Thakur Ranjit Singh
Fiji Indians are not new to New Zealand – so many came here to “clean” up the country of the noxious weed, ‘gorse’, which we referred to as ‘scrub’.
So many from Fiji came in 1960s to clear NZ of its bushes. The rolling green field you see have been cleared by them who came on 3 month contract then.
But larger numbers continued coming and we had large influx after 1987 coup and this migration continued. My estimate is that there are over 50,000 Fiji Indians here now.
But nobody can dispute me, as they have never been counted or identified separately-they have been mistakenly treated as “Indians” which they are in a wider context.
However, they are a distinct Pacific people who need to be identified as such.
Hence, in census 2018, I am urging all Fiji Indians to be counted-and counted properly as who they are - FIJI INDIANS…...
Please read on..............................
Fijians of Indian descent in New Zealand comprise a huge number, but nobody knows how many, as we have never been recorded separately. We have either been counted as Indians, or have eclipsed in ‘Asian” category. No efforts have been made to identify us separately. Some claim that if recorded properly, we may even surpass Tongans and Niuean, and come only second to Samoans as the largest number of people of the Pacific in New Zealand.
At the moment there is no consistent term that refers to Fijians of Indian descent-some call us Indo-Fijians, some Fiji-Indians and others Fijian Indians. Whatever the most accepted terminology, our first issue is to be identified separately in New Zealand Census, where we comprise more than most other Pacific Islanders.
That is why in 2018 NZ Census, Fiji Indians are urged to record their ethnicity as “Other” and record it as “Fiji Indian”, so that we are correctly recorded as who we are. At the moment, we are a lost race. We have to first identify as “Fiji Indians” and then decide on the appropriate terminology for us.
Pacific Islanders with lower numbers get special recognition and government assistance programmes, while Fiji Indians surpassing island numbers get lost in Indian and Asian identities, and miss out on those benefits.
The irony is that Indians in New Zealand do not regard us as Indians while Fijians (ITaukei) do not accept us as Fijians. Special benefits available for Fijians in New Zealand do not reach Fiji Indians because they are not identified as Fijians. So, Fiji Indians with a distinct culture and language became lost and drifted without any recognition, opportunities or benefits that were earmarked for us as Fijians. Special programmes reserved for Fijians ignored us.
Fiji Indians are a distinct breed of people - they are not Indians - ask any Anglo Saxon (European). Our history in the Pacific started in the eighteenth century.
Almost 14 decades ago, the first Indians from mostly Northern India were shipped to Fiji as Indentured Labourers. Between the next 37 years, from 1879 to 1916, some 60,500 Girmitiyas, or indentured labourers were brought to Fiji by 87 ship voyages. Of these, some 25,000 were successful to move back to India after indenture, while the remainder stayed back. Why? Were they frustrated from moving back, to slave for Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR) Company’s sugar plantation? Were they seen as cheap labour for the British? Really. But that is another story for another day, to be answered by former Ba Town Clerk, Rajendra Prasad’s next blockbuster book to remove many myths about Girmit history and a failed leadership in Fiji. His next book,” Enslaved in Paradise”, a sequel to his successful historical tear-jerker Fiji Girmit history, “Tears in Paradise,” answers this mystery as to why many Indians who finished their indenture did not return.
Leonidas was the first ship to hit Fiji with Indentured Labourers. As India was a British Colony that time, the British and Australians found India a fertile ground for cheap labour for cane plantations in Fiji. India washed its hands on the suffering and plight of people in Fiji, and paid only token attention of cries from Fiji. Even when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Fiji in 1980s, she reminded Fiji Indians, that they were no longer Indians, but belonged to Fiji. But we never seemed to have belonged anywhere.
Through vision of Girmitiyas, we stood tall. This is because they vowed never again to allow a situation where their children would suffer like them. Hence, they concentrated on education and future well-being of their children. Educational opportunities and sacrifices they made for their future generations are enumerated in many historical writings.
The new breed of Indians in Fiji shed the vices that still grip India- no more caste, dowry or female foeticide (killing female foetus), among others. They made a fresh start. And so began a distinct culture, and religious traits. As they stayed on cane farms spread sparsely, they formed mandalis or religious groups, and thus began distinct religion, local singing and cultural songs, which were rooted in India but changed and adopted with local flavour.
A distinct Fiji Hindi language also transformed with a mixture of Hindi and other languages and local dialects of Girmitiyas. Fiji Hindi initially started as Lingua franca, a bridging language, but later took root as a language of Fiji Indians. This is spoken by all the descendants of Girmitiyas.
Hence time is ripe for Fiji Indians to be counted in New Zealand –as a distinct race of people. One may hazard a question to two prominent people identified as Fiji Indians, as to what they will fill as race: Former MP, Rajen Prasad and former Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand? Whatever they fill, all the other Fijians of Indian descent in New Zealand are requested to be counted and have pride in their heritage -and counted properly as who they really are – FIJI INDIANS.
[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a third generation Fiji Girmitiya descendant, now settled in Auckland. He runs blog, FIJI PUNDIT and is a media commentator. He has filled his race/ethnicity in the 2018 NZ census as "Fiji Indian"and urges others like him from Fiji to do likewise, to be counted properly]