We salute Girmityas for their determination and sacrifice

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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 13, 2022

Thousands of Indo-Fijians will mark the 143rd Anniversary of the infamous Girmit Period tomorrow (May 14, 2022).

In Auckland, more than 1500 people including Ministers, Members of Parliament, community leaders and Indo-Fijians will gather at a special Remembrance Day, which will also mark the tenth anniversary of the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand, which is organising the event.

Many will remember having heard from their ancestors of the trauma and torture suffered by the early settlers who were taken to Fiji by the Colonial rulers to work as indentured labourers in sugar plantations and other farms.

Homage to the lost generation

Since Indian Newslink began almost 23 years ago, we have written about the sufferings of the hapless Indians during 41 years of Girmit and how even long after the end of the period of slavery and Fiji’s independence from Colonial Rule, the community continued to endure discrimination. We have always admired and saluted the determination of Indo-Fijians to progress in life, career and business against severe odds.

As we write this editorial to commemorate yet another Anniversary, we stand with the Indo-Fijian community in paying homage to those who worked under inhuman conditions for the sake of their ensuing generations.

Many of us from India would never understand the real feelings of this illustrious community. Even journalists like us who have covered wars, natural and man-made disasters and events that attract public attention were stupefied to discover the atrocities suffered by generations obscured by history – generations that subsisted in Fiji, only because they wanted their children to live amidst peace and plenty.

Their desire may have been fulfilled in the case of hundreds of thousands of Indo-Fijians who established their careers as businesspersons, professionals and employees in large, medium and small enterprises in Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and other countries in which the post-Girmit generations migrated, especially after the first coup in 1987.

We do not consider it redundant to repeat our earlier comments on this issue.

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)

Story of betrayal and torture

The story of the Indo-Fijians as indentured labourers is one of betrayal, torture, sacrifice and death. Successive generations have heard how their ancestors suffered the brutality of their colonial masters, whipped like animals and were pushed towards suicide- many of them ended their lives either hanging at home or falling into the nearby river; many others simply perished as a natural outcome of physical and mental abuse.

Indian community at the Girmitya Day held on May 7, 2021 (Photo Supplied)
Girmitya Day, May 7, 2021 guests (from left) Melissa Lee, Dr Neru Leavasa, Helen White, Phil Twyford, Meng Foon, Muktesh Pardeshi and Harish Lodhia

The world has scoffed at slavery and those who drove them but has seldom cared for the victims, unless the latter fought for their rights in strange lands and asserted themselves politically, socially and culturally, winning a rightful place in the society.

Africans in Europe, the US and Canada are prime examples of such self-determination but in the case of Fiji, people of Indian origin remained marginalised and relegated to secondary positions.

True, there are a number of success stories of people who have established their presence commercially and lifted Fiji’s economy in later years, especially after the country gained independence in 1970.

But they did not achieve success overnight; they too struggled, alongside their compatriots, risked their fortunes and promoted businesses. It is often said that without Indo-Fijian enterprise, the country’s economy would be far more impoverished and regressive than it is today.

We admire the Indo-Fijians for their diligence and perseverance and feel confident that they will continue to progress in their lives and careers. While the past cannot be forgotten, the lessons that they have drawn from it will help them to remain progressive and prosperous.

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