Thursday, June 28, 2018

WELCOME TO OUR VILLAGE, NEVE ARDERN-GAYFORD - AOTEAROA IS BLESSED WITH A WEE ANGEL


Thakur Ranjit Singh

Many months ago, I had already predicted on Radio Tarana that IT WILL BE A GIRL.

And in my Facebook posting, yours truly repeated that prophecy and prediction over 6 hours before the delivery again. On the day of Winter Solstice (shortest day) on 21 June, 2018, I repeated that it would be a bundle of little goddess - A GIRL.

And indeed, Neve Te Aroha Ardern-Gayford, as she was christened, was born later in the day. My Hindu calendar says 21 June, 2018 was “Durgashtami” (birth of Hindu Goddess Durga). So, it was another blessing to the nation.
Strangely, I could hardly find any other journalist or media which ventured on the challenge of a prediction.

Welcome to our village, wee one. Neve Te Aroha Ardern-Gayford (middle) with her parents- Jacinda Ardern (left) and Clark Gayford. FIJI PUNDIT had predicted that it would be a little goddess- A GIRL. And we have a wee angel, Neve.
FIJI PUNDIT is quite used to it - and was correct in past predictions as well.  Prior to the election, I had predicted that Jacinda Ardern would be the next Prime Minister after a Hail Mary pass from Andrew Little.

After the election and the first count, I predicted an additional seat to Labour and the Greens –and again was right.

And I had also predicted change in National Party leadership, and Bill English, (now Sir) would be rolled unless he left before 2020 election. And he left and there is a new National Party leader.

And on Diwali night of 19 October, 2017, I had predicted that Winston Peters would click left, and pick Labour. The rest is history. I wish to reflect back to that historical and eventful Diwali night:

As I was getting ready for Diwali Pooja at about 6pm when Winston was expected to announce his verdict, I was called by Shalen Shandil of Radio Tarana and had the Indian Newslink editor, Venkat Raman on the other line, to discuss our predictions. Both of us were election commentators and observers at Radio Tarana’s Facebook live streaming radio broadcast on Election Day on 23 September, 2017. And I predicted that Winston will choose left - the Labour. And Raman concurred with me on this prediction.

In my Diwali prayers I had requested Lakshmi Mata-the mother of wealth and prosperity, for better fortunes for all of us. And she did listen. We were delivered an incarnation of goddess of wealth and prosperity for all the people of New Zealand. Like that darkest night of Diwali, the nation longed to be rescued from the darkness. And additionally, Aotearoa needed to be rescued from the neglect and heartlessness of nine years.

Jacinda Ardern-an epitome of positivity and a Prime Minister with a heart and empathy with the poorer sections of NZ community. On Diwali night 2017, FIJI PUNDIT had wished Laxmi Mata for an angel who could deliver us away from darkness. And she was delivered as the Prime Minister.
This millennial Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern created many firsts, which among others included being somebody with a heart, very close to people, who could come down from her ivory tower and have empathy with the vulnerable, be a grassroots person and seamlessly holding the coalition Government together with her inclusive quality. But most important was the positivity that oozed out of her.

It was not difficult to predict it would be a girl, as girls have a heart of gold, they project positivity, and anybody with a girl, and a granddaughter can reflect the happiness they bring. Her elevation as PM brought joy and delight to the hitherto suffering poorer “underclass”. Since Jacinda came to power, this tenderness was passed to common people while, I presume the little one, was prodding and gently nudging this Hail Mary in her womb. 

As Jacinda is the age of my millennial daughter Ragni Singh Chand, I feel I have also become a grandfather (Nana). And my only granddaughter Rania Roma Chand has got a little baby cousin sister, enhancing the inclusivity that the baby’s mother promotes. This is similar to what the Managing Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir, Auckland, Pravin Kumar reflected on my Facebook prediction: You will soon become a proud nana (maternal grandfather) for the 2nd time

And how true he was. 

The pleasure for this young couple, will be shared by all who have had experience of being parents. NZ Herald of the day after, (June 22, 2018) summed it fittingly:

The birth of the baby is…a demonstration of what is possible here. A woman young enough to have her first baby is Prime Minister of this country. It is almost unprecedented, remarkable enough to attract attention world around.

And a letter-writer in NZ Herald quipped in praising PM’s Baby for cracking glass ceiling for girls:

Girls can now dream of holding the highest office in the land - and holding their baby at the same time

FIJI PUNDIT, Nana (grandfather) to Rania and Neve Te Aroha Ardern-Gayford joins in unison with the nation to proclaim: Welcome to our village, wee one!

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and political observer. He runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand. E-Mail: thakurji@xtra.co.nz]

Thursday, June 14, 2018

PART 2: FIJI GIRMIT COUNCIL - Moving Ahead and rejuvenation -Tiger Zinda Hai


Thakur Ranjit Singh

Part 1 of the article spoke about the history and plight of Fiji Girmit Council (FGC), and its story, of being an injured tiger needing compassion: Ek Tha Tiger - once it was something.

This article is about how this tiger is alive and able to come kicking if its 10 affiliates come together to remove the thorns in its feet. Yes, it is alive- Tiger Zinda Hai - it can be great once again.

