GUEST WRITER: RAJENDRA PRASAD
[Former Town Clerk of Ba Town Council, Ba Fiji, and Author Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004.]
Girmit Remembrance Day – May 14: An appeal to religious, social and cultural organizations of Indo-Fijians worldwide.
G I R M I T I Y A S - They laid their lives for us…we say “thanks” and remember their sacrifices annually on – GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY.
May 14 is a significant day in the calendar of Indo-Fijian history. It can be variously recognized but its foremost significance is the arrival of first ship Leonidas, with 479 Indian indentured immigrants (Girmitiyas) to Fiji on May 14, 1879. They were recruited to work largely in the sugarcane plantations.
This followed 82 other ships that transported over 60,000 Girmitiyas to Fiji. Indenture system (Girmit) came to an end on December 31, 1919 after a bitter struggle against the recruitment of Indian indentured labourers that saw the might of Mahatma Gandhi ultimately triumph over that of the British Government.
The author of this article, Rajendra Prasad's historic book on Girmit History which has been stolen from History books:" TEARS IN PARADISE - Suffering and Sacrifices of Indians in Fiji - 1879-2004"
I implore, Indo-Fijians across the world and their descendants to commemorate the sacrifices of the pioneer generation with solemnity and sobriety on May 14, paying homage to those who laid their lives on the altar of sacrifice. I urge religious, social and cultural organizations to undertake this mission at the community level annually and also appeal to individual families to offer prayers and recitals in their homes in memory of those whose lives were tragically lost.
Girmit was a period of great pain and suffering. How the Girmitiyas bore it and why they bore it is a story of one of the greatest sacrifices made in the history of humanity. They were illiterate, innocent and ignorant and believed in the dictum of “karma” and believed that if they bore their pain and suffering, their children will escape the tragedy that consumed their lives.
LEONIDAS, the FIRST ship that brought 479 indentured labourers to Levuka, Fiji on 14 MAY, 1879. That is why 14 May is dedicated internationally as GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY -14 MAY of every year henceforth.
They played their role and made the sacrifices, leaving a debt of gratitude upon us which we have failed to honour. Let us now join hands together with humility and respect to honour their sacrifices and pay our tribute to our Girmitiya forebears, a generation that must remain exalted above every other generation.
Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) commemorated this day in Auckland, New Zealand on 20 May, 2012. It was a moving occasion, as the audience sat wiping their tears when speakers recounted the pain and suffering of the forgotten Girmitiyas.
Girmit Remembrance Day in Auckland was not a fundraising event, it was neither a Bollywood entertainment nor a day devoted to singing and dancing, nor was it a day for politicians and big shots. It was a day devoted to our elderly people. It was a day when the Elderlies were honoured, treated as chief guests, heard, forgotten history was told, old Girmit songs were revived and perceptions of the new generation were heard. It was an occasion where adults and children of Girmit took an opportunity to serve the first generation of Girmitiyas with food, savouries and most importantly, love and honour which their Girmitiya parents were denied in Girmit.
It is hoped other Indo Fijians around the world will mark this day in this theme. A register of people over eighty (80) has been established and these people are going to be honoured with especially inscribed medals.
A resolution was passed in public discussion that May 14 would be Girmit Remembrance Day, marked every year and it was agreed to liaise with like-minded organisations in Indo-Fijian Diaspora in Canada, USA, Australia to commemorate Girmit Remembrance Day internationally and promote knowledge and history of indenture. It is also a time and occasion to reclaim our culture and restore our unity.
Those present in Auckland also resolved that the tales and music of girmit should resound everywhere descendent of Girmitiyas are settled as 14th May every year would be GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY.
Let us commemorate and celebrate their legacy and humanity. We are what they wanted us to be. In commemorating their memories, let us ignite that undying flame of desire and gratitude in our community, particularly in our children, that they are able to consciously and appreciatively inherit the legacy of the Girmitiyas – a legacy of struggle, endurance, resilience and achievement.
LET US ALL- CHILDREN OF GIRMIT RISE ON 14 MAY TO REMEMBER AND APPRECIATE THE SACRIFICES OF OUR GIRMITIYAS, AND RECLAIM OUR HERITAGE AND HISTORY.
Additional reading on Girmit: www.girmitunited.org