Sunday, June 28, 2015

Indian Kiwis question our justice system - AGAIN!!



Arun Kumar, Sai Krishna Naidu, Navtej Singh and Hasmat Bhai Patel: What is common here? These are Indians or people of Indian origin who were killed by non-Indians and killers of all received very questionable sentences – what the White men say, slap over the wrist with a wet bus ticket. With deafening silence from the community, what is there to say there will not be repeat of this scenario - AGAIN!

Where is the Indian media? We cannot blame the mainstream media to show much interest in this, as it has not yet colored enough to include our people- it is still very White. With a deafening silence from our Indian community leaders and representatives, we indeed are a voiceless community. Heard anything from anybody by now? FIJI PUNDIT attempts to fill that vacuum.


ARUN KUMAR - He was murdered in his store by two youths who failed to receive due sentence for their crimes -thanks to a wanting justice system and less than competent prosecution, and a very competent defense.
Initially I penned this article some seven (7) years ago upon death of yet another shopkeeper, Sai Krishna Naidu in 2008, and questionable sentencing in Navtej Singh murder case where only one was convicted of murder, and other accomplices were treated as petty thieves. Recent murder, sentencing and diminished charges and one acquittal in case of Arun Kumar, prompts me to revisit what I raised in 2008. It appears nobody gives a two hoots about another Indian or ethnic death. It seems our community has no voice, as we haven’t heard anything from our media, representatives or community leaders until now –so many lapdogs, no watchdog.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Big murderers lurking as small kids: Another Indian murder- 7 years ago



Big murderers lurking as small kids: Another Indian murder- 7 years ago

Thakur Ranjit Singh

No, this is not about the killing of Arun Kumar in Henderson-it is about a similar Indian killing some 7 years ago: The murder of Sai Krishna Naidu in Clendon, Manurewa in 2008. Have things improved? Have the authorities learnt their lesson? I wonder where that murderer, 16 year old then, Tiare Towihi Nathan is – NOW. He would be a 23 old adult now, is he still mad or was that a fake?

The judge ruled that Nathan was criminally insane at the time he committed the offence", and accordingly found him not guilty of murder. He made an order that Nathan be detained in hospital as a special patient, saying he required care for a long time. It would be up to medical experts to decide when he would be freed.

I wonder whether our MP Kanwaljeet Bakshi can use the resources of his office to find out under Official Information Act – WHERE IS THIS MURDERER WHO WAS RULED INSANE IN 2008. Is he really insane, or enjoying life? How about the family of Sai Naidu - the only child of his parents. And how about the verdict of the latest murder of Arun Kumar of Henderson? This will be covered in a FIJI PUNDIT article later.

A blockbuster Hindi movie, appropriately titled "Andhaa Kanoon" which translates to a blind law and justice, which seems to prevail for Indian communities in Auckland., through murders and subsequent sentences

Is the justice system in NZ unfair to the ethnic non- Anglo Saxon families? If, say John Key’s or Andrew Little’s relatives would have been killed this way, would we still have had the lackadaisical attitude of prosecution? Would the justice system remain as questioning and wanting?

Let us go in flashback mode to 2008

A father’s dream of seeing his son graduate and a mother’s dream of dressing her only son as a groom was snuffed out cruelly on the early afternoon of Friday 25 January, 2008.

On that fateful day, Hari Raj Naidu and his wife left their Finlayson Superette in Clendon, Manukau, Auckland only for a short while in the care of their 22 year old son Saishwar Krishna Naidu, an electronic student attending Manukau Institute of Technology.   
 
Indeed, justice seems to have a blindfold, as a community feels short-changed by delivery of some of its rulings
At around 1.30 pm, in walked a shabbily dressed 16 year old Maori kid- , Tiare Towihi Nathan who directly walked inside the counter and attacked Sai Krishna repeatedly with a small knife without any provocation. Despite the efforts of the Ambulance staff he passed away on the scene. In the meantime, the assailant, who appeared not at all remorseful of his hideous and animalistic crime was caught, bashed and handed over to the police by some people who came over to help after the commotion.

When I visited the bereaved Hari Raj Naidu’s residence at his Pelargonium Terrace home in Manukau Heights in 2008, he was too distraught to talk while his wife was still reeling from the shock of losing her baby son. All Mr Naidu could relate was that the heaviest burden for any father is to give shoulder to the coffin box of his teenage son, when the nature intended the roles to be reversed. For Hindus, it is the son who is expected to light their parent’s pyre and perform their final rites. With a few strokes of a knife in the hands of an unruly youth, this right has been snatched from Naidu and his wife.