Girmit Centre is our heritage, but unfortunately it is not receiving the support and attention from some member organisations. All affiliates need to start taking interest in reviving the centre to its past glory, and thus pay homage to our Girmitiyas. It is requested all affiliated consider recommendations given below and enable this heritage a worthy memory to our forebears.

With 12.5 acres of land, and over 8 acres still unused there is a great deal of potential. We call upon Fiji Indian Diaspora and those Girmitiya children with skills, resources and pride in their heritage to add value to it, in light of recommendations below. Hence, let us join hands, and put our heads (and wallets) together to move ahead.

British Indian Raj and its successor Indian Governments after independence had virtually disinherited and forgotten its stolen children in Fiji.

With renewed interest of Indian Government in Pacific in general and Fiji in particular, this is an opportunity for the Indians to appease the ghost of Girmit. [This of course is due to counteracting Chinese influence in the Pacific region India and the Western World had idnored].

It would be highly commendable for Modi’s BJP Indian Government to redeem India’s past desertion and neglect of Fiji Indians for some 14 decades. After all, those over 35,000 Girmitiyas who chose or were forced to settle back in Fiji, were Indian citizens. We pray India to give a helping hand to realise some or most of the recommendations below. 

Suggested Recommendations:

1) ORGANISE AND AWAKEN AFFILIATES , AND ORGANISE 140 YEARS GIRMIT CARNIVAL:

Sanatan, Muslim League, Arya Samaj, Sikh Association, Gujarat Samaj, TISI Sangam, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Andhra Sangam, Council of Churches and Kabir Panth - they all need to be reminded to fulfil their obligations, pay membership levy and appoint credible delegates. Those not wishing to join or pay may send non-voting delegates, and those wishing to opt out should be given that discretion. 

FGC needs to reassemble and come with strategic plans for next 12 months that includes 140th year celebration, and also a mid-term plan (5 years) and long term plan (10 year).

For 140th year Carnival, I recommend an experienced and very capable candidate, National President of TISI, Mr Sadasivan Naicker be appointed by the reconvened Executives as Chairman of 140th Girmit Celebration Committee. 

Rajendra Prasad (left) Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ and Vinod Patel, Trustee of Fiji Girmit Council at plaque commemorating 125 years of Girmit at Fiji Girmit Centre. It is recommended a similar plaque be unveiled by PM of the day on 14 May, 2019 for 140th Anniversary, and that day be declared a Public Holiday in Fiji.

2) REQUEST FIJI GOVERNMENT TO DECLARE 14 MAY AS PUBLIC HOLIDAY FOR GIRMIT THANKSGIVING DAY

Fiji Girmit Council be requested to add voice and already submitted plea from Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ to declare 14 May as Girmit Thanksgiving Day in Fiji with a public Holiday. 

3) CONVERTING CENTRE FOR INCOME GENERATION

Immediate capital improvements at the centre should make it attractive for wedding and other events needing catering facilities. A modern kitchen with all associated facilities be added to make it into a suitable wedding, social, cultural, corporate and religious venue, among others.

4) PROVIDING ACCOMODATION FACILITIES

As a supplement to providing wedding venue, especially for visiting overseas people, the centre should aim to provide accommodation facilities. Girmitiya descendants who are architects and builders/contractors, be requested to design and build living facilities they can donate/subsidise and name after their Girmitiya forebears, e.g. Bansi, Muthu Sami, Rehman unit, etc.

5) GIRMIT VATIKA (Orchard)

Develop an orchard/forest/green area by dedicating at least one acre (may be more) of landscaped garden. It should be planted with, among others, income-generating plant, trees and fruit plants close to Girmitiyas. Among others, they may include Sandalwood, Mango, Bel, Imli (tamarind), Banana, Jackfruit, Salipha, Neem, Kaju, Jamun, Guava, Balawa (pundanus), bamboo etc.
Totaram Sanadhya may be perhaps one unsung Girmit hero who need to be recognised. Therefore, we may name it (Totaram) Sanadhya Vatika

This Plaque was erected and unveiled by Prime Minister of Fiji in 2004 by Laisenia Qarase during 125th Anniversary commemoration of  arrival of first Girmitiyas. It is recommended that for 140th Anniversary on 14 May 2019, a carnival be organised with wider Girmit-related activities. Prime Minister of the day be requested to unveil a plaque and also declare 14 May as Girmit Thanksgiving  Day Public Holiday.

6) EXPAND LIBRARY- SHIFT BRIJ AND PADMA LIBRARY TO CENTRE

Expand the existing Library, and request the shift of Brij and Padma Library at Saweni to Girmit centre. Special plea should go to the new Government to remove travel ban on Professor Brij Lal, and he (including Padma) be invited to formally open the Library as part of 140 years celebration.

7) FGC TO BE DECLARED POLITICALLY AND RELIGIOUSLY NEUTRAL

While the inaugurating document declares that FGC is apolitical and religiously-neutral, it needs to be reiterated because of some misinformation and disinformation. People need to be assured of its impartial and neutral stance in all issues. The last thing FGC should be used is as a launching pad for political, religious and academic opportunism.

8) GIRMIT MUSEUM

Girmit Centre should be housing all items relating to Girmit period, and a museum should be introduced. People should be requested to donate all old items to be housed in the Girmit Centre for preservation for future generations.

