Friday, May 17, 2013

Fiji Girmit Foundation restores and reclaims Girmit History


Girmit Foundation New Zealand to reconnect, reclaim and restore Indo-Fijian history

Thakur Ranjit Singh,

If I ask Indo-Fijians the significance of 14th May, they may say, yes, of course, Rabuka’s coup in 1987. No, not that. I was thinking of something over a century before the coup – I was thinking of 14th May, 1879 when the first ship load of Girmitiyas- Fiji’s indentured labourers – arrived in Fiji at Levuka in the historic vessel, the Leonidas.  I do not blame them for this as our school history fails to recognise and acknowledge this fact, which appear to have been stolen from successive Indo Fijian generations. This article is intended to enlighten and awaken the silent pride of Indo-Fijian Diaspora, and urge them to observe GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY on 14 May of every year.
Girmit icon of Fiji is cane -farming and farmers. This monument at entrance of Ba Town in Fiji. Long live our Girmitiyas memories, and may we never forget them

During this Ram Naumi, as the Hindu Indo-Fijian Diaspora in Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand and Fiji gathered at different Mandirs, Bhavans, temples, prayer houses and private homes to sing Ramayan and Ram Kirtans, please ponder this issue – how come Indo Fijians were singing Ramayan in Hindi and maintaining their culture and religion? How come Indo-Fijian Diaspora is a pride to Hinduism among migrant Hindus? Who do you give credit for bringing and preserving Hindi language and Hinduism in Fiji? 

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans think of and honour those who sacrificed for America in creating a new homeland. On ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Kiwis and Aussies think of their soldiers who fought for their countries and gave their lives. On Waitangi Day, New Zealanders mark that as a nation-building day. Then why cannot we, Girmitiya descendant Indo-Fijians, set aside at least one day in a year to think and honour those who sacrificed their life for us and gave us this better life than they ever dreamed of?

During Thanksgiving Day, Americans remember, honour and shows respect to those who helped in carving their history. They normally have big feasts to mark this. Why this pride for sacrifices of Girmitiyas is lacking from Indo-Fijians worldwide? Request is for the descendants of Girmitiyas to take MAY 14 each year and mark it as GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY.

The tragedy of Indo- Fijians is that they lack selfless political or other forms of benevolent exemplary leadership. We have our so called crusaders of cane farmers and trade unionists, multitudes of qualified academics and professors. We have multitudes of prosperous Indo-Fijian lawyers made rich by a bickering Indo-Fijian community, yet how many have got the guts or human conscience to take the fight to seek redress from those who wronged us?
Girmitiyas- Lest we forget them. Let us remember them for their vision, sacrifices and sufferings.

What I suggest is that we need to tell our children and grandchildren about the stories of Girmit so that they know where they have descended from and how full of suffering has been those Girmit journeys in past centuries.
To realise this dream, Auckland New Zealand Indo Fijians have taken steps to reconnect, reclaim and restore Indo-Fijian history.

Eminent and respected members on Indo-Fijian Community in New Zealand  have leadership role in FIJI GIRMIT FOUNDATION NEW ZEALAND. Pundit Devakar Prasad (right) is the Chairman of Girmit Foundation. He is former Deputy General Manager of Fiji Broadcasting Commission and former Deputy Speaker of Fiji Parliament. On left is Master Shiu Charan, another founding member of Foundation, former Fiji Parliamentarian, Executive of Fiji Teachers Union NZ and a community worker..Former Fiji Parliamentarian, businessman and community worker Sardar Harnam Singh Golian is also part of the founding committee of foundation in Auckland.

FIJI GIRMIT FOUNDATION NEW ZEALAND has been formed to regularly organize commemoration of Girmit in New Zealand every year.  The Foundation is headed by former Deputy General Manager of Fiji Broadcasting Commission, Pundit Devakar Prasad (Chairperson) and other members include Thakur Ranjit Singh, (Secretary), Krish Naidu (Treasurer), former parliamentarians Master Shiu Charan and Sardar Harnam Singh Golian, author of “Tears in Paradise” and former Ba Town Clerk, Rajendra Prasad, Satya Dutt, Vijendra Prasad, Pradeep Chand (Manukau Sanatan) and Pundit Ram Kumar Sewak.