“In this country criminals and lawbreakers, with the help of so called human rights advocates gain more rights than us hard working law abiding citizens. We are at the receiving end of government’s handout mentality to bludgers who survive on taxpayer benefits and cause havoc in our communities.” said one neighbour.

Anger and disappointment was obvious on the faces of people who had gathered at Naidu’s home to console the family. One angry relative said that it was time for government to review its welfare system and stop fattening the criminal elements. One Indo Fijian migrant quipped that he came from troubled Fiji for security but Auckland was turning out to be worse than the worst streets of Suva.

The anger amongst Indian and Indo Fijian community is expected to materialise in some form of action. Community leaders have expressed concerns at the deteriorating law and order situation, failure of our welfare state and some legislation that unilaterally stripped parents from their parenting rights that appear to have contributed to increasing crime in youths and juveniles. Have religion and community support failed us? Why crime is rife around areas with huge churches and Marae?

But it was too late for Sai Naidu who obviously was a victim of poor parenting and upbringing of a juvenile thug that reflected on the society that we live in.

Sai Naidu was cremated at Manukau Memorial Gardens which saw one of the largest gatherings of mourners in the recent past. The hall, the foyer and the corridors were fully packed and people were some four deep around the hall.
 
Giyannedra Prasad, former Fiji Parliamentarian, a community leader and a classmate of the victims father, delivered a moving eulogy during the funeral service of Sai Krishna Naidu in January, 2008.
Giyannendra Prasad, Auckland lawyer, former Fiji Labour Member of Parliament and former Deputy Speaker, who himself was a victim of George Speight’s detention, delivered a moving eulogy. Prasad attended school with Naidu Senior in Fiji and expressed his utter sadness and dismay at situation of migrants who came to NZ in search of peace and law and order. He echoed the sentiments that people from Fiji moved over here with high hopes, but become victims of senseless, cruel and callous crimes that take away their dreams with sudden loss of their loved ones. He expressed the fear of Indian community Dairy owners who must be thinking, who is next. It appears the anger of the community has transformed into a sense of helplessness and frustration at the inability of the authorities to provide the security for which the migrants chose New Zealand as their new home.

I spoke to prominent Indian Community leaders who called for some form of concerted effort to address the problem of unbridled crime in Auckland. The Indian Community was prepared to take lead in this matter and was prepared to work in cooperation and consultation with the authorities to address the issue as a community problem.

Should this eventuate, it would appear that Sai Naidu’s death would not have been in vain and that is some consolation that Indo Fijian community and the fearful shop owners can have from this tragedy.

PROLOGUE: Indian community did meet some seven years ago, and as happens, unless some mover and shaker is a victim, nobody gives a damn. And same happened, while Indians continued getting killed.


[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and community worker, using his blog site, FIJI PUNDIT, to raise issues which the mainstream and side stream media ignores or fails to highlight. This is one such instance]

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Clevedon Shiv Statue: Non-Hindus need to appreciate the reasons behind idol-worship

The Clevedon Shiv Statue: Non-Hindus need to appreciate the reasons behind idol-worship

Thakur Ranjit Singh

The mainstream media in New Zealand still does not reflect the population make up in its newsrooms, hence still remains White. News on Hinduism makes it to media when they sell, hence it has to be in controversy, like this story in papers and TV. If good things are done, they rarely get mentioned.


Mainstream media in NZ hardly has any Indian or Hindus in their newsrooms - and Hinduism is the second largest religion in NZ. Hence Kiwis remain ignorant about their neighbors. They do not have any journalists who can inform about diversity, and on aspects of Hinduism they know so little about.

There are many reasons why a devout Hindu worships idols- it is the best way of communicating with his Gods and seeking their blessings. Religion is a matter of faith. The paths to God are many, and many are the ways one can reach him.
Hinduism not only preaches about peace and harmony among the societies in the world, but also propagates a truth that somehow the whole world has to live together like a family.