This is a wood "Kholu" at Girmit Centre. It is is rotated by bullocks to extract oil from sesame (till) and make other vegetable oils. It was gifted to Girmit Council by Muthuswami Pillay, a Girmitiya and his sons Nadesan Pillay, Ram Sami Pillay and Keshwan Pillay of Tagi Tagi, Tavua. Similarly, we could collect other old items to develop a Girmit Museum for new generations to see how our Girmitiyas lived their modest lives. We need to preserve all the artifacts and older Girmit articles at the FGC Museum. It is hoped we can get Indian Government support in this area.

9) BOLLYWOOD FILM SET/LOCATION

Request be made to Bollywood to develop part of the Girmit Centre site for film/documentary set. Suggested set includes CSR Coolie Lane - living quarters of Girmitiyas, thatched houses (bure), Sugar mill, railway and sugar transport modes, and other scenario of Girmit. This could be used for films and documentaries and should be gifted to FGC as part of the expanded museum.

10) SYRIA MONUMENT

Syria Monument was commenced by Indian High Commission, Suva in Nasilai Village, Rewa, Fiji prior to 2006, and was halted after initial foundation because of political events. It is recommended that Indian Government now be requested to erect it at Girmit Centre as it would be very accessible to tourists and all Fiji Indian Diaspora visiting Fiji via nearby Nadi Airport. Nasilai Villagers have already been rewarded by Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ with over $60,000 development in the village hall, toilet and kitchen facilities. It would be very fitting to have this monument in Lautoka, which would further enhance the Girmit Museum.

Future Action

We call on the descendants of all Girmitiyas worldwide to show unity and resolve in adding colour, vibrancy, respect and honour to those who went away weeping, and longing for our happiness. At least we owe it to them.

I suggest the new energised Executive Committee of FGC should discuss the above recommendations, among others and come up with a strategic plan to make the centre a pride to the memory of Girmitiyas.

And as earlier stated, we approach and request Indian Government to help us retain memory of Indians who were their children stolen by the Girmit system.
Let’s do this - let us make this dream into a reality.
Yes, Tiger Zinda Hai and will sprint again.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is Secretary and Founding Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ which has successfully marked Girmit Remembrance Day in NZ. They had raised Girmit awareness worldwide and requested Fiji Government to declare 14 May as Girmit Public Holiday. Thakur is a journalist, a media commentator, and runs his blog FIJI PUNDIT]

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

PART 1- FIJI GIRMIT COUNCIL: Not a dead horse, but an injured tiger.


Thakur Ranjit Singh

My renewed interest in Fiji Girmit Council (FGC) was ignited by various Girmit Thanksgiving Days we marked in Auckland on or around 14 May, 2018. And as a founding trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand, it will be our next project to ensure proper information-flow, support and encouragement to our heritage-FGC.

There appears to be great deal of misrepresentation and misinformation about FGC. Therefore, as a service to journalism and inform people about the history, plight, plans and recommendations about FGC, my blog, FIJI PUNDIT is undertaking a two-part article on this organisation to remove falsehood, and shed light on the real situation.

Girmit Centre is our heritage, but unfortunately it is not receiving the support and attention from some member organisations. All affiliates need to start taking interest in reviving the centre to its past glory, and thus pay homage to our Girmitiyas.
First, there are two misconception. FGC is not a dead horse, but an injured tiger, in fact an injured elephant, which needs to have some thorns removed from its feet to ensure it gallops along - again. And let us all do that - with your blessings collectively.


Mr Y. P Reddy, Chairman /Trustee of Fiji Girmit Council. He and his Reddy Group of Companies has been providing the life-support to a cash-strapped and financially ailing Fiji Girmit Council.

The second one is a misconception that Mr YP Reddy “owns” FGC and it is shut to others. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, we need to salute the founding Trustee Mr Reddy and his Reddy Group of Companies who have provided that glucose and blood bottles to a terminally ill organisation abandoned by most of its affiliates and members.

Rajendra Prasad (left) Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ and Vinod Patel, Trustee of Fiji Girmit Council at plaque commemorating 125 years of Girmit at Fiji Girmit Centre.
Today, FGC has degenerated into a sick and poor organisation of healthy and rich members. We need to salute Mr YP Reddy and other trustees, Messrs Vinod Patel, Pyara Singh and Kanti Punja for being very diligent guardians to our heritage. I will venture to add further life and interest in the legacy and memory of ordinary people who did extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstance - our Girmitiyas.

This article was prompted by the inauguration of Global Girmit Institute (GGI) at Saweni Shopping Complex, Lautoka, Fiji and inauguration of Brij and Padma Lal Library Collection on 14 May, 2018. I considered it a parallel or breakaway organisation. However, GGI spokesperson Ganesh Chand corrected me by saying the activities of GCI was global girmitiyas while the FGC's scope was local (Fiji). 

Fiji Girmit Centre building- it has been run down and damaged due to frequent cyclones, hence need immediate repairs.

He did agree that GGI and FGC have worked in collaboration before and are willing to work together. That is a good sign, because, unless you are grounded locally, you can have little claim to belong to anything globally, which is akin to a body without a head.