Rajendra Prasad, Author of compelling book Tears in Paradise, and former Ba Town Clerk is one of the driving forces behind Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand. His book and passion towards restoring and reclaiming stolen Indo-Fijian history are the the inspiration flames that ignite our memories and respect for our forbears. Unfortunately, 15 May edition of Auckland paper Indian Newslink provides a misguided and misleading perceptive on Girmit revival in NZ. It attributes it to a politician and former Governor General who have nothing to do with this commemoration. The real force behind Girmit, Rajendra Prasad author has been, not surprisingly ignored by media which lacks credibility. This is when we say, media become a lapdog of rich and influential. FIJI PUNDIT salutes RAJENDRA PRASAD AUTHOR for his services and efforts in reviving and reconnecting with stolen history of Girmit.

May 14 is a significant day in the history of Indo-Fijian community, as it marks the arrival the first ship of Indian indentured labourers (Girmitiyas) in Fiji in 1879. It followed 86 other ships that brought 60,553 Girmitiyas to Fiji. It is the aim of the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand to reconnect, reclaim and restore Indo-Fijian history, which is almost unknown to the new generation of Indo- Fijian community worldwide.

The Foundation is organising Girmit Remembrance Day on Saturday 18 May, 2013 at Skipton ARST Hall, 53 Skipton Street, Mangere,  Auckland, New Zealand. This event is organized to provide opportunity to every Indo-Fijian family to resurrect the memories and pay our respects to our Girmitiya forebears for the sacrifices that they made and the legacy that they left for successive generations.

The day’s programme will remember suffering, sacrifices and vision of our forbears through oratory, poems, music and tales of the past. This will be a journey through memory lane which will provide exposure to a history that is dormant and yet it is a fascinating history of suffering, struggle and sacrifice.
It is a fervent hope of the Foundation that such activities would assist in restoration of Indo-Fijian history; not only in New Zealand, but everywhere Indo-Fijians are settled. Hence, the theme for this year’s commemoration is:
“Ek Shaam Girmiyon ke Naam – (An afternoon dedicated to the memory of Indentured Labourers –Girmitiyas): RECONNECTING, RECLAIMING AND RESTORING INDO-FIJIAN HISTORY

The trophy and applause goes to Calvary Indian A.O.G. Church in Auckland for beating all Hindu Ramayan Mandalis and many Sanatan organisations in organising an evening and Girmit fancy dress to revive the memories and sing the praises to fill those empty pages of History that has been stolen.. We need pride and self-respect in Indo-Fijians to revive the memory of our forbears, as without History, a community becomes rudderless. Historic formation of FIJI GIRMIT FOUNDATION NEW ZEALAND is expected to provide pivotal leadership role in reclaiming and reconnecting, especially the youth, with Indo-Fijian stolen history. 

The Foundation intends to strengthen our unique Indo-Fijian culture, language, customs and traditions to ensure that our children remain connected to the jewels of their inheritance. Help of Radio stations and other media have been sought to reach people. It is hoped, in a small way, the initiative, foresight and vision of Aucklanders are going to inspire our Indo Fijian Diaspora in Canada (Vancouver, Surrey, Calgary, Toronto etc), USA (San Francisco, Sacramento, Modesto Hayward etc), Australia (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne etc) and even in Fiji to appreciate that we get organised and tell our new generation the tales of Girmit that history has failed to acknowledge.


[Girmit Foundation Facebook: 

 [About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a journalist, a blogger, a media commentator and former Publisher of Fiji’s Daily Post. He is the Secretary of Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand. He runs his blogsite: FIJI PUNDIT, available at www.fijipundit.blogspot.co.nz]