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] 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Death in family: Why are we denied celebrating religious festivals -and life



Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the coloured powder (gulaal) and dust from dance of Waitakere Holi in Auckland on 4 March, 2018 settles down, there is an important but controversial issue on celebrating and enjoying this religious gift to Hindus.

There appears to be a community-imposed restriction on celebrating Holi after death of a relative. This affects me directly, as my Kaki (paternal –aunt), Mrs Shiu Kumari (Budh Ram) Singh passed away in Surrey Canada on 20 January, 2018 and my Bhabhi (sister-in-law), Mrs Pushpa Wati (Hari) Singh passed away in Fiji on 4 January, 2018. Kaki was 85 while Bhabhi was 75 - both of them lived to a ripe age. Bhabhi passed away 2 months ago while Kaki passed away just 6 weeks ago.

Lord Krishn recited knowledge of  Gita to Arjun . While we listen to Gita on the mourning of the dead for 12 nights, we refuse to follow its teachings. Among others, it says: "death is inevitable, stop crying for the dead, stop lamenting, shork nahi karo, only body dies, the soul is everlasting, it is like changing old clothes and putting on new ones." So, why we defy these teachings and have a showpiece of mourning during Hindu festivals.
In situations like this, many tend to do what had been custom and practice - they refrain from celebrations because of fear of what others will say. And they deny the fun, message and colours of this great Holi festival to the extended families - mostly to the new generation.

Many in our society are afraid of what others will say-sab konchi boli.-log kya kahenge. We tend to stop living for ourselves and become puppets of the community.

Are we being two-faced hypocrites – preaching one thing and practising another? Should not we follow the teaching and directions of our religion and scriptures? When somebody dies, Pundits preach Gita scriptures at top of their voice.
 
Yours truly, Thakur Ranjit Singh (left) with his Bhabhi (sister-in-law) Pushpa Wati, in Ba, Fiji over a year ago. She passed away in Fiji on 4 January, 2018

Devine religious lessons are preached to the relatives in mourning – of what Lord Krishn orated to Arjun , and which we call Bhagavad Gita, one of the most revered scriptures for Hindus. 

He preached: death is inevitable, stop crying for the dead, stop lamenting, shork nahi karo, only body dies, the soul is everlasting, and it is like changing old clothes and putting on new ones . So, there is no need to mourn, as death is predetermined, inevitable and will happen to all of us.

The gist of Gita is: out with the old, in with the new - change is inevitable. We are told and preached - Parivartan Duniya ka niyam hai. How many follow this? Why do we insult Bhagavad Gita? Why are we selective, embracing new technologies, while practising “Stone Age” customs?

BANSI REUNION IN BA, FIJI. Part of the large Bansi clan (Bansi was Thakur Ranjit Singh's paternal Girmitiya grandfather, who came to Fiji as an Indian Indentured labourer in 1915. Bansi clan has celebrated two Bansi Reunions. One was in Vancouver, Canada in April,2015, and this one in Ba, Fiji in August 2016. In the centre in white is the family matriarch of Bansi family, Thakur's Kaki (Paternal aunt), Mrs Shiu Kumari Singh, wife of Budh Ram Singh Bansi. She passed away in Surrey, Canada on 20 January, 2018. Are we to deny the whole Bansi clan of Holi and other religious festivals, despite what Lord Krishn preached about death? You be the judge.
We sacrifice our happiness and that of our children in the name of parampara, tradition, lokariti and outdated practices. Many such practices defy logic in this modern world, and run contrary to religious teachings. Despite migrating to supposedly advanced countries like Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand, why are Fiji Indian Hindus still slaves to tradition, refusing to embrace rationality and reality of the modern world, in line with the teachings of Gita? 
Through pressure of the community, we are forced to adhere to some old and nonsensical ways masquerading as tradition. Against our will, we are made to follow ways set up by those who died long time ago, and who would have wished we remained happy, and not mourn them.

Holi Hai.. Rang Barse....Thakur Ranjit Singh (right) with his wife, Shashi Kala Singh, celebrating the religious festival of Holi at Waitakere Indian Association Holi in Henderson, Auckland, New Zealand on 4 March, 2018. He broke away from tradition, and celebrated Holi with his family to celebrate the lives of these loved ones who departed between 6-8 weeks earlier. Anybody has any objections? Raise it with FIJI PUNDIT.
We need to change restriction placed on celebration of Holi (and Diwali) because of death (or birth) which is a natural inevitable phenomenon. Many will not play Holi colours or cook any sweets at home. What is this mourning for? What did they learn in 12 nights of Gita path? And why mourning only has to kick in while celebrating Holi or Diwali? Immediately after Holi, many will pull out BBQ stands, getting ready for Easter. Or getting ready with goat or chicken. There is no restriction on having birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving dinner, weddings, engagement parties, dancing, drinking and merrymaking. Why do we have to remember the dead relatives only during Holi and Diwali? Even marriage is halted for one year [But that, some other day]. 

