Leaders salute Girmityas as Fiji Indians remember their ancestors

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Auckland, May 31, 2024

 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was honoured with a Commemoration Plaque by Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand President Krish Naidu at the Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day held in Mangere East, Auckland on May 25, 2024.

Fiji Girmit Day held in Mangere East, Auckland on May 25, 2024 drew a crowd of 1200 people.

This was perhaps the largest indoor gathering of Fiji Indians in the world, with over 500 Seniors citizen Fiji Indians, to salute their forebears. 

The event, organised by the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand at the Malaeola Community Centre included a magnificent programme with cultural items, snacks and a sumptuous dinner, inspiring and encouraging speeches, skits and plays, and music depicting the hardship of Girmityas.

There were calls seeking identity and rights and recognition of Fiji Indians in New Zealand as Pacifica people, as their sacrifices and suffering were recalled with respect. The vision, resilience and perseverance of Girmityas were reflected in the current generation of Fiji Indian migrants to New Zealand.

For the first time in the history of New Zealand, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition jointly attended a Fiji Indian Function.

True Identity as Pacifica

Foundation President Krish Naidu thanked the sponsors and welcomed guests attending the historic Girmit Remembrance Day and echoed the recognition and identity of Fiji Indians being bypassed by the government. This plea was repeated to ensure that Fiji Indians come into the fold of Pacific Peoples and be recognised as such because, after Samoans, Fiji Indians comprise the largest number of Pacific people in New Zealand.

This was noted by both Christopher Luxon and Chris Hipkins.

They acknowledged the difficulties of Fiji Indian Girmityas, their suffering and the contributions of the community to the economic, social and cultural progress of New Zealand.

The night also belonged to Mr Hipkins, who not only mixed and mingled with the audience but also took photos and tasted Kava (Yaqona) the National drink of Fiji.

He stole the hearts of Fiji Indians, with his profound message on the historical facts of slavery which was reinvented by the British under the guise of indenture, subjugating millions of Indians in many parts of the world.

Mr Hipkins displayed his philosophical understanding and appreciation of the indentured labourers when invited to honour and remember.

Leader of the Opposition and Former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins with former Ministers Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Jenny Salesa at the Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day held in Mangere East, Auckland on May 25, 2024. Richard Kumar (left) and Foundation Chairman Sam Achary are also in the picture

Slavery in Fiji

“It is an honour to be here with you to remember the sacrifices of those who, 145 years ago, were forced to leave their homes to be enslaved in a land far away. Britain officially ended slavery in the early 18th Century. But the truth, for millions of Indians, and those we are here to remember today, is that slavery ended not in 1807, but in 1916.”

Indenture in Fiji began in 1879 and was forced to finish in 1916.

Fiji Indians were pleasantly surprised and elated.

“On the back of the open slave trade, an equally sinister system of labour was built. This is where Fiji’s Girmityas history begins, a period of systemic and forced recruitment and displacement of millions of people who never returned home,” Mr Hipkins said.

When Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand was established in 2012, its major objectives were to reclaim, retrieve and reconnect Fiji’s stolen history to its new generation. It was so fortunate to see a former and perhaps the future Prime Minister of New Zealand echoing these objectives.

“Part of who you are has been shaped by the greed and exploits of Colonial power, and by the decisions taken thousands of miles away more than 100 years ago. You are the heirs of this spirit. You are the holders and keepers of their stories. Playing our part in remembering them is not about redeeming those responsible for this disturbing and troubling past, but about hearing the stories of the people that went through it,” Mr Hipkins said.

Thirty Seniors including Ratan Kaur Singh (in the picture) were honoured at the Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day held in Mangere East, Auckland on May 25, 2024.

Learning from history

Mr Hipkins echoed the sentiments of reclaiming the stolen history of Fiji Indians.

“All of us have a responsibility to make sure that the history we learn and pass on to our children includes these realities. We can do this by telling the stories of the people for whom there may be no other record than a single thumbprint,” he said.

He reflected on his ancestry by saying that the stories of the children who left India with their parents wanted little more than what we want today – to provide for their children and to give them the opportunities they never had.

Mr Hipkins concluded by thanking and commending Fiji Indians for carrying the traits of their ancestors and remembering what happened 145 years ago.

This was perhaps one of the most dynamic, honest and self-examining plights of voiceless people to whom he had given a voice.

Depression and Suicide

Foundation Chairman Sam Achary (who is also the Managing Director of Anns Funeral and Cremations) spoke about Depression, which is becoming a serious problem in New Zealand in general and the Fiji Indian community in particular. He cited seven suicide cases of cremation in as many months at his Funeral Service. He urged Fiji Indians to use the resilience and compassion of Girmityas to tackle this vice in the community and replace the stigma with appreciation and acceptance of depression as real and be vigilant and compassionate.

The highlight of the evening was honouring and rewarding some 30 Seniors over 80 years old for carrying the baton of Girmityas and continuing the legacies and history of their resilience.

A huge salutation to the Trustees, Executives and volunteers of Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand, who, like Mr Hipkins, gave voice to the voiceless forgotten Girmityas and reclaimed and retrieved the stolen Fiji Girmit history.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a third-generation Fiji Indian, whose grandfather was an indentured labourer who arrived in Fiji in 1915 from Rajasthan, India. He is a Founding Trustee of the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand which organises the Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day every year in Auckland. Mr Singh is a journalist and media commentator, based in Auckland. The views expressed in the above article are his own and not necessarily those of Indian Newslink.

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