The advantage of being a part-time bus driver is that you get to see places free that other common mortals in Auckland rarely get an opportunity to see – and that, for free. Many places in Auckland, like Shakespeare Park, Parakai Pools, Waiwera Pools, Hunua Falls, Woodhill Forest, Ambury Regional Park, Waitakere Ranges, Narrow Neck Beach, Mellons Bay, Spookers, Bethells Beach, Muriwai Beach, Whagaparoa Railways, Goat Island-Omaha Marae, Paradise Ice Skating, Olive Farm-Bombay, to name a few, are places you get to visit and see free. And the advantage of driving Party Bus is that you get to see other extras. That, some other time. But now to a more divine story.

The nearest residence hidden and covered by vegetation, and the statue does not seem to be out of place on a lifestyle block where owners have acres and acres of land in a rural setting
Some two weeks ago, when I got a job to go to McNicol Rd, Clevedon, a bell started ringing – almost like a ghanti (bell) in a Shiv temple, as this had something to do with that. This is because, Clevedon, a rural settlement, with life-style blocks (lot of land) on the outskirts of Papakura has been in the news recently where a supposedly offensive large statue has been casting dark shadows on a neighbour’s property, and  was causing a bit of stir in this predominantly White rural community.

Lo and behold, when I searched the map, I found out that my school ball pick up point was some 15 minutes out away from Papakura town centre, on Papakura - Clevedon Rd. And ten minutes out of Papakura on the same route was junction of Creightons Road where that statue was. Hence armed with my amateur camera, I headed early for my job to this rural part of Auckland to make a visit to this house with the statue – another free trip.

Just about 200-300 metres from junction of Papakura –Clevedon Road, into Creightons Rd is this statue which has been in news for the wrong reasons- a complaint from a neighbour that it is imposing on them.

Ravi Chand -the Indo-Fijian dentist, and owner of the property where the statue is erected. He told NZ Herald that it has been a desire to have the statue of his loved deity at his residence, and it is all about faith. FIJI PUNDIT believes it is his right to have it at his place, as an expression of Hindu faith. And anybody who has faith in the deity and the statue are free to worship it.[NZ Herald photo]
According to NZ Herald, a neighbour, Bryce Watts, a Catholic, said the marble statue was "bizarre" and "offensive". However, I found nothing bizarre or offensive, as this was in a rural environment with lifestyle blocks of hectares of vacant sprawling land, with tall trees, farming and storage sheds. If you did not look out for it, you could drive past the property-owner, Ravin Chand’s house on Creightons Road. You could drive past without noticing this, as tall trees adequately hide and camouflage it and it does not feature as anything bizarre. Mr Watts’s boundary may be 10m away from Chand’s property, as reported by NZ Herald, but I did not notice any dwelling nearby that may have been affected by the statue.


I wonder, had Chand had been an Anglo-Saxon (European) instead of a brown Indo-Fijian who lived in Watts’s neighbourhood and erected King George the Sixth’s statue of that size, whether Watts would have STILL seen it as bizarre, or saluted it with respect? Watts has to realise that the demographic landscape of Auckland has changed and he needs to appreciate that he is no longer living in an All- White and All-Christian neighbourhood, hence he needs to embrace diversity. And with this change comes the actual change in landscape that happened in his neighbourhood.

Nobody can question Ravi Chand’s right to erect whatever he wants in his premises, and also the right of people who choose to worship the statue. While people of other faiths may class this as an act of a heathen, people need to appreciate the concept of idol worship, and take their head out of sand, and be informed and enlightened.


Idol worship is a simple way of expressing ones faith, love and devotion to God. Hindus do not worship idol in vain. It is just a symbol, a form with which the mind can be connected and concentrated upon. Idol or statue is a way to acknowledge the omnipresence (sarwa-vyapak-present everywhere), omniscience (sarwa-gyaniantar-yami-all knowledge) and omnipotence (sarwa-shaktimaan-all powerful) of God. If God is omnipresent, then everything in the universe, including the idol/statue one worships is filled with His energy and presence. Everything in the universe becomes equally sacred and worthy of worshipping. (No wonder Hindus in India name their lakes, rivers and mountains as Gods). More than anything, an idol aids in concentration. More than any abstract (mental, theoretical) concept, an image or a symbol (yantra) is the best aid to concentrate and control one’s mind and attention. By keeping the mind concentrated on a particular image, the mind can be stabilised.

Silhouette of the Statue against a setting sun on a wintry evening of June, 2015

There are many reasons why a devout Hindu worships idols. These reasons may not satisfy the intellectual curiosity of a well-educated scholar, but for a deeply religious Hindu, it is the best way of communicating with his Gods and seeking their blessings. Religion is a matter of faith. The paths to God are many, and many are the ways one can reach him.