Celebrating Holi in Auckland on 4 March, 2018 with family despite recent deaths in the family. Back,(left) Thakur Ranjit Singh and son-in-law, Ravi Chand. Front, from left, Thakur's daughter, Ragni Singh Chand, granddaughter, Rania Roma Chand, and wife, Shashi Kala Singh. As elders, we owe a duty of care to expose our culture to the new generation, and not restrict it in name of tradition and outdated practices, defying religious teachings.
I, despite having recent deaths between 6-8 weeks ago in the family, openly played Holi colours to set a trend in our community. I walked my talk. I know those who died after fruitful long lives are in a better place, their memories are with me and I used Holi to celebrate their lives. They would not have wanted to deny their children, grandchildren and hundreds of their relatives from living a normal life after they are gone. They sure would have wanted us to be happy - and play Holi.

Please follow in the footsteps of our forebears, or Girmitiyas. They were whipped, punched, kicked and heavily suffered under the British and Australian Colonisers. They lost many loved ones and “jahajis”(travelling companion) to death. If Bansi, Bholai, Ram Pher, Paragi, Tulsi, Dihal, Sirpat, Mangaru, Khaderu and Gajadhar and other Girmitiyas had stopped celebrating Holi or Diwali because of death or sorrow, our colourful culture would have died over a century ago. But no, they continued the tradition. Hence, we need to follow them and stop this nonsense, and remember them on Fiji Girmit Thanksgiving Day on 14 May. [That also will be another FIJI PUNDIT posting].

Agreed, it is individual choice, some may need time, but please do not deny religious festivals to the new generation who do not know what mourning is. As for me, I cared little of what others thought. I openly and boldly celebrated Holi, the colours to celebrate the lives of my Kaki and Bhabhi, whose souls and memories rejoiced with me at Waitakere Holi. That is the happiness they would have expected for me, as well as their families.

To the others, I remind them of Rajesh Khanna dialogue from Bollywood movie, Safar:

Zinda apne aap ko kabr mein gaar dena kurbani nahi andhkaar hai. This says, burying yourself in a grave or dying with the dead is not expression of sorrow or sacrifice. It is foolishness and darkness. The living ones are not meant to die with the dead.

You are free to ignore the teachings of Gita and mourn for those who have gone to a better place. You are also free to deprive your family of religious festivals, while yourself enjoying in other worldly fun.

FIJI PUNDIT urges practising Hindus to appreciate and understand the teaching of Bhagavad Gita, and stop old, outdated and irrelevant practices defying its teachings and lessons.
I refuse to be that pretender. Hence, I celebrated Holi despite death in the family. You are free to make your choice.

Please keep your culture and traditions alive, not by restrictions, but by following what Lord Krishn preached in Gita.

And that was: Stop being a Dhongee - stop being a double-faced person. Have faith in God and his teachings-and stop mourning the dead - and celebrate their life.

 [About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is the blogger-FIJI PUNDIT, and a trend-setter in thoughts and deeds on reforming the community to conform to the changing world.]

Monday, February 26, 2018

Time for FIJI INDIANS in New Zealand to be counted - As Fiji Indians


Thakur Ranjit Singh 



Fiji Indians are not new to New Zealand – so many came here to “clean” up the country of the noxious weed, ‘gorse’, which we referred to as ‘scrub’. 
So many from Fiji came in 1960s to clear NZ of its bushes. The rolling green field you see have been cleared by them who came on 3 month contract then.
But larger numbers continued coming and we had large influx after 1987 coup and this migration continued. My estimate is that there are over 50,000 Fiji Indians here now.
But nobody can dispute me, as they have never been counted or identified separately-they have been mistakenly treated as “Indians” which they are in a wider context.
However, they are a distinct Pacific people who need to be identified as such.
Hence, in census 2018, I am urging all Fiji Indians to be counted-and counted properly as who they are - FIJI INDIANS…...

Please read on..............................


Fijians of Indian descent in New Zealand comprise a huge number, but nobody knows how many, as we have never been recorded separately. We have either been counted as Indians, or have eclipsed in ‘Asian” category. No efforts have been made to identify us separately. Some claim that if recorded properly, we may even surpass Tongans and Niuean, and come only second to Samoans as the largest number of people of the Pacific in New Zealand.

The next generation after Girmit: The second-generation of descendants of Fiji Girmitiyas who were honoured during Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day in Auckland in May, 2014. Our request to Fiji Indians filling out census forms in NZ is to reflect our race as those who descended from them-Fiji Indians.
At the moment there is no consistent term that refers to Fijians of Indian descent-some call us Indo-Fijians, some Fiji-Indians and others Fijian Indians. Whatever the most accepted terminology, our first issue is to be identified separately in New Zealand Census, where we comprise more than most other Pacific Islanders. 