I had questioned why not this new Library could have been based at Girmit Centre as a sub-section of their already existing library. To this, Chand replied that they recognised there was a physical shortage of space at FGC

 There was no way in which the stock which the GGI was bequeathed would have fitted into the library space, or any other space, at the FGC. Our intention has been, inter alia, to build a full scale library specialising on Girmit,” he said.

However, my investigation show that this was not the case, as there is adequate space to meet the requirement, and more room could have been created if needed. The issue here is, was there any discussion or dialogue on this issue? A centralised Girmit Library makes sense as it better serve the interests of the students, scholars and other users. 

Trustee of FGC Vinod Patel and Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ Rajendra Prasad inspecting "Kholu" which is rotated by bullock to extract oil from sesame (till) and make other vegetable oil. It was gifted to Girmit Council by Muthuswami Pillay, a Girmitiya and his sons Nadesan Pillay, Ram Sami Pillay and Keshwan Pillay of Tagi Tagi, Tavua. Similarly, we could collect other old items to develop a Girmit Museum for new generations to see how our Girmitiyas lived their modest lives.

Indeed, this does make sense. To be globally linked, one needs to have a strong foundation locally, and there is no greater foundation than Fiji Girmit Council. It appears there is lack of dialogue between GGI and FGC. It would be in everybody’s interest if these two organisations worked together in collaboration and cooperation to supplement and complement for the Girmit course. The last thing Girmit Centre or local or global girmit organisation should do is to provide oxygen for political or academic opportunism.

As indicated, my blog, FIJI PUNDIT is doing a two-part series on this subject to raise awareness about this heritage.

The Fiji Girmit Council is a nonprofit, community based, non-governmental organization (NGO) registered in 1979 under a Deed of Trust. Its membership comprises 10 Indo-Fijian based cultural, ethnic, religious and educational organizations of Fiji. Its members are:

ARYA PRATINIDHI SABHA OF FIJI
THEN INDIA SANMARGA IKYA SANGAM
FIJI COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
SIKH ASSOCIATION OF FIJI
DAKSHINA INDIA ANDHRA SANGAM
AHMADIYA ANJUMAN ISHAAT- I – ISLAM
KABIRPANTH SAMMELAN MAHASABHA
FIJI MUSLIM LEAGUE
GUJERAT SAMAJ
SHREE SANATAN DHARAM PRATINIDHI SABHA OF FIJI

Two members from each affiliate organisation are appointed to the Board of the FGC. But some of organizations above appear to have abandoned FGC and their obligation to their respective members.  They seem to have abdicated their obligations to the memory of our forebears. It borders on breach of trust and faith.

The Girmit Centre was established in 1979, to mark the passing of 100 years, to commemorate the Girmitiyas who came to Fiji under the Indenture System. It was opened by Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India on 21 September, 1981.

Over the years, the center, in order to promote culture, music and arts, has been providing training in Bharatanatyam, vocal harmonium, Tabla, Hindi language and yoga at nominal costs to students. The Girmit Centre Hall is leased out to generate income to maintain the 12.5 acres of land on which the center is located. 

Some 8.0 acres of land remain unutilized. Financial contributions have not been forth coming from all the member organizations. Most have concentrated in promoting their own organizations and hence FGC is not in their priority list. The centre is struggling financially. Due to the escalating operational cost the council’s financial position is in deficit with accumulated debts surpassing $180,000 this year.


After a lapse of three years the Indian High Commission has restored its grant for its cultural programs with a funding of $20,500.00 last year. Having endured several cyclones in the recent years the girmit centre buildings are in a dilapidated state and in urgent need of repairs and upgrading. 

Occasionally it organizes fund raising events to boost its revenue. But that is still not sufficient to meet the rising cost incurred for the delivery of its services. FGC has applied for funding assistance from Fiji government, Government of India, charitable organizations and other donor agencies but without success. As part of their new initiatives they plan to invest into income generating projects for the long term sustainability of the centre.  

In case you have forgotten, that glucose and blood bottles from Reddy Group of companies are still hooked up to this sick organisation for life-support, which needs our attention – and urgently. We should all join hands to bail out the Council from its financial doldrums

PART 2: Moving ahead -suggestions and recommendations - adding colour, glory and dignity to memory of Girmitiyas and our heritage-Fiji Girmit Council.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is Secretary and Founding Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ which had successfully marked Girmit Remembrance Day in NZ and had Professor Brij Lal as their Chief Guest in 2014. They had raised Girmit awareness in NZ and abroad. Thakur is a journalist, a media commentator, and runs his blog FIJI PUNDIT]


Thursday, May 10, 2018

A BRIEF GIRMIT HISTORY: LET US RECONNECT, RECLAIM AND RESTORE IT

Rajendra Prasad and Thakur Ranjit Singh

[Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ, for educational purpose]






History of a community is what the root is to a tree. Without the knowledge of its history, a community becomes adrift without the anchor. It is important that we reconnect, reclaim and restore our Girmit history. We therefore request social and religious organizations to share this information with their members, to spread the knowledge of our stolen history. We summarize below a few of the vital points to assist you in gaining a broad understanding on our Girmit history. 




