Thursday, February 4, 2016

Is Fiji ready for same-sex marriage?

Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s Prime Minister has indeed been very frank on the issue of same-sex marriage, which reflects the opinion and mood of Fiji people on this controversial subject. His comments followed an FBC TV news on calls for gay marriage, and this has ruffled a few feathers. Bainimarama vehemently claimed that gay marriage would not take place in Fiji in his lifetime, and claimed that “Fiji does not need that rubbish”. He further stated that if a woman wanted to marry another woman, "they should go and have it done in Iceland and stay and live there." On calls of constitutional equality, Bainimarama said that” the constitution did not refer to equality as the opportunity for same sex marriage or love for all as love by Sakaraia for Ropate ending at the altar.”

Does Constitutional equality in Fiji mean that love of Sakaraia and Ropate will end at altar as MARRIAGE?

Shamima Ali, the head of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, on a news programme is reported to have said that Fiji should consider allowing same-sex marriage. In response to the Prime Minister’s statement, she said it was totally regressive against gay and lesbian community in Fiji who have been struggling with discrimination. She accused PM of being homophobic and said acceptance of the gay community has slowly been increasing, and leaders should instead be encouraging tolerance. Yes, I agree – give recognition, encourage tolerance, give equality in law and promote acceptance. However for it to end in marriage, and in Fiji, is indeed a tall order. High on heels of this, a Fiji lawyer, one Aman Ravindra Singh, jumped in the furore and accused the Prime Minister of breaking the law through his statements. Singh is reported to have said that the comments breach section 65 of the constitution, which contains an offence called inciting communal antagonism.

Let us view this in the context of the so-called Western civilisation and human rights issues. When some of the Western countries which have this legislation were ‘civilised,’ Fiji was still in Stone Age. At the dawn of civilization, Fijians still lived in caves, wore grass skirts and Chiefs relished on meals including meat of fellow human beings from the defeated tribes. Hence any comparison of Fiji to these long “Civilised” western countries with predominantly Anglo Saxon (European) population is misplaced. And Singh and Ali need to be informed that even today, in the country of their forefathers (India), sexual relations between same sexes is still illegal, let alone marriage. This was so in Fiji as well till very recent past where it was referred to as “unnatural” act. 

As a product of that Girmitiya culture, I do not care what gays and lesbians do behind closed doors. I show and support acceptance and tolerance. They have their rights to practice their sexual orientation, and I agree with the law to give them rights to be different, and allow acceptance, in line with global movements and pressures. But to give this relationship equality with marriage is indeed a tall order. This, especially in a very conservative and religious country which is founded on Christianity, and deeply rooted with other religions, including Hinduism and Islam. All these religions see marriage as union of a man and a woman. Fiji saw civilization quite late to beat all other ‘civilised’ countries for same sex marriage. Our religious priests, Pundits and Maulvis will faint at the thought of marrying Adam and Steve, Sakaraia and Ropate, Ram and Shyam and Rafiq and Safiq.

For those who think Fiji should follow its near neighbour in adopting gay marriages need to realise that despite being less than 3 hours flight away, New Zealand is miles away from Fiji in all respects. It is a First World (Developed) Country which saw Western civilisation many miles ahead of Fiji. Unlike Fiji, it has got some forty (40) per cent of people who are atheists-they do not believe in God. Fiji cannot be compared with them. 

Despite its seemingly liberal laws and policies on gender equality, people need to realise that New Zealand, still classed union of same sex as “Civil Union”, and did not call it “marriage” till very recently. Like Fiji, it is a country founded on Christianity, and there are still large sections of its community who resent laws allowing “marriage’ between same sexes.
Perhaps this letter in the Herald on Sunday recently by a reader sums up the sentiment of a large portion of its population, who still believe in God, the biology of reproduction and the law of nature. It sums up my views as well:

“Opposing same sex marriage is not depriving homosexuals of any legal rights, social standing or status. It is merely confirming the traditional and universally accepted definition of marriage, a union between a man and a woman. This is not just biblical authority or Christianity, it is a concept held by all cultures and peoples since the dawn of civilisation for the procreation and preservation of species.”

Thank God for Shamima Ali, lawyer Aman Ravindra Singh, and others advocating same-sex marriage in Fiji - that their fathers did not decide to enter into a gay- marriage. Had they done so, today, instead of advocating for something that is alien to our culture, they would still be hanging loosely somewhere craving to come into human life through the Creator’s rule of union of a man and a woman.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reviving Fiji Girmit Awareness:A Small trip by a Fiji Minister - a Milestone for Girmit History

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Fiji Girmit Foundation in New Zealand was formed by a passionate group of people interested in promoting awareness of Girmit, especially in the new generation, who appear to have lost pride in their heritage. A recent visit to Fiji has created some milestones:

1) Thanksgiving visit to Nasilai Village, and partnership in village developments
2) Discussion on inclusion of Girmit History in Fiji School curriculum..
3) Discussion initiated for 14 May to be declared as Public Holiday in Fiji.
4) Schools assistance projects initiated.
5) Library book drive in New Zealand for Fiji schools to be undertaken.
6) Translation of Rajendra Prasad's "Tears in Paradise" into ITaukei language. 

Read a detailed analysis of achievements and future direction of the organisation.

