The Indo Fijian Easter conventions should unite the people
Thakur Ranjit Singh
[THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN ETHNIC PAPERS IN MAY, 2011]
Indo Fijian Conventions during Easter
Traditionally Easter had been a time for the Christian community in Fiji to immerse in prayers of the Lord and indulge in solemn religious activities. On the other hand, in a deeply religious Fiji with harmonious interfaith activities, Indo Fijians of Hindu, Sikh and Islamic faiths use this as a sporting and social occasion where Indo Fijian Diaspora from around the world descend in Fiji in show of family, religious and ethnic unity.
I have been advised by my Facebook contacts in Fiji that last Easter , from 22 to 25 April, 2011, Gujaratis had their convention in Rewa (Nausori), Sanatan at Rishikul in Nasinu, TISI Sangam at Nadi, Andhra Sangam in Rakiraki, Muslims in Lautoka and Sikhs in my hometown of Ba (Ba toh Ba hai -after all, Ba is Ba in uniqueness). That basically covers all the ethnic and religious dominations in the Indo Fijian community. During this period, the whole country would have been swarming with NRIF – Non Resident Indo Fijian. Consequently, no rental cars would have been available, most local hotels were booked out and tourism from the former residents with stronger dollars from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA were good boost for Fiji’s tourism and economy.
While all the ethnic organisations are unique and full of fun, joy and networking, the unmistakable leaders of all the gatherings is the TISI convention - Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam representing majority of descendents of girmitiya (indentured) South Indians.
This is because despite representing a minority ethnicity among Indo Fijians, they are dominant in the extent, level and professionalism of their organisation. They are perhaps one of the most successful ethnic organisations in Fiji. Unlike the religious nature of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim gatherings, the TISI is more about ethnicity and South Indian ancestry. While most are Sanatanis or Hindus, some are also Christians or of other faiths, but all are free to participate as long as they have South Indian heritage. That is where the issue gets somewhat controversial, especially in the globalised world with migration of our people.
Challenges for overseas affiliates
The problem and criticism that Sangam has been facing is its male-oriented, some may call it male chauvinistic conventions where one is considered a South Indian only through paternal links. I have a niece who is married to a South Indian and her husband attended a Sangam forum in Brisbane that addressed the challenges the overseas Sangam affiliates were facing, which any ethnicity-based organisation would face in the globalised village. He saw the problems that an organisation like Sangam faced where membership was restricted to people who have a paternal South Indian link. He felt that it would be a bonus if our kids married a South Indian, but this is not so and we could not continue to have these groupings of socials/cultural groups because the future generations may not care and these organisations would die a natural death.
I tried to explain him through historical facts and linked these with the changes our migrant community has faced. Most early girmitiyas (indentured labourers) were North Indians from Uttar Pardesh and Bihar. Fewer numbers came from South India. Because of language problems and different look, they felt ridiculed and discriminated by other Indians in those dark days of girmit. Even the overseers (koolambars) were harsh on them, many went through greater difficulties. They faced great hardship and difficulties even post-girmit. Through all this developed the Sangam, now TISI, to protect their heritage. They have done a great deal more, together with other girmit communities. Even today they stand tall in ownership of schools, temples, nursing school, the ability to organise the convention in international style, women’s groups, youth groups and all facets of an ethnic organisation. I take my hat for people like my dear friend and class mate, Sada Sivan Naicker (originally from Ba, but now) of Nasinu for his selfless services to the community through TISI.
The advancement of Indo Fijians in general and South Indians in particular has now made the original purpose of the birth of Sangam somewhat obsolete. Now things have to change to attract the younger generation not put off by too much complicated and unexplained rituals and restrictions placed by a past generation. Sangam is not a religious grouping as most are Sanatanis or Hindus. Sangam is an ethnic group. That is why we have so many South Indians playing in Sanatan Soccer teams.
Discrimination defying international laws
My friend Sada Sivan Naicker is married to his high school sweet- heart, Sarita, who happens to be a North Indian. Sada’s son Nitesh can play in Sangam tournament and is eligible for Sangam membership, he is classed a “Madrasi” or South Indian because his father, is a South Indian.
However, my nephew in Calgary, Melvin Singh is married to Shristi Ryan who is a South Indian. Melvin’s son is not eligible to be a member of Sangam according to Fiji rules and hence will not be able to play in Sangam soccer, because while his mother is South Indian, Melvin is North Indian. Such gender discrimination which goes against the spirit of human rights laws of most progressive democracies where our Diaspora has settled. This obviously could be soon challenged in court in this globalised world if Sangam does not come to terms with the globalisation of Indo Fijians in general, and “mixed” South Indians in particular. This rule has to change.
The advent of modern education, westernisation and more liberal thinking has led to many intermarriages and this will cause problems for Sangam worldwide. Hence Sangam should change this law before they are classed as hypocrites who adopt the good western ways, opportunities and wealth of the first world while embracing the third world gender and ethnic discrimination.
So, TISI has to come to terms with this and embrace international laws, as I am aware of the displeasure and broken hearts such draconian provisions are causing in Fiji. The NRIF (Non Resident Indo Fijian), with greater exposure to developed world may find such restrictions and discriminations abhorrent.
Perhaps it is time TISI heeded the message that the retired International Judge and Fiji’s statesman Hon Justice Jai Ram Reddy gave during Sangam Convention in 2003:
Lest we forget, let us remind ourselves once again that Sangam was conceived in benevolence. The name itself stands for coming together of people and the participatory process that it entails. It was born out of adversity that in times that were equally dark. I
Salute all those who have persevered to keep the human values of love, compassion and service alive through Sangam. I urge you to work for the good of all the people of this country. Sangam has always given us a sense of security and identity. DO not do anything to weaken this organization. Take it from strength to strength so that we can all be proud to belong to the Sangam family.
Therefore the message for Sangam and all other participants during Easter convention was of coming together in this participatory process to unite through human values of love, and compassion.
It is ironical that while Commodore Bainimarama’s vision for Fiji is a country and its politics devoid of racism, the Indo Fijians continue to discriminate their own people based on gender and ethnicity.
(Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator, a community worker, a Trustee of Sanatan NZ and heads Sanatan Media Watch in New Zealand)