Therefore, a Catholic neighbour of Ravi Chand may view the statue as something bizarre and imposing on him while Chand and other Hindus see it as a symbol of faith. While the neighbour’s religion may look down on Chand’s religion and belief, Hinduism believes in the motto of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means the world is a big family, and all religions are small creeks flowing into a big river which flows into the ocean. If Watts ever decides to erect some Christian religious symbol, he can be assured that his Hindu neighbor will not run down to media to cause a frenzy and a storm in a teacup. This is because our religion not only preaches about peace and harmony among the societies in the world, but also propagates a truth that somehow the whole world has to live together like a family. This is the reason why Hindus think that any power in the world, big or small cannot have its own way, disregarding others. This is because of the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the world in one family.

Hope some in rural Clevedon in outskirts of Auckland (some 40km from CBD) can appreciate this.



[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is blogger at blog sites FIJI PUNDIT and KIWI PUNDIT. He is scholar in Communications studies with honours from AUT. He is also a media commentator, and fills the vacuum in information that the mainstream and side stream media either fail to tell or are incapable of doing so. This article was one in that spirit. Unfortunately, you will never read this in the mainstream media, because NZ hardly has any Indian or Hindus in their newsrooms-and Hinduism is the second largest religion in NZ. Hence Kiwis remain ignorant about their neighbors] 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

“I Have a Dream”: The Temple and Community Center in West Auckland - the untold tale of dream of a Reluctant and an Unsung Hero.

“I Have a Dream”: The Temple and Community Centre in West Auckland - the untold tale of dream of a Reluctant and an Unsung Hero.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Shri Ram Mandir and Community  Center was officially inaugurated, after a week-long rituals of Pran-prathisha (This is a ritual of consecration or blessing in which the consciousness or power of the deity is brought into the image in a temple). It was opened with pomp and ceremony which reflected the multi-racial face of growing New Zealand community. It also echoed the motto of the Ram Mandir Charitable Trust to be an all-inclusive Community Centre for the benefit and well-being of all the people of all backgrounds of Auckland.
" I have a Dream" PRAVIN KUMAR- the reluctant Unsung Hero of the Temple and Community Centre project, had such a dream some 8 years ago, which slowly started turning into reality through dedication, perseverance and community support. This dream was realised on 13 June, 2015, with the completion of Pran Prathisata and official inauguration.
There is an untold story that needs to be included in the annals of this project – to be reflected in its records and history. This is the story of somebody, and unsung hero, and a reluctant one at that, who shies away from deserved accolades, publicity and praises. Read on to find out who is that Unsung Hero who had a dream which became a reality with the opening of this complex on 13 June, 2015. [I think you already know that!]


As the chariot or Rath carrying the murtis (statues) during Nagar yatra (street parade) halted in front of Waitakere College in Rathgar Road in Henderson on 7 June, 2015, like a Bollywood movie, I went into flashback mode some 8 years ago.

The Nagar/Rath Yatra  (Street parade) taking a break outside Waitakere College which was the venue for the seed fund-raising  for a similar hall project some 8 years ago.  So began the flashback of untold story of a dream.

 As perhaps the only executive of Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) of a decade ago walking in the parade, I went back into history. I knew about it as I was the Secretary of WIA for over six years from 2004, when many great tasks were undertaken. I dug up a letter written by the then president, Anand Naidu, on 28 June, 2006, reflecting the views of the then WIA team:

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Waitakere Indian Association

“Working for you and your family”

                P O Box 45-206, Te Atatu Peninsula.

 
 



28 June 2006


Community Centre Building Project

Background
The Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) is planning to build a Community Centre in Waitakere City. The anticipated project would be the biggest project WIA would undertake since its inception in year 2000.

WIA recognises that there is no Community Centre or Meeting & Function Hall for the Ethnic Indian population in West Auckland…. there is a huge demand for such facilities from the public.

