Saturday, June 29, 2013

Auckland Girmit Day honours elders, while rekindling international awareness

Auckland Girmit Day honours elders, while rekindling international awareness

Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the medals were eased into the ageing and wrinkled necks of Girmit – descendant octogenarians (those 80 years and over), the silence of the moment spoke deafeningly. This moment was etched in their memory, and brought smiles to their crinkled and parched lips as they eased out of chairs with shaking hands and crackling joints and legs that were protesting. Some had walking sticks for support, other had relatives. But the electricity of the moment was such that they eased out of chairs, with a bit of help from relatives and committee members, and inched their way to the main stage where executives of Fiji Girmit Foundation did the honours of putting the medals in their necks. They all eagerly waited for their names to be called.

Girmit Commemoration Plaque to mark GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY at Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand on 18 May, 2013

These were the first generation descendants of Girmitiyas, as their parents had served Girmit. Very soon we may not have anybody from this lot left, as we move to second generation. They were being rewarded for sacrifices of their parents who never received any honour for their sufferings and vision. While these people did not directly contribute anything to Girmit, they are living proof of the first descendants who heard stories of hardship and sufferings from their parents.

As names were called out, you could sense a feeling of satisfaction on their smiling faces. Half the recipients were from the first batch of octogenarians of first Girmit Day held in 2012 by Waitakere Indian Association. Recipients, among, others who were on hand to receive them were former Carpenters employee Govind Prasad, former National Farmers Union executive Kapil Deo Singh and wife,  Auckland old-timer and a friend of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, Narain Prasad his wife Rai Mati Singh, Shiu Mati Prasad and Audh Raji Vishwanath. One notable gentleman was former distinguished Ba resident, Alliance Minister and a long time Fiji politician, James Shankar Singh.
Chairperson of Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand, Pundit Devakar Prasad, interviewing Former Fiji Alliance Minister from Ratu Mara government of 1970s and 80s, JAMES SHANKAR SINGH after presenting him medal and certificate.
“Our Girmitiyas are not present now, but we are proud and thankful for their input in Fiji. It is through them who and what we are. It is nice to see that our Girmitiyas and elders are not forgotten” said an elated Singh after receiving Girmit Medal from Chairman of Girmit Foundation of New Zealand, Devakar Prasad.

Former National Farmers Union President and regular contributor to Shanti Dut Hindi newspaper in Fiji, Kapil Deo Singh was equally overjoyed at being recognised for the sacrifices of his forbears. “I feel very honoured for this recognition and thanks to Girmit Foundation for this novel gesture to remember Girmitiyas who need to be recognised by our history as well. We are thankful for their vision and priority in education and preserving our Hindi language,” Kapil said.
Rameshwar Dutt, Trustee of Waitakere Indian Association presenting Girmit medal to former Toko, Tavua, Fiji resident, KAPIL DEO SINGH.

Another octogenarian, Mrs Shiu Mati Prasad, sister of former Lautoka and Suva City Town Clerk/CEO Late Vishnu Chand, was equally overjoyed for this honour of being rewarded. She did recognise that sacrifices was by their fathers, but was honoured to be remembered. ‘I am thinking of our Girmitiyas and am thankful for their sacrifices. I am thankful for this event which I first attended last year,” said Mrs Prasad.
Abhay Ballu, Trustee of Waitakere Indian Association with Mrs Shiu Mati Prasad after presenting her Girmit medal.

That event was Girmit Remembrance Day which Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand held to commemorate the 134th anniversary of Girmit at the Skipton Hall, Mangere at Auckland on 18 May, 2013. The afternoon was named “Ek Shaam Girmitiyon ke Naam – a name in honour of Girmitiyas. The theme for the function was: Reconnecting, Reclaiming and Restoring Indo-Fijian History.”
Wreath laid in honour of the departed Girmitiya souls.

We all sang national anthem of New Zealand, Fiji and India, maintained a minutes silence and laid wreath in memory of the departed Girmitiya forbears. Some old tales were told and students of Pooja Trust took turns to sing Bidesia, based on Girmit in Fiji, playing the harmonium themselves. It was a stunning performance that captivated the audience and raised the profile of a folk song that belonged to a bygone era. Bidesia was widely sung by the Girmitiyas, which had the power to ease pent up emotions that broke into sobs, crying and wailing until they could cry no more. 
PUNDIT RAM KUMAR SEWAK, head of Pooja Trust (in blue) and an executive of Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand, joining his group in singing Bidesiya.

Oration delivered by young people on Girmit clearly showed that the young were appropriately being brought up with full knowledge of their early history. Pundit Ram Kumar Sewak is doing a commendable work in South Auckland among the young children and the fruits of his endeavour were in display at the function. The Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand is committed to reconnecting, reclaiming and restoring Indo-Fijian history and would work closely with the Fiji Girmit Council to support its aims and objectives, ensuring that Girmit is embraced as the foundational history of the community and is respected, revered and commemorated regularly.
GIRMIT AWARD MEDAL - these were presented to the first generation of Girmitiyas over 80, for the sacrifices, suffering and vision of their forbears.

Girmit Remembrance Day provided opportunity to Indo-Fijian families 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 event remembered suffering, sacrifices and vision of our forbears through oratory, poems, music and tales of the past. This was a journey through memory lane which provided exposure to a history that is dormant and yet it is a fascinating history of suffering, struggle and sacrifice.

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. Radio stations and other media helped us 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.
Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand organising committee, from left, Vijendra Prasad,, Pundit Devakar Prasad (Chairperson), Rajendra Prasad, Thakur Ranjit Singh (Secretary)) Harnam Singh Golian, Satya Dutt and Krish Naidu. Sitting in front: Radha Kanhai Reddy[Absent: Master Shiu Charan, Pundit Ram Sewak and Pradeep Chandra]
With two Girmit events in Auckland, one at Calvary Church and the other at Skipton Hall, with one additional one at Wellington, we Kiwis hope to initiate a turnaround and raise international awareness on Indo-Fijian history.

Girmit Remembrance Day 2013 in Auckland was an opportunity to recognise and reward the sacrifices of our forbears in proxy, but most importantly, to show them love and honour which their Girmitiya parents were denied in Girmit.

May their souls rest in peace.