In 1833, the British abolished the system of slavery, which contributed to acute shortage of labour in the British colonies. In 1834, the British substituted slavery with “INDENTURE SYSTEM”, a contractual agreement for five years and recruited 1.2 million Indians to serve in its colonies. Indenture system was slavery by another name.  

For Fiji, the British recruited 60,965 Indians to work in the sugarcane plantations and the first of 87 ships Leonidas brought 463 Indian indentured workers (Girmitiyas) to Fiji on 14 May 1879. In Fiji, it popularly came to be called “Girmit” which is a derived from the word “agreement”.

Deceit and lies were largely used by the Aarkathis, the deceptive recruiters in India to trap poor, ignorant and illiterate people from rural parts of India with promises that they could return after five years with lot of money. The Aarkathis told the recruits that Fiji was in India or near India and once trapped, the victims could not escape from the holding depots and eventually found themselves shipped to Fiji. In Fiji, they worked in different sugarcane plantations and paid one shilling (10 cents) per day for men and 9 pence (9 cents) per day for women. 

Their working and living conditions were so bad that Fiji recorded highest number of suicides in the world. Their day began at 3 am in the morning, when they were awakened to prepare to go to work in the plantations. Many people committed suicide between 3 am and 4 am to escape the pain, suffering and struggle that lay ahead.  

They normally worked for 12 hours a day. They were whipped, kicked and beaten with sticks to increase productivity. They could not resist or seek justice as the justice system worked against them, favouring the white Overseers, mostly from Australia and New Zealand. 

Women too suffered same treatment at the hands of the violent Overseers or Sardars (Indian Supervisors). Women in advanced stage of pregnancy were forced to work in sugarcane plantations, mothers’ with infants and young children were not allowed to tend to their children when they cried for milk or were sick and in pain. Consequently, Fiji recorded highest number of death of children among the colonies that used indentured labour. 

Mothers whose babies died had to bury them on the same day on the farms without observing the traditional rites and had to be back on the farm on the following day. It was same for the Girmitiyas who died while working and were buried on the fringes of the farms, as they did not have designated cemeteries and without the traditional rites. They were not easily given permission to seek medical help until their condition looked serious. 

Atrocities against the Girmitiyas abounded. We cannot forget the brutalization of Naraini on the Sigatoka tramline by the Overseer Harold Blomfield, the cries of Kunti who jumps in the river to escape rape and Hannah Dudley’s heart-breaking account on the suffering of Girmitiyas. 

Mahatma Gandhi and Rev John Freer Andrews (Deenbandhu Andrews) did sterling work the abolition of the indenture system in 1917.  Girmit history will be incomplete without some unsung heroes, like Girmitiya Totaram Sanadhya, lawyer, Manilal Maganlal Doctor and Sadhu Bashist Muni.

After Indenture, some 20,645 Indians returned to India while the others were prevented from returning to India to save Fiji’s sugar industry. The atrocities and indignities they suffered in the plantations shamed them so much that they did not want to share their bitter experiences with their children, which helped the British in erasing our Girmit history and escape being cited for commission of crime against humanity. 

The Girmitiyas were poor and illiterate but not ignorant, as they felt education would liberate their children from servitude, which destroyed their lives. Despite endemic poverty, which afflicted their lives, they built schools throughout Fiji to educate their children, which fulfilled their objectives.

It is because of the Girmitiyas we have our own distinctive language (Fiji Hindi), customs, a vibrant and an inclusive culture, which has earned us recognition as one of the most dynamic cultures in the world. 

We need to commemorate the suffering and sacrifices of the pioneer generation, the Girmitiyas, as a mark of our respect and gratitude to them on 14 May every year, ensuring that our foundational history is not lost and we are able to impart valuable historical knowledge to our children to whom the Girmit history belongs as much as it belongs to us. 

It has been an effort of Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand, and our other warriors around the world to reconnect, reclaim and restore Girmit History. Let us keep alive the memories of those ordinary Girmitiyas who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times. Let us remember them in the same light as ANZAC Day or American Thanksgiving Day.

Girmitiya “Pitra” (Souls) Deva Bhava - the souls of our Girmitiya are sacred to all their descendants

FIJI GIRMIT FOUNDATION - NZ, 
AUCKLAND - MAY, 2018. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sickness in the Rock Star Economy: Sewage and Hole under that Rock?


Thakur Ranjit Singh

Despite what you may think of Uncle Winnie (Winston Peters), he helped pull out the country from that deep dark hole, that chasm Steven Joyce created. Had he chosen National, the country would have gone deeper in that hole, buried under the rocks of a rock star economy, where books would have looked good, but wellbeing of common people gone to dogs.

And thanks to Winston teaming up with Labour, we were gifted with a bold Minister, Shane Jones who ruffled quite a few corporate Boards feathers. But that story to a later day.

Now, we look at mouldy walls, leaking sewer pipes, insecure power supply, asbestos, ineffective (dysfunctional?) District Health Boards (DHBs) – and a sick health system.

Two formers: Former National's Health Minister Jonathan Coleman with Former Prime Minister, Sir John Key. Both of them abandoned ship. Sir John escaped in time to score a Knighthood from the Queen who he wanted removed from NZ flag in his failed flag-change bid. Coleman cannot escape the concept of Ministerial responsibility on the extent of mismanagement now revealed in the health sector under his rule.