The Community Centre
WIA is planning to build a facility big enough to accommodate big occasions such as weddings, birthday parties, conference, religious & prayer meetings, and other popular festivals and occasions. The facility would be located in Waitakere City…..
Bhagwat Katha in West Auckland
Introduction
One such initiative suggested by some executive members is to organise a Bhagwat Katha to be delivered by a recognised Sant from India. Proceeds from this Katha will go towards the community hall project.  This will be the first of its kind for the people of West Auckland.
Proposal
I propose that WIA sponsors a Sant from India to deliver Bhagwat Katha.…..
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Waitakere College where 8 years ago, the initial seed for a similar hall project was planted at this site through a Bhagwat Katha by Shri Hari Suresh Acharya Ji Maharaj. A project that started with holy means, ended up in a Holy place just a stone's throw away, only a block away.
Hence this dream of having a hall and community centre was first initiated almost a decade ago when Waitakere Indian Association (WIA), comprising of mostly Indo-Fijian Indians, identified a need for such a facility in their locality. A temple was not in the project because religious projects are not easily funded, and WIA was a non- religious organisation. WIA went to the extent of getting one swami from India to raise funds for the project. Shri Hari Suresh Acharya Ji Maharaj from Vrindavan, Mathura, India, was sponsored for reciting Bhagavat Katha (religious discourse) in Auckland, from 20th to 27th January, 2007. This was held at Waitakere College. And it is here that the Nagar yatra chariot had stopped for a break some eight years later on Sunday 7 June, 2015 to mark realization of that long dream.

Some seed money was collected from this parvachan, but nothing eventuated, and it appeared very little would eventuate. One person associated with this organisation had volunteered to host the Acharya at his home. He was then an executive of WIA and was its Director of Religious, Cultural and Community events. His 2007 AGM report on the hall project read as follows:

Bhagwat Katha
This event was organised to raise funds towards a community hall for the Indian Community in West Auckland. The Bhagwat Katha was held over 7 days in Waitakere College and was well attended. Whilst the funds raised were not as expected, it however has raised the profile of WIA in the community.

From that event the residence of this devotee near coastal Te Atatu South, in Auckland West became a shrine or “ashram” for Hari Suresh Acharya. And so was this shrine continually purified through string of visiting Swamis from India, who found comfort, solace and home at this Bhakt’s (devotee’s) place. From “sant milan” (meeting sages) and on the teaching of Ramayan of Shri Ram, this person obtained inspiration for “par hitt”- service to humanity which is seen as the most auspicious deed by a human being. He took on the venture of realizing this dream, but with an addition of a temple, with the community center and hall.

In his humbleness and humility, this person had requested me not to write anything praising him, as he did all this service not for fame or glory, but as his contribution of service to humanity and God. However, FIJI PUNDIT wishes to remind him about a couplet from chaupai of Ramayan:
HANI LAABH JIWWAN MARAN, JASU APJASU BIDHI HAATH

Auckland in general and Waitakere (West Auckland) in particular are blessed by the dedication and passion of the couple, Pravin and Kashmin Kumar in community and religious issues. May God bless them, Aayushmaan Bhava, Kashmin Sada Suhaagan Raho, Akhand Sowbhaagyawati Bhava.

Loss and gain, life and death, glory and infamy all these lie in the hands of Providence. And hence this credit to him is through that providence, as I am an instrument of Shri Ram to give credit as a journalist where it is due. And that person who was inspired from Bhagwat katha and “sant –milan” some decades ago, the one who had taken on the venture of bringing to reality this dream in Waitakere. He realised no other organisation was geared for such a big project and hence initiated to do something to bring that dream to reality. AND HE IN NONE OTHER THAN THE MANAGING TRUSTEE OF THE TEMPLE AND COMMUNITY CENTER PROJECT, PRAVIN KUNMAR

He held discussion with like-minded community leaders in 2010 and put together a small group of visionary Hindu leaders, and echoed that decade-old dream of fulfilling the need for an acute lack of appropriate public centre for cultural, social and religious activities. Through this identification of a facility deficiency, the following year, in September 2011, SHRI RAM MANDIR CHARITABLE TRUST was formed, with appointment of Trustees. A set of Trustees who are all professionals in their own right are custodians of Shri Ram Mandir Charitable Trust which is headed by a well-known community leader, businessman and Chartered Accountant, and the same person who dreamt of providing something tangible for the community. He single-handily steered this organisation in realising this dream. He is none other than Pravin Kumar of Lotus Group of Companies.

Trustees of  the Ram Mandir Project:  Giyannendra Prasad (left) and Salendra (Len) Kumar, who is also the Treasurer of the project

And this is the person I has mentioned earlier, who had been a host to many Swamis and got the inspiration for the bringing to reality a long held dream. And he is the main architect, in the metaphorical sense, of this project.  Other trustees are Barrister and Solicitor and former Fiji parliamentarian, Giyannendra Prasad, businessman and Chartered Accountant, Salendra Kumar, and a Community worker, former Fiji school teacher, parliamentarian and trade unionist Master Shiu Charan.