Master Shiu Charan, President of Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand with Fiji's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, who was the Chief Guest at Girmit Day in Auckland in May, 2015.
As the Fiji Airways Boeing 737-800 glided in descent-mode to Auckland International Airport early Sunday morning on 18 October, 2015 the memories of an eventful trip to Nasilai Village came flooding in. After having that good airline meal of chicken pasta, I was reminded of all the delicious nice food that was served to us by the village ladies - so tasty, cooked, with so much love for the visitors, and served with so much hospitality. We salute Nasilai Villagers of Nausori, Fiji.

Our delegation from Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand was overall satisfied with the success of a memorable and effective pilgrimage to Fiji. When the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was chosen and invited as the Chief Guest and keynote speaker for Girmit Commemoration on 17 May 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand, some objected. But we reminded them that our history and mythologies show that people do change, and the path that Fiji Government has taken is historic in itself.

While commemorating Girmit on the theme of Syria Ship tragedy, we expressed our desire to Minister Kubuabola that we wished to visit and honour the descendants of the villagers at Nasilai Village. He agreed to facilitate and echoed that milk of human kindness tend to ooze out in times of adversity. He applauded the plan of the Girmit Foundation to present a plaque to the people of Nasilai, the descendants of those villagers 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.

In reply 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’s 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 (indenture) 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 is requesting the Minister for his government to consider including Girmit History in Fiji’s education curriculum, and to declare 14 May, the anniversary date 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 author Rajendra Prasad requested the Minister, who promised to take these requests to the government.

Meeting the Minister: New Zealand delegation meeting Minister Kubuabola on 13 October, 2015 in his office. From left: Vijendra Prasad, Viren Lal, Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Head of Girmit Delegation, Sardar Harnam Singh Golian, Secretary of NZ Girmit Foundation and author of this article, Thakur Ranjit Singh, and Shashi Kala Singh.
One small gesture by the Minister by attending a Girmit function in Auckland has eventuated into a milestone, and working for benefit of all towards that. A delegation from New Zealand made a thanksgiving trip to Nasilai Village on 14 October, 2015 and presented the villagers with gifts and a commemorative plaque. The villagers were also promised assistance through New Zealand and Indian High Commissions of some village projects that needed to be completed.

The delegation also met Minister Kubuabola to follow up on the request for May 14 to be declared a Public Holiday. This is under discussion and some positive outcomes are expected on this request.

Meeting Minister of Education: From left, Viren Lal, Minister for Education, Dr Mahendra Reddy, Vijendra Prasad, Sardar Harnam Singh Golian, Shashi Kala Singh and Thakur Ranjit Singh
The delegation, while in Fiji, also visited Minister of Education, Dr Mahendra Reddy.  “The Ministry is now looking at the curriculum and Girmit History is something that we hope to include in our curriculum, “Minister Reddy told the delegation. And some positive steps have already been taken. There was discussion on some rural school projects that were to be undertaken with assistance from some New Zealand Trusts. A suggestion was also made to commence a book drive whereby library books and other similar items would be collected in New Zealand and shipped to Fiji to be distributed in its schools, especially in the rural and maritime ones that need assistance. Girmit Foundation would work with the Ministry to bring this to reality in 2016.

During Minister’s visit during Girmit Commemoration, a suggestion was mooted where the book on Girmit history and events, “Tears in Paradise Sacrifices and Suffering, 1879- 2004” was to be translated into ITaukei (Fijian) language. This has now been facilitated by cooperation between Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Indian High Commission in Fiji, and the book is in the process of translation by a Fijian scholar.

The book, authored by  Rajendra Prasad, Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand is being translated into ITaukei Language by a Fijian scholar, with assistance from Indian High Commission in Fiji
Finally, this revival of Girmit movement in Auckland was intended to inspire Fiji Girmit Council to get back to its old form and take a cue from Indo-Fijian Diaspora in New Zealand. As a result, a part of the delegation also made a courtesy call to Fiji Girmit Council’s Girmit Centre in Lautoka, where talks were held between the delegation and committee members of Fiji Girmit Council to work together for benefit of Girmit history.

As the early morning Fiji Airways flight number FJ415 hit the tarmac at Auckland International Airport on the night flight from Fiji at around 2am on a Sunday morning, I was jolted back, and appreciated Fiji Airways for the night flights, which have double benefits. While it makes maximum utilisation of its asset, the planes, with overnight and short-haul flights, it also gives the travellers on short Fiji trips that extra time back home with friends and relatives. No longer are two days wasted in travelling to and fro - they are undertaken in the depth of the night. Very nice gesture from Fiji Airways. I suppose I could make a good overseas Fijian Travel writer for Fiji Airways. I wished to be that, but it seems they still believe you need to be a White man to write well. Perhaps like Girmit, a colonial hangover.

But, yes, this was not the last trip. As Nasilai Villagers lamented that many people visited them but never came back, the New Zealand delegation has found a very good ally in Fiji Government, especially its Minister for Foreign Affair, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. Hence the above-mentioned projects and initiatives would end up bearing fruits in fertile vision. And we promise to fly Fiji Airways again. Thanks for the nice friendly service, and that midnight double can of Fiji Gold. Isa lei Fiji. Nasilai Village, we will visit again, and relish that crab curry I longed to eat more of. Vinaka Vaka Levu, Nasilai Villagers, and Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and your very effective team in Suva, Fiji. We will come again.

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a Founding Trustee and the Secretary of Fiji Girmit Foundation, New Zealand. He was part of the delegation that visited Fiji and Nasilai Village. He runs blog site, FIJI PUNDIT, and Indian Media Watch, NZ, and is a media scholar, specialising in social media and covering Fiji news bypassed by the Indian mainstream media in New Zealand.]