Thursday, June 14, 2018

PART 2: FIJI GIRMIT COUNCIL - Moving Ahead and rejuvenation -Tiger Zinda Hai


Thakur Ranjit Singh

Part 1 of the article spoke about the history and plight of Fiji Girmit Council (FGC), and its story, of being an injured tiger needing compassion: Ek Tha Tiger - once it was something.

This article is about how this tiger is alive and able to come kicking if its 10 affiliates come together to remove the thorns in its feet. Yes, it is alive- Tiger Zinda Hai - it can be great once again.

Girmit Centre is our heritage, but unfortunately it is not receiving the support and attention from some member organisations. All affiliates need to start taking interest in reviving the centre to its past glory, and thus pay homage to our Girmitiyas. It is requested all affiliated consider recommendations given below and enable this heritage a worthy memory to our forebears.

With 12.5 acres of land, and over 8 acres still unused there is a great deal of potential. We call upon Fiji Indian Diaspora and those Girmitiya children with skills, resources and pride in their heritage to add value to it, in light of recommendations below. Hence, let us join hands, and put our heads (and wallets) together to move ahead.

British Indian Raj and its successor Indian Governments after independence had virtually disinherited and forgotten its stolen children in Fiji.

With renewed interest of Indian Government in Pacific in general and Fiji in particular, this is an opportunity for the Indians to appease the ghost of Girmit. [This of course is due to counteracting Chinese influence in the Pacific region India and the Western World had idnored].

It would be highly commendable for Modi’s BJP Indian Government to redeem India’s past desertion and neglect of Fiji Indians for some 14 decades. After all, those over 35,000 Girmitiyas who chose or were forced to settle back in Fiji, were Indian citizens. We pray India to give a helping hand to realise some or most of the recommendations below. 

Suggested Recommendations:

1) ORGANISE AND AWAKEN AFFILIATES , AND ORGANISE 140 YEARS GIRMIT CARNIVAL:

Sanatan, Muslim League, Arya Samaj, Sikh Association, Gujarat Samaj, TISI Sangam, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Andhra Sangam, Council of Churches and Kabir Panth - they all need to be reminded to fulfil their obligations, pay membership levy and appoint credible delegates. Those not wishing to join or pay may send non-voting delegates, and those wishing to opt out should be given that discretion. 

FGC needs to reassemble and come with strategic plans for next 12 months that includes 140th year celebration, and also a mid-term plan (5 years) and long term plan (10 year).

For 140th year Carnival, I recommend an experienced and very capable candidate, National President of TISI, Mr Sadasivan Naicker be appointed by the reconvened Executives as Chairman of 140th Girmit Celebration Committee. 

Rajendra Prasad (left) Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ and Vinod Patel, Trustee of Fiji Girmit Council at plaque commemorating 125 years of Girmit at Fiji Girmit Centre. It is recommended a similar plaque be unveiled by PM of the day on 14 May, 2019 for 140th Anniversary, and that day be declared a Public Holiday in Fiji.

2) REQUEST FIJI GOVERNMENT TO DECLARE 14 MAY AS PUBLIC HOLIDAY FOR GIRMIT THANKSGIVING DAY

Fiji Girmit Council be requested to add voice and already submitted plea from Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ to declare 14 May as Girmit Thanksgiving Day in Fiji with a public Holiday. 

3) CONVERTING CENTRE FOR INCOME GENERATION

Immediate capital improvements at the centre should make it attractive for wedding and other events needing catering facilities. A modern kitchen with all associated facilities be added to make it into a suitable wedding, social, cultural, corporate and religious venue, among others.

4) PROVIDING ACCOMODATION FACILITIES

As a supplement to providing wedding venue, especially for visiting overseas people, the centre should aim to provide accommodation facilities. Girmitiya descendants who are architects and builders/contractors, be requested to design and build living facilities they can donate/subsidise and name after their Girmitiya forebears, e.g. Bansi, Muthu Sami, Rehman unit, etc.