Another Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir, Master Shiu Charan (left) with another icon of the Project, Late Pundit Devakar Prasad, who was a Volunteer Consultant, looking forward to completion of the project, but sadly passed away just months before the formal opening. He has been appropriately acknowledged for his passion for the community. It has been the friendship of these two stalwarts of Indo-Fijian community in Auckland, that inspired others to emulate their friendship as well as their spirit for community work.

What is quite historical and astonishing is that the place where the originating Bhagwat Katha was recited by Hari Suresh Acharya some 8 years ago at Waitakere College is on the next block to the Ram Mandir and Community Centre at 11 Brick Street. Only Swanson Road separates this and strangely, the Nagar and Rath Yatra that took place went from front of the College at Rathgar Road, the venue where the first few seeds of this dream and project was laid some 8 years ago.
 
The top dome or Gumbaj of Shri Ram Mandir as seen from Waitakere College Grounds
There is another couplet from Ramayan: Hoi hai soi jo ram rachi rakhaonly that will happen what Lord Ram desires. And as fate had determined, who could guess that this project would be just a stone’s throw away from where the initial Bhagwat Katha was held for this project. What is more significant is that the dome (gumbaj) of the Mandir/Community Centre project is visible from the grounds of Waitakere College. Indeed God works in mysterious ways by planning events and appointing his Bhakts (devotees) who become instrument of his wishes. And this reluctant and modest unsung Hero, Pravin Kumar became that instrument. And together with him, FIJI PUNDIT, became an instrument to tell this untold episode of the project that needs to go in the annals of history of the Temple and Community centre project in Henderson.


Indeed, God works in mysterious ways...that is why we say Hoi hai soi jo ram rachi rakha....Jai Shree Ram...Jai hoh

E-mail: thakurji@xtra.co.nz

[ About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT and tells the untold story of the community that the mainstream and so-called Indian print media are unable, incapable of or unprepared to tell. This is one such hitherto untold story. Just 'Google" 'Fiji Pundit' to access and read other untold stories.]

Monday, June 1, 2015

Auckland Girmit Day hosts Fiji Minister, marks Syria Tragedy and requests Girmit recognition

Auckland Girmit Day hosts Fiji Minister, marks Syria

 Tragedy and requests Girmit recognition

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand may be the only organisation of its type the sole objective of which is Reconnecting, Reclaiming and Restoring Indo-Fijian History. It has been doing just that by embarking on hosting Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day in Auckland for the last four years. This year’s (2015) commemoration was some steps closer to it meeting its objectives, where Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was the Chief Guest and Keynote speaker. The foundation requested Fiji Government to include Girmit History in Fiji’s school curriculum system. In addition, it also requested to declare 14 May as a Public Holiday to give proper homage to those ordinary people who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times.

As the Master of Ceremonies called the event to order, people in the overflowing Skipton Hall, Mangere, Auckland solemnly stood up in attention. And in the pin drop silence, three National Anthems - India, Fiji and New Zealand, boomed out and floated, bumping the walls and ceiling and glided out.

Fiji's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, as the Chief Guest at Girmit Remembrance Day, delivering Keynote address. On stage from left are: Trustees of the Foundation- Author of "Tears in Paradise", Rajendra Prasad, with Sardar Harnam Singh Golian.
The occasion was Girmit Remembrance Day, organised by Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand on 17 May, 2015. The actual Girmit Anniversary when the first Indians arrived in Fiji falls on 14 May, but event, for the last four years, is marked in the nearest weekend after this date.

This year’s event was clouded and eclipsed by the untimely death of the Foundation President, Pundit Devakar Prasad, who was planning the event on the theme of Syria tragedy. However, the committee felt that organising it the way it was planned was the best tribute to this great leader. Hence this event was held with substantial tribute to Punditji in two respects: firstly a citation on a scroll from the foundation was presented to the family. Among others, it noted his mentoring leadership, his community spirit and thanked his family for sharing him with the community.

