of migrants."


*Based on an article by Qiuyi Tan, published in The New Zealand Herald on 19th March 2021


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