Friday, April 19, 2013

The Stolen History of Girmit: Part 1-Why Indo-Fijians remain ignorant of their past


The Stolen History of Girmit: Part 1-Why Indo-Fijians remain ignorant of their past

Thakur Ranjit Singh, Auckland, New Zealand

 “The woman turns around in fear, and puts her hands in entreaty. The whip comes down upon her half naked back and legs. The child is struck also. Both are crying and screaming and the mounted brute almost puts his horse’s hoofs upon her…. (The violence and atrocities of Girmit, from Rajendra Prasad’s “Tears in Paradise.)
 
Rajendra Prasad's epic novel that tries to awaken Indo-Fijians towards their stolen history: "TEARS IN PARADISE- Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004" This seven years of Girmit research details the sufferings of Indians in slavery of Girmit
In his historic epic, “Tears in Paradise”, Rajendra Prasad writes:
Pain from the wounds of girmit resided in the hearts and minds of its victims and their families, but it failed to find expression publicly or in history books. …the Indo Fijians, who were a significant part of Fiji and had made an enormous contribution towards its economic, social, cultural and political development, had escaped the history books”

What that effectively means is that there is a vacuum as far as contribution on Indo-Fijians to Fiji’s or Pacific’s History is concerned.

Those of you who came through Fiji’s education system would recall that in primary and secondary school history, you learnt about early history of indigenous Fijians, about provincial tribal wars and their legends. You would have also learnt about the prowess and courage of various European explorers and seamen like Captain James Cook, Abel Tasman, Captain William Bligh, and Vasco da Gama, who ventured out to seek new lands, among others. You must have also read, the history of British royal family, contributions of British in developing and civilizing the earth, the virtues of Commonwealth, the penal history of Australia, and so on about the glory of White men’s contributions to carving out the destiny of the world.
History books of Fiji completely missed the HISTORY OF GIRMIT.  Successive generations coming out of Fiji's education system remain ignorant of their History.

However, as far as Fiji’s development history is concerned, apart from a few sentences about indentured labourers from India brought to work on cane farms, there is no account of what went on in the whipping, punching, kicking, suiciding and raping cane fields of early Fiji. They were completely missed by the history books.
When we are gone, hope our children will remember the sacrifices our generation made for their brighter future. Should they forget this, it would be a fitting revenge and payback for the Girmitiyas who we have forgotten. What goes around comes around! May their soul rest in peace.
Girmitiyas (Indentured Labourers) who Indo-Fijians have forgotten. Are we such a selfish and conceited race of people?

To awaken the dead conscience of Indo-Fijians towards their Girmitiyas, I end with the following powerful quote from the pages of Rajendra Prasad’s “Tears in Paradise”

“Even in the stillness of cane stalks, one can almost feel the powerful presence of the spirits of sorrow and grief exuding from these sugarcane fields. They are the spirits of our ancestors.

The desperate cries of the Girmitiyas echoed from 1879 -1919 in the fields, but it was not until later that the outside world came to their rescue. When their white masters turned away their faces and the victims seethed in agony, the Girmitiyas found comfort in relating their anguish to the trees and plants around them. A folk song called bidesia, a lamentation, composed under these traumatic circumstances by one of the Girmitiyas, reflects the depth of their suffering:

  Churi, kudaari ke sung, ab bitay din aur ratian,
 Ganne ki hari hari patiya, Jaane hamari dil ki batiyaan

In these couplets, the lyricist tells of the widespread suffering of the Girmitiyas’ work in the sugarcane fields, saying that knife and hoe are their companions day and night. Atrocities against them are so blatant that even the green leaves of sugarcane bear witness to the flames of anguish that consumes their heart.”

May we be thankful to the sacrifices of our forebears. Let us remember them on 14 May, in some small way, as we mark Independence Day or Thanksgiving Day, Australia Day, ANZAC or Waitangi Day. Let us remember them by dedicating 14 May as GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY.
 
Girmitiya Bansi, Aaja (grandfather) of Author of this article, Thakur Ranjit Singh. This article is dedicated to his memory. How many Indo-Fijians know their grandfather and feel proud of their sacrifices and vision, and remember them. Many do not, because we have become a very selfish and undeserving community who have forgotten what our forbears gave us our current lifestyle. LET US DEDICATE 14 MAY TO THEIR MEMORY AND MARK GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY
I dedicate this article to the memories of my Aaja Bansi, through whose sacrifices and vision, I got educated to the level that I could tell their untold stories to a thankless race of people through my Blogsite, FIJI PUNDIT. May their soul rest in peace. And may we become a more caring people towards the memories of our departed forbears.

THAKUR RANJIT SINGH, writing in Blogsite: FIJI PUNDIT

E-mail: thakurji@xtra.co.nz