Eureka! (Hurray, Wailei, Jai Ho) Lizzie Marvelly writing an opinion piece in Weekend NZ Herald (07.04.18) declared that at last she was successful in locating Steven Joyce’s $11.7 billion hole: 
It looks like it was in the consistently underfunded health budgets of the last National Government. With rot, mould and sewage in the walls at Middlemore Hospital, asbestos in the maternity unit, faulty power supplies and God knows what else, the National Party has some serious questions to answer.
She rightly questioned how National could afford a tax cut when the health system was in such a dire state? Offering tax cuts as an election ploy is a bad look for National when they allowed health system, among others, to rot away and suffer acute haemorrhage - bleeding inside, to be exposed later. 
 
Middlemore Hospital, which has revealed gross-negligence and dereliction of duties of the past government in general and DHB in particular. Under the rocks of a "rockstar economy" the new government unearthed mouldy walls, leaking sewer pipes, insecure power supply and asbestos in the hospital. The repair bills of this neglect would run into hundreds of millions of dollars. 

One needs to question credibility of former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and probe into his dereliction of duties. If he was not aware of the issues in the health system, or did not bother to probe into them despite hints of the problem, then he let us down badly. And his suitability in a lucrative job in the health sector that he let down, need to be questioned. 

It appears some DHBs have been dysfunctional, ineffective and inefficient. They appear to lack ability to speak the truth, with a fear of not annoying the Minister. They became bearer of good tidings, sweeping truth under the carpet. 

Credible Board members need to be aware of their fiduciary duties and responsibilities. Among others, they need to possess aptitude on scrutiny of crucial issues, especially property which is life blood of a health system after its personnel. The fact that they all failed is a symptom of an acute sickness in our health sector and brings into question the criteria of selection of DHDs. Racial mix in DHBs is essential to reflect the changing demography, remove cronyism, provide exposure to international experience and thus inject vigilance. 

One NZ Herald writer hit the nail on head by saying that one needs to look higher within National Party to appreciate the deficiencies of the Health Minister. Flora Calder of Epsom wrote:
John Key led the attack on our country’s well being and cannily chose to abandon ship early enough to score a knighthood. Former health Minister Tony Ryall had already made his escape.
Another letter writer at NZ Herald stated Sir John Key's only regret about his time was the flag. He questioned, what about the rotting, under-resourced, overcrowded hospitals, the large teacher shortage and the ever growing number of homeless families?

Health Minister Coleman with former Prime Minister, Bill English, who also abandoned ship, as FIJI PUNDIT has predicted. Now, Simon Bridges is left holding the baby, to build bridges of credibility on the mythical 'rock star' economy.
With the rats abandoning a sinking ship, Bill English and Steven Joyce were followed by Coleman, who ironically will have a lucrative job in health sector which he trashed. But the tragedy is that the remaining National MPs who were party to this destructive rot, mould and faeces are now undermining the new Government’s move to clean up the mess they left behind.

To rub salt on injury, Coleman and National’s Finance Spokesperson Amy Adams are blaming Labour for over promising. What a joke - this supposed  “over promising” was done a few months before the election, but underfunding, neglect and carelessness had been there for some 8 years!

It is exactly for this reason of larger than expected funding gaps in health and education, among others, that Labour’s first budget may not be as sweet as expected. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the government was discovering under-investment in a broad range of core-services. In a Radio Live interview, when asked about extent of the problem, she maintained her positivity and graciousness that won her the government. Ardern told Duncan Garner that it was neglect but not catastrophic, and was hopeful to manage the situation.

Labour's Finance Minister Grant Robertson (left) with Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Unfortunately, because of acute underfunding, Robertson's upcoming budget may not be that sweet, as it has to be a "re-building" budget because of  the neglect of the past government.
Hence, Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s development budget has turned into a rebuilding budget - reinvesting in areas that were ignored. National blamed Labour for a big hole, but themselves left behind bigger ones, which are slowly being uncovered. They were so focussed on showing that mythical Sir John’s “rock-star economy” that they made the books look good - at the expense of public service.

And the biggest tragedy, in fact irony is, that all those who did this abandoned a sinking Titanic. And poor Simon is left holding the baby, and tasked to build bridges (pun intended) of credibility.

Now the motley over-sized opposition has to explain to New Zealand public why they deceived, appeased and hoodwinked the country with their fairy-tale “rock star” economy!

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political observer, a media commentator and journalist. He runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT, and lives in Auckland. E-mail: thakurji@xtra.c.nz]





Monday, April 2, 2018

Chris Carter steals the show at 15th Anniversary of WEB


Thakur Ranjit Singh

As Bollywood number below floated against the acoustic walls, and resonated and echoed in the chamber, one could be mistaken this was a Bollywood show.

“Hum tere bin ab reh nahi sakte..tere bina kya jina mera…” 

Translated, this Hindi Bollywood song says…….I cannot live without you, this life is nothing without you…This was in Waitakere City Council’s former chambers at Waitakere Central in Henderson on 8 March, 2018.