That is why in 2018 NZ Census, Fiji Indians are urged to record their ethnicity as “Other” and record it as “Fiji Indian”, so that we are correctly recorded as who we are. At the moment, we are a lost race. We have to first identify as “Fiji Indians” and then decide on the appropriate terminology for us.

Pacific Islanders with lower numbers get special recognition and government assistance programmes, while Fiji Indians surpassing island numbers get lost in Indian and Asian identities, and miss out on those benefits. 

Bansi Chauhan, a Girmitiya from Karauli, Rajasthan, India,who arrived in Fiji in 1915, served his Girmit in Ba, Fiji and settled there. Like him, other 60,500 came and majority settled back in Fiji and produced a new culture and breed of people: Fiji Indians. The author of this article, Thakur Ranjit Singh is Bansi's grandson.
The irony is that Indians in New Zealand do not regard us as Indians while Fijians (ITaukei) do not accept us as Fijians. Special benefits available for Fijians in New Zealand do not reach Fiji Indians because they are not identified as Fijians. So, Fiji Indians with a distinct culture and language became lost and drifted without any recognition, opportunities or benefits that were earmarked for us as Fijians. Special programmes reserved for Fijians ignored us. 

Fiji Indians are a distinct breed of people - they are not Indians - ask any Anglo Saxon (European). Our history in the Pacific started in the eighteenth century.

Almost 14 decades ago, the first Indians from mostly Northern India were shipped to Fiji as Indentured Labourers. Between the next 37 years, from 1879 to 1916, some 60,500 Girmitiyas, or indentured labourers were brought to Fiji by 87 ship voyages. Of these, some 25,000 were successful to move back to India after indenture, while the remainder stayed back. Why? Were they frustrated from moving back, to slave for Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR) Company’s sugar plantation? Were they seen as cheap labour for the British? Really. But that is another story for another day, to be answered by former Ba Town Clerk, Rajendra Prasad’s next blockbuster book to remove many myths about Girmit history and a failed leadership in Fiji. His next book,” Enslaved in Paradise”, a sequel to his successful historical tear-jerker Fiji Girmit history, “Tears in Paradise,” answers this mystery as to why many Indians who finished their indenture did not return.

Leonidas was the first ship to arrive in Fiji on 14 May, 1879 with the first batch of Girmitiyas-indentured labourers. There were a total of 87 voyages that brought some 60, 500 indentured labourers to Fiji. Some 25,000 returned after their indenture, and the rest settled in Fiji and the Fiji Indians descended from them.
Leonidas was the first ship to hit Fiji with Indentured Labourers. As India was a British Colony that time, the British and Australians found India a fertile ground for cheap labour for cane plantations in Fiji. India washed its hands on the suffering and plight of people in Fiji, and paid only token attention of cries from Fiji. Even when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Fiji in 1980s, she reminded Fiji Indians, that they were no longer Indians, but belonged to Fiji. But we never seemed to have belonged anywhere.

Through vision of Girmitiyas, we stood tall. This is because they vowed never again to allow a situation where their children would suffer like them. Hence, they concentrated on education and future well-being of their children. Educational opportunities and sacrifices they made for their future generations are enumerated in many historical writings.

The new breed of Indians in Fiji shed the vices that still grip India- no more caste, dowry or female foeticide (killing female foetus), among others. They made a fresh start. And so began a distinct culture, and religious traits. As they stayed on cane farms spread sparsely, they formed mandalis or religious groups, and thus began distinct religion, local singing and cultural songs, which were rooted in India but changed and adopted with local flavour. 

Indo-Fijians , Fiji Indians,or Fijian Indians-whatever you call them, are pacific people rooted in Fiji. They descended from Indian Indentured labourers-but are rooted in the Pacific and New Zealand has to recognise their descendents as such- Fiji Indians

A distinct Fiji Hindi language also transformed with a mixture of Hindi and other languages and local dialects of Girmitiyas. Fiji Hindi initially started as Lingua franca, a bridging language, but later took root as a language of Fiji Indians. This is spoken by all the descendants of Girmitiyas. 

Hence time is ripe for Fiji Indians to be counted in New Zealand –as a distinct race of people. One may hazard a question to two prominent people identified as Fiji Indians, as to what they will fill as race: Former MP, Rajen Prasad and former Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand? Whatever they fill, all the other Fijians of Indian descent in New Zealand are requested to be counted and have pride in their heritage -and counted properly as who they really are – FIJI INDIANS.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a third generation Fiji Girmitiya descendant, now settled in Auckland. He runs blog, FIJI PUNDIT and is a media commentator. He has filled his race/ethnicity in the 2018 NZ census as "Fiji Indian"and urges others like him from Fiji to do likewise, to be counted properly]