Growing importance of Hindi gratifies Fijians


Venkat Raman
Auckland, February 19, 2023

Fiji is perhaps the only country outside India to have Hindi as an Official Language and its growing importance was recognised and promoted at an international conference last week.

Inaugurating the 12th World Hindi Conference at the Sheraton Fiji Resort in Denarau Island in Nadi, Fiji on February 15, 2023, Fijian President Wiliame Katonivere, said that Hindi has been accorded a national status in his country.

“Hindi spoken in Fiji is commonly known as Fiji-Hindi or Fiji Baat, which is derived from varieties of Hindi that were used by indentured labourers during the indentured system era which varies from the traditional Hindi, spoken in India.  Hindi vernacular is a mandated subject for the students in Fiji’s primary schools and optional at secondary and tertiary levels. More recently, Hindi and the iTaukei (Indigenous) language translation has been re-introduced into Parliament sessions,” he said.

Stating that the World Hindi Conference was appropriate, Mr Katonivere said that the United Nations has recognised this decade (2022-2032) as the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

Worldwide popularity

“As one of the top five most spoken languages in the world, the efforts by the government of India for the promotion of Hindi at the international level, and to get Hindi recognised as an official UN language are commendable. Language plays a pivotal role in preserving culture as it establishes a distinctive linguistic identity that brings a feeling of belonging, mutual respect, and trust in each other,” he said.

Mr Katonivere said that with the abolition of the indenture system in 1920, some had chosen to remain in Fiji, whilst others returned to India.

“People who stayed call this country their home and have contributed immensely towards the socio-economic development of modern Fiji.  Presently, Fiji’s population comprises 62% iTaukei (indigenous) people, 34.2% Fijians of Indian descent and 3.8% of other races. Our cultural diversity has presented us with the privilege to hear and learn many languages spoken in Fiji, experience fascinating festivals and religious events throughout the year, listen to a variety of music, enjoy different culinary experiences, and witness unique cultural rites of passage accorded by different ethnic communities that make up Fiji. Bollywood movies are a favourite. Fijians love to watch Bollywood films accompanied by singalongs, laughter and dance,” he said.

Performances highlighting the cultural heritage of India formed a part of the three-day World Hindi Conference held in Fiji (Fiji Government Photo)

The Hindi Maha Kumbh

India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the main host of the Conference on behalf of the Indian government, hoped that the World Hindi Conference will be a ‘Hindi Maha Kumbh’ (Great Festival of Hindi) where people from all over the world can connect.

He also hoped that the Conference will become a global networking platform in Hindi.

“We have assured Fiji that India will help in fulfilling the demand for teaching Hindi, Tamil and many other languages. The Indian community is spread all over the world and has achieved its own milestones. The community is today an enormous asset to India, the country in which they live and the world,” he said.

Dr Jaishankar said that Fiji is an important partner in the Indo-Pacific equation and that India has had a historic and established relationship with Fiji for centuries.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the government of Fiji for partnering with us on this very important cultural, heritage exercise we do regularly. The arrangements made were truly exceptional,” he said.

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka acknowledged the aspirations of the participants to promote Hindi in Fiji and other parts of the world.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics Dr Biman Prasad said that Fiji was fortunate to host the 12th World Hindi Conference.

“India is the global leader and there is so much more for us here in Fiji to gain, learn and appreciate about India. This World Hindi Conference is a historical event for Fiji and people who love Hindi,” he said.

Hindi in New Zealand

Sunita Narayan, who has been involved with the Wellington Hindi School since 1995, spoke about Hindi Education in New Zealand.

Outlining the challenges, she said that the effort to get Hindi included in the Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendments Bill was not successful.

Himani Mishra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Among the serious challenges that we face in New Zealand include the absence of a standard curriculum even if Hindi can be taught in community-based schools, lack of appropriate resources, inadequate teaching skills, proficiency in teaching Hindi and attitude of families. As an educator, I have created opportunities to solve some of the issues. The key to addressing these issues is to collaborate with teachers and experts and create resources that suit the New Zealand environment,” she said.

Ms Narayan regretted the declining interest among families and young people around the world towards Hindi and posed the question: Are we asking our families and young people ‘what is their dream for Hindi?’

Himani Mishra, who runs a Hindi School and a charity organisation for migrant women and children in Invercargill, presented a paper on Hindi literature and culture.

“The relationship between literature, culture and language is unbreakable because the more effective expression of the culture of a country and the world is done better through literature than through any other medium; This depends on the language,” she said.

Ms Mishra said that literature aims to be inclusive which makes it the carrier of culture.

“Writers take the text from the environment around them and from the world in which they are experienced and language it. They weave their culture and environment through their experiences in such a way that the reader finds them interesting,” she said.

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