It was the 15th Anniversary Celebration of Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB). This occasion was very appropriately graced by a person who was the “ribbon-cutter” who inaugurated WEB two and a half decades ago.

Chief Guest , Former Ethnic Affairs Minister Chris Carter who stole the event with his emotionally –charged presentations at 15th Anniversary celebrations in Auckland. He launched WEB fifteen years ago in 2003.

Yes, it was none other than Chris Carter, Te Atatu Labour MP between 1999 and 2011. In his capacity as Minister of Ethnic Affairs, he launched this first multicultural body by way of community partnership with the then visionary Waitakere City Council (WCC) and its charismatic Mayor Sir Bob Harvey. Unfortunately this partnership has been a casualty of the Super City - but that is another story.

Looking back in history, in early 2000, former WCC liaised with community organisation such as Waitakere Multiracial Society and Waitakere Indian Association, among others, and strived to form an organisation which looked after the category of people who felt neglected and unrepresented – the ethnic communities. With broad-based discussion groups, a working group was formed to formulate a constitution and establish WEB. It was formally launched on 20th September, 2003 by the then Labour Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Hon Chris Carter. 

From left, Former WEB President, Reverend Amail Habib, former WEB Executive and AUT Lecturer, Dr Camille Nakhid and Auckland Councillor and Patron of WEB, Penny Hulse.
Therefore, it was very befitting to have Carter as the Chief Guest for this celebration. And for this, he flew all the way from Myanmar (former Burma) to be with us. After he retired from politics, he was appointed Manager of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kabul, Afghanistan. Not only did he do a commendable job, but also survived a suicide bomber. During his tenure, he won the hearts of the locals, who obviously are heavily influenced by Bollywood, hence that emotional departing song at the beginning of this article.

The people embroiled in every-day danger were fortunate to be showered with that Kiwi love, understanding, empathy and respect. Hence they were sad to see him leave. The emotions flowing from the farewell video was contagious as there were many misty eyes, with some traces of tears.

Yours Truly, the author of this article and principal of this blog FIJI PUNDIT, Thakur Ranjit Singh,(left) with Former WEB President Reverend Amail Habib and the Chief Guest, Chris Carter.
If the first video was an emotional roller-coaster from people who were sad to see him go, the next one was a contrasting shock treatment jolting us into reality. This was the treatment or rather mistreatment of Rohingya refugees in Myanmar, former Burma. Carter has now moved from Afghanistan to Myanmar as United Nations Senior Advisor for the Rakhine State there. There has been conflict there between majority ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. Carter is again in the middle of this, trying to bring hope to a hopeless situation. He concluded….” diversity is not a threat and need to be promoted for world peace.” 
Diversity at Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB) 15th Anniversary celebrations. The show of women's power -the pretty ladies, wielding great power. 
WEB Patron, Councillor Penny Hulse was the next speaker and extolled the services WEB has rendered to ethnic communities and how fortunate she was associated with them. Michael Wood, Under Secretary to the Minister of Ethnic Communities spoke about Safer Community Initiative, and enlightened us on the new projects the government was undertaking to ensure safety. He promoted inclusiveness and fixing problems before they happen. His advice…” the best way to archive this is through empathy for all the people, especially vulnerable ethnic communities.”

Dr Camille Nakhid, Associate Professor in Social Science at AUT, and a former Executive of WEB, addressed us without fear or favour-again. In the past she had spoken about Auckland Council short-changing ethnic communities. And she has not changed her stance. “What is Auckland Council’s response to diversity, when WEB, one of the oldest and effective ethnic organisation is begging for funds?” Her critique was also directed at lackadaisical attitude of ethnic communities to problems within their ethnic communities. She questioned the reasons for divisions within their respective communities, where they tend to fail to stand for other ethnicities.

As we parted, I was reminded of what our Chief Guest said in the tenth year celebrations in New Lynn in 2013. Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy gave some key phrases that spelt WEB: fostering harmonious relations among diverse communities, amplify the voices of diversity and smell of an oily rag.  

THE MAIN EVENT: Cake cutting to mark 15th anniversary of WEB. Former Labour Minister, Chris Carter (centre) who launched WEB 15 years ago was on hand to cut the 15th Anniversary cake, assisted by WEB Patron, Councillor Penny Hulse, WEB executives and guests. They say, one picture is worth a thousand words, and it shows the United Nations of WEB –multiculturalism at its best.

We hope that the success of WEB would be honored and emulated by other like-minded organizations. It was hoped that the Super City would embrace WEB like former WCC and at least reward it for its success and restore the Community Partnership Agreement of the past.

When this happens only then can WEB throw away that oily rag. 
Congratulations, WEB for your achievements with the smell of an oily rag.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh runs blog FIJI PUNDIT and is former Media and Communications Director of WEB] 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

WAITAKERE HOLI: A FUSION OF PURAB AUR PASCHIM WHERE EAST MEETS WEST


Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the melodious singing of Faag (fagua, chautal) rang and echoed against the green picturesque trees at Corbans Arts Centre, Henderson, Auckland on Sunday 4 March, 2018, it heralded another milestone for Waitakere Indian Association (WIA).