5) GIRMIT VATIKA (Orchard)

Develop an orchard/forest/green area by dedicating at least one acre (may be more) of landscaped garden. It should be planted with, among others, income-generating plant, trees and fruit plants close to Girmitiyas. Among others, they may include Sandalwood, Mango, Bel, Imli (tamarind), Banana, Jackfruit, Salipha, Neem, Kaju, Jamun, Guava, Balawa (pundanus), bamboo etc.
Totaram Sanadhya may be perhaps one unsung Girmit hero who need to be recognised. Therefore, we may name it (Totaram) Sanadhya Vatika

This Plaque was erected and unveiled by Prime Minister of Fiji in 2004 by Laisenia Qarase during 125th Anniversary commemoration of  arrival of first Girmitiyas. It is recommended that for 140th Anniversary on 14 May 2019, a carnival be organised with wider Girmit-related activities. Prime Minister of the day be requested to unveil a plaque and also declare 14 May as Girmit Thanksgiving  Day Public Holiday.

6) EXPAND LIBRARY- SHIFT BRIJ AND PADMA LIBRARY TO CENTRE

Expand the existing Library, and request the shift of Brij and Padma Library at Saweni to Girmit centre. Special plea should go to the new Government to remove travel ban on Professor Brij Lal, and he (including Padma) be invited to formally open the Library as part of 140 years celebration.

7) FGC TO BE DECLARED POLITICALLY AND RELIGIOUSLY NEUTRAL

While the inaugurating document declares that FGC is apolitical and religiously-neutral, it needs to be reiterated because of some misinformation and disinformation. People need to be assured of its impartial and neutral stance in all issues. The last thing FGC should be used is as a launching pad for political, religious and academic opportunism.

8) GIRMIT MUSEUM

Girmit Centre should be housing all items relating to Girmit period, and a museum should be introduced. People should be requested to donate all old items to be housed in the Girmit Centre for preservation for future generations.

This is a wood "Kholu" at Girmit Centre. It is is rotated by bullocks to extract oil from sesame (till) and make other vegetable oils. It was gifted to Girmit Council by Muthuswami Pillay, a Girmitiya and his sons Nadesan Pillay, Ram Sami Pillay and Keshwan Pillay of Tagi Tagi, Tavua. Similarly, we could collect other old items to develop a Girmit Museum for new generations to see how our Girmitiyas lived their modest lives. We need to preserve all the artifacts and older Girmit articles at the FGC Museum. It is hoped we can get Indian Government support in this area.

9) BOLLYWOOD FILM SET/LOCATION

Request be made to Bollywood to develop part of the Girmit Centre site for film/documentary set. Suggested set includes CSR Coolie Lane - living quarters of Girmitiyas, thatched houses (bure), Sugar mill, railway and sugar transport modes, and other scenario of Girmit. This could be used for films and documentaries and should be gifted to FGC as part of the expanded museum.

10) SYRIA MONUMENT

Syria Monument was commenced by Indian High Commission, Suva in Nasilai Village, Rewa, Fiji prior to 2006, and was halted after initial foundation because of political events. It is recommended that Indian Government now be requested to erect it at Girmit Centre as it would be very accessible to tourists and all Fiji Indian Diaspora visiting Fiji via nearby Nadi Airport. Nasilai Villagers have already been rewarded by Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ with over $60,000 development in the village hall, toilet and kitchen facilities. It would be very fitting to have this monument in Lautoka, which would further enhance the Girmit Museum.

Future Action

We call on the descendants of all Girmitiyas worldwide to show unity and resolve in adding colour, vibrancy, respect and honour to those who went away weeping, and longing for our happiness. At least we owe it to them.

I suggest the new energised Executive Committee of FGC should discuss the above recommendations, among others and come up with a strategic plan to make the centre a pride to the memory of Girmitiyas.

And as earlier stated, we approach and request Indian Government to help us retain memory of Indians who were their children stolen by the Girmit system.
Let’s do this - let us make this dream into a reality.
Yes, Tiger Zinda Hai and will sprint again.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is Secretary and Founding Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ which has successfully marked Girmit Remembrance Day in NZ. They had raised Girmit awareness worldwide and requested Fiji Government to declare 14 May as Girmit Public Holiday. Thakur is a journalist, a media commentator, and runs his blog FIJI PUNDIT]