Tribute to an Unsung Hero, through presentation of a scroll of citation, to the family of Pundit Devakar Prasad- from left, Mrs Prem Wati Prasad, and daughters, Anupama Mala and Neelima Chand. Neelima was also the Quiz Master for Girmit Quiz named after her father.
And secondly, A Girmit Quiz, named Pundit Devakar Prasad Memorial Girmit Quiz was Mastered by his daughter, Neelima Chand, with Author Rajendra Prasad as the expert advisor. The quiz teams were appropriately named after sugar mills in Fiji: Lautoka, Ba/Penang, Labasa and Rewa. And questions related to girmit, ranging from ships of girmit, (Leonidas, Syria) the language and idioms of Girmit, (lewa, dherki, murwari, jhulni), the personality of Girmit (Hannah Dudley, C. F Andrews (Deenbandhoo), Totaram Sanadhya, Manilal Doctor, Mahatma Gandhi) and general knowledge questions, plus rapid-fire question and audience quiz question. This event was organised on the footprints of National Quiz that Devakar Prasad originated in Fiji. The purpose was to spread the knowledge of Girmit, in a fun way, while paying tribute the Maestro Quiz Master. The first event turned out to be very popular, with interesting audience quiz questions where winners were rewarded with token gifts. In the final results, Labasa Mill team, the Babasiga Lions, came out the winners to claim the inaugural quiz trophy. Congratulations, Labasa Mill team.

Pundit Devakar Prasad  Memorial Girmit Quiz, Aap Kitna Jaante Hai, Na Kilakila Mada-  Labasa and Ba teams (in black) on the left, with Quiz Master Neelima Chand and special adviser, Rajendra Prasad in the middle. The Babasiga Lions, Labasa Mill won the inaugural  Girmit Quiz.

The other highlight was the presence of Fiji’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, as the Chief Guest and the Keynote speaker. He was accompanied by a delegation of three from Fiji on the invitation of the Foundation. It therefore was an opportune time for the Syria tragedy to be rekindled into limelight. The purpose was to have a representative of Fiji government in an event where their liberal policy of race –relations were applauded in light of humanity, cooperation and goodwill that was witnessed some 13 decades ago on a dark fateful night at a remote unfriendly raging Naselai Reef. That was the theme of Girmit Day 2015 that Acting President, Master Shiu Charan conveyed. He commended Naselai villagers who on this fateful night of 11 May, 1884 risked their own lives and courageously provided valuable and timely assistance in saving 438 lives. Without their daring intervention, loss would have been even greater.

The Chief Guest, Minister Kubuabola was in the friendly zone, with  a familiar host. The head of Fiji Girmit Foundation, Master Shiu Charan,(left) and the Minister happen to be former Parliamentary colleague from Fiji. They had a fruitful networking session.

"Unfortunately, Fijian history hasn’t resonated with such acts of ITaukei compassion and sacrifice. But we have witnessed that both the Fijians and Indo Fijians stand by for each other in times of need and disaster. Indeed, there is enormous reservoir of love, affection and goodwill between the two races that needs to be revealed, promoted and cherished.” Mr Shiu Charan said.

He paid gratitude to Bainimarama Government for enhancing a new approach in Fijian politics, promoting racial integration, equality and goodwill. The Acting President further requested Minister Kubuabola to seek permission, according to I-ITaukei protocol, from the Chiefs and elders of Naselai Village for Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand to present a plaque to them in recognition of their compassion and kindness and as a thanksgiving gesture. When permission is granted, delegation from the Foundation in Auckland would make that pilgrimage to Naselai Village and that fateful reef.

The Minister (in the middle) with Rajendra Prasad and another former parliamentary colleague from Fiji, Sardar Harnam Singh Golian.
A sample plaque and letter of request was given to the Minister in this regards and the Minister responded very positively in his keynote address.

“I am pleased that the organisers have chosen this focus, not so much to dwell in the tragedy of that event, but more importantly to highlight the face of hope and compassion that surfaced from it.”, Minister Kubuabola said. He commended Master Shiu Charan for his tribute to the villagers of Naselai, and expressed sorrow at bias of history which failed to highlight such positive stories which were often lost in accounts that gave much credit and praise to the colonial masters while others were only mentioned in passing.
 
The Ministerial Delegation from Fiji and Wellington: Girmit Foundation Trustee Rajendra Prasad (L-R), Acting Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Esala Nayasi, Director Sisalo Otealagi, Special Assistance to Minister, Priyashni Lata, Head of Fiji Mission in Wellington, Mere Tora with Manoj Kumar.
He applauded the plan of the Girmit Foundation to present a plaque to the people of Naselai, the descendants of those who risked their lives to rescue the survivors of the wreck.