This was like going back to the roots. Corbans Arts Centre is the location where the first public Holi celebrations in New Zealand commenced 12 years ago in 2006, initiated by none other than WIA.
THE EAST:Traditional faag presented by Shri Ram Mandir Faag Mandali, Henderson. The lead singer in the centre with harmonium is the Managing Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir, Pravin Kumar, while his son, Prashant Kumar is playing dholak (drum). This traditional singing of faag or fagua constitutes the main element of Holi for Fiji Indian Hindus.

India in general and Hinduism in particular has given the world some festivals which embrace the whole human race, and has more integrating, unifying and all-embracing themes. They have a message of unity without being founded in divisive, exclusive religious arguments. Holi is one of them. It has profound meaning for mankind and equality for all, promoting and enhancing race relations and integration.

Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) is the award-winning organisation, which has been run by like-minded volunteers from 2000. It is the pride of Indian associations in New Zealand and has set up new standards of yardsticks and milestones on how to successfully run an association and festivals run by the community, and not commercial media organisations.

It was a milestone this Holi, as WIA listened to public, and did a fusion of traditional and modern Holi celebrations. This is what we call “Sangam” (meeting) of Purab (East) aur Paschim (West) - a meeting place where tradition meets the modern. This was after feedback that Holi celebrations had drifted to modern Bollywood music and dance, overshadowing the traditional folk singing with which Holi is identified. Therefore, WIA was responsive to the community wishes, and held a solid two hour performance by various Mandalis (religious groups).

And that is where East met West. This festival resonated into the meeting of youthful revellers with the mixture of relatively older audience, with a taste of all catered by a well-programmed event.

The traditional faag brought all in the mood to play the colours. Even weather Gods showered their blessings with a lovely weather. Multiracial group of youths crowded the “ringside” stage area to jump to the occasion of dancing to the enthralling music from DJ Manish Gabroo. Young children filled their water guns and water bottles with coloured water and chased each other in the open grounds. They also got hold of coloured powders and had a ball with their families. The older ones smeared each other with coloured powers or gulaal, opening up their usual shyness.


THE WEST:Modern, or western version of Holi celebrations, where we have public dancing on live DJ, ably provided by Manish Sharma (DJ Gabroo) at Waitakere Holi. A large part of those present were non-Indians, and they joined in to resonate the theme of Holi which is about unity and building bridges.
This time, WIA took charge of sale of gulaal, or coloured powders, and nearly sold half a ton of colours. The food stalls did brisk business with an outstanding and above average crowds. 

Another feature of WIA Holi is the increasingly patronage by Anglo-Saxons and non-Indians. One estimate places them at around 40% of the crowd. That is the multicultural pull of the all-encompassing Holi festival. Many non-Indians danced joyfully to tunes of Bollywood music. This was indeed a day of colours, music and fun for the whole families. 

With limited stage items to allow more times for public dancing, we had limited but quality stage items. Of course, WIA functions would be incomplete without the auntie-niece team of Jocelyn Singh and Joshlyn Grace, on thrilling Bollywood numbers

Politicians and community leaders mingled freely with their supporters and, took photos which are now gracing the pages of Facebook.  Among others these included Phil Twyford, Linda Cooper, National List MPs Kanwal Singh Bakshi, Alfred Ngaro and Paramjeet Parmar, Labour’s Michael Wood, Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Barbara Russell with Ami Chand of Portage Licensing Trust, Bhikhu Bhana from NZ Indian Central Association (NZICA), among others. 
The President of WIA Mahendra Sharma welcomed all, especially the multiracial crowd. ‘Now Waitakere Holi Mela has developed into an event not only for Indians but also for wider New Zealand community. Celebrating the festival of colours in our diversely cultural city is seen as a way to continue building better relations with the community. I am deeply honoured by your presence.


Again the theme of Holi is reflected in this photo. No Holi in Fiji is complete without Grog, Kava, or Nagona. Equality is reflected by all coloured in same colours, and National List MP, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi serving grog. Pictured here, enjoying the Holi mood and atmosphere at Waitakere Holi are: 
From left: Sanjiv Brahmbhatt, CEO of Reliance Ventilation, Manoj Tahal, a Trustee of WIA, Mahendra Sharma, President of WIA, Alfred Ngaro and Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (List MPs, National Party) and Sunil Kaushal, Holi Project Manager.
Transport and Housing Minister, Phil Twyford stood out as an ardent supporter, and admirer of WIA ‘Waitakere Indian Association is the best managed organisation, very transparent, run by credible people with credible leadership. This event signifying victory of good over evil and equality for mankind is the message we should all emulate, ‘he said, praising the commendable and exemplary events organised by WIA. Other politicians and sponsors also spoke about the great event and the way it has brought good in all of us in the West.

For a migrant community, Indians were praised for integrating well into the local community and changed the cultural landscape of the country. Today, Aotearoa is richer because of Indians in general and Hindus in particular for introducing diversity with festivals like Holi, Diwali and other religious, cultural and social events. 

And this fusion of East and the West made Waitakere Holi that much more memorable. Many are already looking forward to the function next year, so powerful was the addiction and transmission of fun at Corbans Arts Centre in Henderson, Auckland. Thanks WIA for making this possible.
See you next year, if you missed the fun this year.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a former executive of Waitakere Indian Association and a community worker. He is a media commentator and runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT]