Monday, April 22, 2013

The Stolen History of Girmit: Part 2- When Indo-Fijians ignore their past.



The Stolen History of Girmit: Part 2- When Indo-Fijians ignore their past.

Thakur Ranjit Singh, Auckland, New Zealand

This week, Australia and New Zealand prepare for their ANZAC Day Celebrations and Public Holiday on Thursday 25 April, 2013. They do this to mark, honour, remember and praise the sacrifices of soldiers who died to carve out a better country and future for their new generations. What stands out prominently between them and Indo-Fijian Diaspora is the degree of respect, honour and gratitude shown respectively towards forbears who sacrificed to make life better for them.
 
Do Indo-Fijians have the same pride, indebtedness and thankfulness to the memory of Girmitiyas as Australian and New Zealanders have for the soldiers who died in the war during ANZAC Day celebrations? Should we Indo Fijians as a race feel ashamed for ignoring the sacrifices and sufferings of our forbears and pioneers? 
Young and old, men and women, will wake in the autumn coldness for ANZAC Dawn Services throughout Australasia, including Fiji where mostly i-Taukei people will honour and remember their dead soldiers. The difference we note will be that Indo-Fijians will stand out as most ungrateful and selfish people who have no time for those who gave them this life- the Girmitiyas. Are we Indo-Fijians selfish, self-centered, conceited and ungrateful people who have no time for those who sacrificed and suffered to make better life for them as migrants in Developed nations? Why? To a great extent, this is because Indo-Fijian history has been stolen from school books.

Rajendra Prasad’s Tears in Paradise also raises this issue. The author enquires, why despite enormous contributions to Fiji’s development, Fiji Indians escaped the history books. Former Prime Minister of India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru very aptly summed up this phenomenon in his book, The Discovery of India, as quoted by Prasad in his book:
 
Two iconic  Indian leaders during Girmit era. Mahatma Gandhi (Right) fought to abolish indenture. Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru (Left) echoed that history is written by rulers who project their point of view. Similarly, this was done in case of Indo-Fijian History, where British removed any mention of their evil deeds on Girmitiyas and failed to inform the coming generations of the story of struggles and sacrifices. No wonder Indo-Fijians remained ignorance of Girmit history.
“History is almost always written by victors and conquerors and gives their viewpoint; or, at any rate, the victor’s version is given prominence and holds the field.”                 

Therefore, in case of Fiji Indians, history was deliberately concealed to cover up the crimes of British and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Since British were the colonial rulers of Fiji for around a century, they had a distinct advantage in manipulating history. That is why, all we learnt in history lessons in schools was about British or Indigenous Fijian history. The little history of India that we learnt in schools covered the perspective from British side, missing out the real treachery of the colonizer, both in India and Fiji.

In some opinion, writers have likened indenture or girmit to slavery. In fact, some have dubbed slavery as being better, because, at least in slavery, people got better food and shelter. The author, Rajendra Prasad laments lack of history of Fiji Indians and wonders what happened to the account of indentured labourers. The supposedly custodians of girmitiyas, the British owed a duty of care to record history as it really and actually unfolded rather than how they wanted it to be told. They abrogated their responsibility by manipulating history of girmitiyas, thus leaving a community wounded.
 
FIJI IN THE PACIFIC -A history book in Fiji Schools - did it include the tales and sufferings of Girmit, or were the cruelty and injustice of British and Australians conveniently edited out of History books? Hence, Colonial government and successive governments  kept Indo-Fijian ignorant of their History. AND THEY REMAIN IGNORANT TO DATE.
 “Tears in Paradise “is an attempt to fill that vacuum and tell the new generation of Indo Fijians about the suffering and sacrifices of our forbears from India.

There have been instances when the Indo Fijians who have migrated from Fiji, and after seeing the new-found wealth and so called civilization of Developed Nations (Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA) try to disown Girmit and disassociate themselves with the genesis of Indo-Fijian History – Girmit. One day they will be called on to answer to their children and grandchildren when they attempt to seek answers about their ancestry and reason for being where they are now, and who made it possible for their fortunes.
 
LEONIDAS - the first ship arrived in Levuka, Fiji on 14 MAY, 1879 with 497 indentured labourers (Girmitiyas). Indenture History has been stolen from successive generations and Indo-Fijian parents kept their children ignorant by failing to tell the tales of their forefathers to their children. GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY on 14 May is intended to reclaim and restore the history of our forbears.
The new generation needs to know that on 14 May, 1879 the first batch of 497 Girmitiyas (indentured labourers) were brought to Fiji by the British. This trend continued till 1920 by when some 60,357 Girmitiyas were brought to Fiji. This May marks 134 years of the first arrival of Indians, and hence our urge to mark GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY on 14 MAY.

On ANZAC Day on 25 April, whole of Australia and New Zealand will come to a stand-still as respective nations remember the sacrifices of their soldiers. This will even be observed in Fiji, among I Taukei. But how about a day reserved to remember Girmitiyas? Will any offspring of Girmitiya Indo Fijians spare a thought for their pioneers on GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY on 14 May? While Indo-Fijians in Wellington and Auckland will mark their days, one wonders what the descendants of Girmitiyas in other parts of the world will do for those who gave them this life of health and wealth. One even wonders what, if anything will happen in Fiji, and what is the fate of Fiji Girmit Council? The question that we need to ask is whether the Indo-Fijians possess that same pride, passion and conscience to remember the sacrifices and sufferings of their forbears, their Girmitiya ancestors who carved out an Indo-Fijian culture.

We just hope that the next generation will somehow learn about the sacrifices of Girmit and hope they (the new generation) will be more thankful for the sacrifices of the forbears (ancestors). Somehow, my generation appears to have short memories about the sacrifices of those forgotten souls who delivered us to the comforts of Developed Countries. We have big houses, big cars, and comforts of life that our Girmitiyas could never even imagine – but we seem to have developed a much shrunk heart, bereft of any thankfulness. They gave us education and better life because the vision they had for their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and coming generations- that they will never again allow their offspring to go through the same indignity they went through in Girmit era at hands of British and Australians. Don’t we owe a day to remember and honour them? Are we such a thankless race?
 
Lest we forget our pioneer race, let us pledge to dedicate 14 May as GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY. Let all newspapers, TV and Radio Stations owned and managed by Indo Fijians in Canada, USA, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, mark 14 May to the memory of Girmitiyas. Is that too much to ask for? 
Let us all get together, and as already resolved in Girmit Remembrance Day in Auckland last year, we dedicate 14 MAY OF EVERY YEAR AS GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY. In our Ramayan Mandalis  Associations or any groupings for Indo-Fijians, let us talk about and be thankful to our Girmitiyas. Let us teach our new generation about the history that has been stolen from us. Let media, newspapers and Radio Stations owned by Indo Fijians dedicate a day to the memories of those who preserved the language for us. At least we owe this much to them.

To this end, this blogsite, FIJI PUNDIT at www.fijipundit.blogspot.co.nz will help educate while Vanita Nair’s website www.girmitunited.org at Brisbane are good sources for getting educated on Girmit.

May the soul of our GIRMITIYAS rest in peace this GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY ON 14 MAY, AND MAY THEIR DESCENDANTS BECOME MORE GRATEFUL FOR THEIR SUFFERINGS, SACRIFICES AND VISION.

Thakur Ranjit Singh
[E-mail: thakurji@xtra.co.nz
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