India and Fiji Indian diaspora are linked by history: Neeta Bhushan



Indian High Commissioner Neeta Bhushan (right) with Sashi Jokhan of APILA and Second Secretary (Press, Information and Culture) at the event held on April 1, 2023 (Photo by Virat Kishore)

Venu Menon
Wellington, April 3, 2023

The nostalgic pull of Bharat, the place of origin of their ancestors, drew members of the Fiji Indian diaspora to the new chancery premises of the High Commission of India in Wellington on April 1.

Splashes of colour brightened the high commission premises on Pipitea St as the womenfolk turned out in traditional Indian finery.

But the poignant history of the Fiji Indian community, with its legacy of Girmit or Indentured labourers who arrived in Fiji from mainland India in 1879 to toil on British-run plantations, brooded over the proceedings.

Shashi Jokhan, chairperson of the Asia Pacific Indian Ladies Association (APILA), who organised the event, captured that difficult past.

Addressing the audience, following a moving Bhojpuri and lively Sohar rendition by two young ladies, Jokhan said: “Our ancestors were taken away from their motherland Bharat and from their loved ones. It is difficult to comprehend the hardship and trauma undergone by our ancestors.”

Former Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand speaking at the event (Photo by Virat Kishore)

Turning to the two singers, Harsha and Kamini Singh, she added: “You have connected us with our roots by your singing.”

The event was held to break the ice between the newly appointed High Commissioner of India to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan and the Fiji Indian diaspora of Wellington.

High Commissioner Bhushan thanked the 200-odd guests for being part of the “cultural diaspora event” organised by the high commission. She described it as being important for promoting the strong cultural and people-to-people ties between India, New Zealand and Fiji.

“Wherever Indians migrated to –whether it was the Caribbean Islands, Mauritius, Seychelles or Fiji, or to New Zealand, the thread connecting them to India remained intact. The bond is historical,” she added.

She noted with satisfaction that the folk traditions of India were kept alive by the Fiji Indian diaspora and made a special reference to the elevation of Hindi as a national language in Fiji.

The High Commissioner conveyed Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s appreciation of the strong participation by the Fiji Indian contingent from New Zealand at the World Hindi Conference held in Fiji recently.

High Commissioner Bhushan was optimistic “that one of the regional conferences on Hindi could be [held] in New Zealand in the coming months.”

Members of the APILA Committee

Up next was former NZ Governor General Anand Satyanand who noted that NZ’s growing importance in the Indo-Pacific region “justified” the recent visit by Indian EAM Jaishankar to New Zealand. This was followed by a visit of NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta to New Delhi.

“The stage has now been set for even more links serving future political and business interests of both countries,” Satyanand observed.

He noted the diversity of the Indian diaspora in New Zealand.

“The Indian community is diverse, with people now living here who have come from a great many parts of India to make their homes and lives in Aotearoa New Zealand,” Satyanand said, adding: “A significant proportion of that Indian community is that which hails from Fiji.”

The evening closed with song and dance routines and the guests being treated to Fiji Indian delicacies such as millet pilaf with black eyed beans and mushroom, chickpea and cauliflower sabzi, bone-in chicken curry, tomato chutney and carrot pickle.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Wellington.

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