Fiji-Indians to pay homage to their ancestors in Wellington


Remembrance Day on May 13 at Indian Cultural Hall, Petone

In homage to the Girmityas of Fiji (Photo Supplied)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, May 9, 2023

Fiji-Indians in the capital will pay homage to their ancestors and recall their sacrifices and the suffering that they endured as indentured labourers at a special event this weekend.

The Fiji Indian Association Wellington is organising the ‘Fiji Remembrance Day’ in association with the North Wellington Senior Citizens Club on Saturday, May 13, 2023 from 11 am at the Indian Cultural Hall located at 2A Udy Street in Petone, Lower Hutt.

Entry to the event, sponsored by Kiwi Fern Immigration Services and supported by the Indian High Commission and Vert Construction, is free and open to all.

Fiji Indian Association Wellington President Rattan Prakash said that the daylong activities will include ‘something for everyone,’ and that the objective is to remember the Girmityas and improve the awareness of the Indo-Fijian history among the younger members of the community.

The infamous Girmit era

“We have heard about the appalling living and working conditions of our ancestors who were taken from India to Fiji with the promise of better life. And yet, they were subject to humiliation, physical and mental abuse and racial discrimination. They endured all that pain in the hope that their succeeding generations will be better off,” he said.

Mr Prakash said that the ancestors who went as indentured labourers (known as Girmityas) between 1879 and 1920 wanted their children and grandchildren to be well educated and provided with equal opportunities to progress in life.

“The Girmit Remembrance Day is a humble tribute that we can pay to our great, great grandparents of the 19th and 20th centuries and pledge to work together for the common good. We remember them with respect and offer our prayers,” he said.

Mr Prakash said that the programme will include an Exhibition, short films on Girmit and activities for children from 11 am to 1 pm.

Popular Fiji-Indian snacks including Gulgula and Lakdi Mithai will be served, along with other indigenous food, he added.

The Girmit Remembrance Day brings back the painful memories of a dark era in Fiji (File Photo of Girmit Remembrance Day in Wellington)

Awareness among the youth

The programme in the evening, beginning at 6.30 pm will witness entertainment items.

“Wellington’s emerging folk singers from Sargam, local artiste Jimi Nathu, Prakash Chand from Sydney, Australia and Jiya, the ‘Recovery Dancer,’ will be among the performers.

The highlight of the evening will be a Girmit Music Show produced by Nadia Freeman and students of the Wellington Hindi School, followed by Fiji-Indian dinner,” he said.

Mr Prakash said that Divesh Prakash will be the Master of Ceremonies and that many other young leaders of the Fiji-Indian community are involved with Remembrance Day.

“We believe that it is important to include the young generation in the planning and execution of such historic events, with the mentoring and guidance of senior leaders of the Fiji-Indian community,” Mr Prakash said.

As well as Mr Prakash, senior members of the Fiji-Indian community involved with the Girmit Remembrance Day are Nirmala Balram, Sunita Narayan, Sesh Ram and Jiten Pratap.

Sir Anand Satyanand: The hard times

In an article published in our May 15, 2004 issue, Sir Anand Satyanand, then an Ombudsman (two years later he was appointed Governor General of New Zealand), said, “Like many other New Zealand readers of Indian Newslink, when the moment comes to say who you are and where you came from, the first thing is my links go back from New Zealand to Fiji and its people and thence to India.”

“My links are therefore also with those who underwent the narak (hell) of the former Girmit times in Fiji, facing the spectre of disenfranchisement through the more recent coups d’état in that country.

Nirmala Balram and Meena Pratap, Organisers of the Girmit Exhibition in Wellington (Photo Supplied)

Saga of sacrifice

“The second thing is to record the magnificent effort over the years of the generations of people of Indian origin, who, having endured the rigours of the Girmit period in Fiji and who then forged a life for themselves and their families.

There were many obstacles such as achieving a common language and a common identity not known to and different from the communities they had been part of before recruitment for indenture.

By means of sacrifice, the new citizens’ efforts were channelled towards personal survival and then achieving education for their children and only then followed by financial and societal security. Their ongoing struggle has not been straight forward with such things as political equality still proving to be elusive.

However, the resilience and versatility that characterised grandparents has seen Fiji-Indians contribute to life in business and the professions and government not only in Fiji but also in other countries to which migration has come about, notably Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada.

Fiji is a fine country with fine people of many kinds residing in it, indigenous and otherwise. At many levels in schooling, sport and business there is an ongoing and growing contact, friendship and optimism about the future,” he said.

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