“This noble gesture would appropriately recognise a significant historical event and at the same time serves as a reminder of the humanity, compassion and goodwill that prevailed in a most tragic circumstance. It confirms that the goodness within us transcends boundaries, and therein lies our hope,” the Minister said. He added that he was hopeful that the gesture of the Foundation would help contributing promotion of better understanding and goodwill amongst the different communities that make up our multicultural Fiji.
 
The movers and shakers. Executives of Fiji Girmit Foundation who organised the event. Sitting (L-R) Viren Lal, Master Shiu Charan (Acting President), Sardar Harnam Singh Golian, Nek Mohammed and Rajendra Prasad. Standing (L-R) Thakur Ranjit Singh (Secretary), Pradeep Chand, Satya Dutt, Pundit Ram Kumar Sewak, and Krishal Naidu (Treasurer) Missing is Vijendra Prasad who was away overseas.
In reply to the keynote address, the Trustee of Girmit Foundation, author of ‘Tears in Paradise” Rajendra Prasad, thanked the Minister for his kind words and congratulated the Minister and the Bainimarama Fiji First Government of forging a new hope for all the citizens of Fiji, with equality, fairness and social justice for all. He alluded to the fact that the biggest issue with lack of knowledge on Girmit was because the History is always written from the viewpoint of victor and history of Fiji Indians have been stolen. To correct this anomaly, the Foundation requested Minister for his government to consider including Girmit History in Fiji’s education curriculum, and to declare 14 May, the anniversary of arrival of first Indians to Fiji, as a Public Holiday. These would not only create better understanding of the historical perspective, but would also be a fitting acknowledgment to those ordinary Girmitiyas who did extraordinary deeds in extraordinary times. The Minister promised to take these requests to the government.
 
Of the many melodious and colorful items, a Bidesia being presented to a captive audience.
The afternoon’s programme included Oratory and very enthralling musical programme. The oratory, where students spoke in Hindi, showed the great level that parents endeavoured in ensuring a cultured generation with pride and respect for their culture, history and heritage. There were memorable songs, especially two, performed by students of Pooja group, and written by Author of Tears in Paradise, Rajendra Prasad. One was “Aye Fiji desh ke waasi…” which is based on famous Lata’s patriotic song…”Aye mere vatan ke logo….”  And the other was a Bidesia (a lament song). There were other very able singers who added colour to a commemoration and was a reflection of what heritage our Girmitiya forebears left for us.
 
The crowd spilling out of Skipton Hall.
The other highlight was an excellent collection of Girmit display items with compliments of Satya Dutt. These ranged from very old and not very old items and ‘gadgets” our rural people used during their times in Girmit and post Girmit. The unlimited and unending (”dhaka pel”) array of refreshments, supplied by Hardip Singh kept the audience fed for virtually all of the afternoon. And the free supply of kava must have given some a bit of “bite” (sensational intoxication) as well.
 
The display items
This was indeed an event which now has gone to an overflowing stage at the  Indo-Fijian icon in Auckland - the Skipton Hall, which was provided free of charge by the Auckland Ramayan Sanstha Trust (ARST) for the last there years, in memory of those who suffered and sacrificed for our brighter future. Thanks to all who made this day a success, and we await our pilgrimage to Fiji. We also note with gratitude the decision of Radio Tarana to broadcast the whole event live from Skipton Hall, and Apna Radio and TV and Humm FM for their media coverage. [FIJI PUNDIT questions the media ethics of two so-called Auckland Indian newspapers, Indian Newslink and Indian Weekender in boycotting coverage of this important event, and perhaps it indicates that some Indians still appear to regard us as “Coolies”]

Team Tarana which provided live broadcast of the event from Skipton Hall, interviewing National List MP, Kanwaljeet Bakshi

Next year may see Fiji Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, gracing the annual event – this is still under planning stages.

May the blessings of our “pitra” (departed souls) - our forebears be always upon the children of Girmit. May their souls rest in peace

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is one of the Founding Trustees and Secretary of Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand. He runs his blog site, FIJI PUNDIT which exclusively reports this event in Auckland, as the Indian Newslink and Indian Weekender decided to boycott this event, for the reasons best known to them. Girmit Foundation Acting President will take this grievance of a wanting media directly to the publications involved, while FIJI PUNDIT, as part of  “Indian Media Watch” will raise the issue relating to  questions in the Indian print media ethics and other issues relating to a wanting ethnic media in Auckland. FIJI PUNDIT will address it under a separate cover.]