A place of pride for Indians in Fiji


Growing Indo-Fiji Partnership: India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with Fijian President Wiliame Katonivere after jointly inaugurating an F$1.3 million Solarisation Project on February 16, 2023. The Project is largely funded by India (PIB Photo)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, May 14, 2023

On this Girmit Day, as more than a half million Fiji Indians remember their ancestors who went to Fiji in the late 1800s to lead a life of hard work, suffering and sacrifice, Indian Newslink salutes them and offers its good wishes to the community.

Indian Newslink has been connected to the Fiji Indian community since its establishment. Founded by the son of a Girmitya, this newspaper has been singularly fortunate in enlisting the support of Fiji Indian businesses and people in its progress as a newspaper.

We will continue to promote the interests of the Fiji Indian community and report on their achievements and milestones.

Fiji will observe National Holiday tomorrow (May 15, 2023) since the ‘Girmit Day’ this year occurs on Sunday.

Significant announcement

For more than a million Fiji Indians spread across the world, the announcement by the Fijian government that Girmit Day will be an annual public holiday was welcome news.

For it was in the land of the South Pacific that thousands of labourers were taken to Fiji between 1879 and 1920 under the infamous indentured system and subject to appalling living and working conditions. To say the least, they were not treated like human beings.

During his visit to Fiji in February 2023 to attend the World Hindi Conference, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar described the government’s recognition of Girmit Day as significant.

It reflects the tremendous difficulties faced by Indians who came to Fiji through the indentured system, he said.

“The fact that Fiji marks the day is humbling as the sacrifices made by those that travelled miles from their homeland will always be remembered. The commemoration of Girmit Day is also a decision that has strong cultural resonance as such steps express our sense of mutual respect and understanding and has a deep impact on strengthening international cooperation,” Dr Jaishankar said.

The world has perhaps never seen a community of people who have forever been chased by ill luck and misfortune like the Fiji Indians have been all those years.

Girmityas, as they were called, suffered the worst effects of bonded labour, racism and inhuman treatment.

Parade of diabolism

Since they landed 144 years ago unbeknown of what was in store for them, history has witnessed the rule of diabolism and a parade of unacceptable events that have had a telling impact not only on the actual sufferers but also on their ensuing generations.

Two coups in 1987 and one in 2000 were developments that shook the confidence of most Fiji Indians and tens of thousands of them fled to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America in search of a new home and life.

Almost all of them have succeeded as engineers, medical practitioners, entrepreneurs, professionals and retailers. They have held the interest of governments and people wherever they went in their search for a new life and identity.

It is these people who will make their ancestors proud if they were alive today.

The coups and after

About 20 years ago, the Great Council of Chiefs tendered a public apology to Fiji’s Indian community for the excesses committed during the tumultuous coups staged by the country’s militants in 1987 and 2000. Three putsches during those years uprooted the lives of thousands of Fiji Indians who had considered the island their home for decades following the arrival of their fathers and ancestors to eke out a living. Fears of safety and uncertainty witnessed an exodus of families to New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the US and Canada.

From a practical standpoint, the feeling of hope and confidence that the Indian community in Fiji has reposed in the government of Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama and now Sitiveni Rabuka are understandable. For, Fiji Indians have been marginalised all their life and it is only in the past two decades that they have begun to feel secure.

Partners in Progress

From time to time, leaders have spoken of the hopes and dreams of a better life and greater opportunities that encouraged Indians to arrive in Fiji. The Indians of Fiji became a vital part of the country and have contributed to its progress.

Indians saw Fiji as a country that would support them and their families and provide opportunities for advancement. As the generations passed, Fiji gained strength from the enterprise of their descendants and their commitment to family, the welfare of the community, self-improvement and planning for the future.

Just how the future will develop for Fiji and with it for them in Fiji is not known but the people are upbeat about the present.

That would be the most important factor for progress; for, with a dead past and unborn future, it is sensible to live today.

 

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