Homage to Girmityas for their fortitude and sacrifice

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May 14 will also mark the 10th Anniversary of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ

Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ President Krish Naidu (right) with Harnam Golian (left) and others at the Girmitya Day
held on May 7, 2021 (Photo Supplied)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, May 2, 2022

The Fiji-Indian community is organising its annual assembly to pay tribute to their ancestors for their fortitude and sacrifice during the infamous period of ‘Girmit, which robbed them of their freedom and peace of mind from 1894 to 1920.

The event organised by the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand will be held from 5.30 pm at the Malaeola Community Centre located at 16 Waokauri Place in the South Auckland suburb of Mangere. The theme of the evening will be ‘Remembering, Celebrating and Advocating Fiji Indian Heritage, Identity and Diaspora.’

President Krish Naidu said that May 14 this year will also mark the tenth anniversary of the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand. More than 1500 guests, including Ministers, MPs and community leaders are expected to be at the programme which will include dinner.

Mr Naidu said that May 14 has been a day of significance for the Fiji Indian community for the past 143 years.

Botany MP (and now National Party Leader) Christopher Luxon with senior members of the Fiji Indian community at the Girmitya Day held on May 7, 2021 (Photo Supplied)

“On this day in, the first ship Leonidas landed 481 (Girmityas) in Fiji, which followed 86 other ships that transported 60,495 Indians who largely worked as slaves in the sugarcane plantations. The indenture system succeeded the system of slavery, following its abolishment in 1833, which created an acute labour shortage in the British colonies. To cater for the labour needs, the British who ruled India recruited over 1.2 million Indians to work in its colonies. The indenture system was slavery by another name except that it was a contractual agreement for five years,” he said.

Mr Naidu said that since a majority of the indentured workers were unable to pronounce the word ‘Agreement,’ they called it ‘Girmit’, an acronym that came to identify that period (1879-1920) and they came to be identified as the ‘Girmityas’.

History manipulated

According to Mr Naidu, alarmingly, history books are silent on our early history and successive generations of our people have been estranged from knowing their ancestry. The manipulation of our past means that we inherited a history of blank pages but scholars and writers from our community are belatedly filling them. It is now clear that Girmit escaped the history books to protect those responsible for commissioning atrocious crimes against the Girmityas.

“The working and living conditions of the Girmityas were so atrocious that Fiji had the highest rate of suicide in the world during the Girmit era. In addition, Fiji had the highest rate of infanticide among the colonies that deployed indentured labour,” he said.

Mr Naidu said that one writer has claimed that infanticide was a deliberate ploy of the plantation owners, as it freed the mothers to return to work without having to care for their babies.

The Girmityas had no recourse to justice, as the courts delivered selective justice, generally favouring the plantation owners, he said.

Girmitya Day, May 7, 2021 guests (from left) Melissa Lee, Dr Neru Leavasa, Helen White, Phil Twyford, Meng Foon, Muktesh Pardeshi and Harish Lodhia

About the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand

The Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand was formed in 2013 to reconnect, reclaim and restore Fiji Indian history and create awareness among the descendants of the Girmityas of their tragic but fascinating early history.

“The Foundation organises commemorative events every year, marking the arrival of Leonidas in Fiji. This year’s event is special. The Programme will include candle vigilance, speeches, cultural songs and items, oratory by children and the elderly, and presentation of Awards and entertainment.

A section of the audience at the Girmitya Day held on May 7, 2021 (Photo Supplied)

“The Remembrance Day will also be an occasion to celebrate our identity and the economic, social and cultural contributions that we have made to the progress of Fiji, the South Pacific and New Zealand. It is through that such success stories we can empower our younger generations to carry the legacy of Girmit forward, protecting and promoting the values of hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice,” Mr Naidu said.

Further information can be obtained from him on 027-7055572. Email: presidentfgfnz@gmail.com

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