Tuesday, May 22, 2018

PART 1- FIJI GIRMIT COUNCIL: Not a dead horse, but an injured tiger.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

My renewed interest in Fiji Girmit Council (FGC) was ignited by various Girmit Thanksgiving Days we marked in Auckland on or around 14 May, 2018. And as a founding trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand, it will be our next project to ensure proper information-flow, support and encouragement to our heritage-FGC.

There appears to be great deal of misrepresentation and misinformation about FGC. Therefore, as a service to journalism and inform people about the history, plight, plans and recommendations about FGC, my blog, FIJI PUNDIT is undertaking a two-part article on this organisation to remove falsehood, and shed light on the real situation.

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.
First, there are two misconception. FGC is not a dead horse, but an injured tiger, in fact an injured elephant, which needs to have some thorns removed from its feet to ensure it gallops along - again. And let us all do that - with your blessings collectively.

Mr Y. P Reddy, Chairman /Trustee of Fiji Girmit Council. He and his Reddy Group of Companies has been providing the life-support to a cash-strapped and financially ailing Fiji Girmit Council.

The second one is a misconception that Mr YP Reddy “owns” FGC and it is shut to others. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, we need to salute the founding Trustee Mr Reddy and his Reddy Group of Companies who have provided that glucose and blood bottles to a terminally ill organisation abandoned by most of its affiliates and members.

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.
Today, FGC has degenerated into a sick and poor organisation of healthy and rich members. We need to salute Mr YP Reddy and other trustees, Messrs Vinod Patel, Pyara Singh and Kanti Punja for being very diligent guardians to our heritage. I will venture to add further life and interest in the legacy and memory of ordinary people who did extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstance - our Girmitiyas.

This article was prompted by the inauguration of Global Girmit Institute (GGI) at Saweni Shopping Complex, Lautoka, Fiji and inauguration of Brij and Padma Lal Library Collection on 14 May, 2018. I considered it a parallel or breakaway organisation. However, GGI spokesperson Ganesh Chand corrected me by saying the activities of GCI was global girmitiyas while the FGC's scope was local (Fiji). 

Fiji Girmit Centre building- it has been run down and damaged due to frequent cyclones, hence need immediate repairs.

He did agree that GGI and FGC have worked in collaboration before and are willing to work together. That is a good sign, because, unless you are grounded locally, you can have little claim to belong to anything globally, which is akin to a body without a head.

I had questioned why not this new Library could have been based at Girmit Centre as a sub-section of their already existing library. To this, Chand replied that they recognised there was a physical shortage of space at FGC

 There was no way in which the stock which the GGI was bequeathed would have fitted into the library space, or any other space, at the FGC. Our intention has been, inter alia, to build a full scale library specialising on Girmit,” he said.

However, my investigation show that this was not the case, as there is adequate space to meet the requirement, and more room could have been created if needed. The issue here is, was there any discussion or dialogue on this issue? A centralised Girmit Library makes sense as it better serve the interests of the students, scholars and other users. 

Trustee of FGC Vinod Patel and Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ Rajendra Prasad inspecting "Kholu" which is rotated by bullock to extract oil from sesame (till) and make other vegetable oil. 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.

Indeed, this does make sense. To be globally linked, one needs to have a strong foundation locally, and there is no greater foundation than Fiji Girmit Council. It appears there is lack of dialogue between GGI and FGC. It would be in everybody’s interest if these two organisations worked together in collaboration and cooperation to supplement and complement for the Girmit course. The last thing Girmit Centre or local or global girmit organisation should do is to provide oxygen for political or academic opportunism.

As indicated, my blog, FIJI PUNDIT is doing a two-part series on this subject to raise awareness about this heritage.

The Fiji Girmit Council is a nonprofit, community based, non-governmental organization (NGO) registered in 1979 under a Deed of Trust. Its membership comprises 10 Indo-Fijian based cultural, ethnic, religious and educational organizations of Fiji. Its members are:


Two members from each affiliate organisation are appointed to the Board of the FGC. But some of organizations above appear to have abandoned FGC and their obligation to their respective members.  They seem to have abdicated their obligations to the memory of our forebears. It borders on breach of trust and faith.

The Girmit Centre was established in 1979, to mark the passing of 100 years, to commemorate the Girmitiyas who came to Fiji under the Indenture System. It was opened by Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India on 21 September, 1981.

Over the years, the center, in order to promote culture, music and arts, has been providing training in Bharatanatyam, vocal harmonium, Tabla, Hindi language and yoga at nominal costs to students. The Girmit Centre Hall is leased out to generate income to maintain the 12.5 acres of land on which the center is located. 

Some 8.0 acres of land remain unutilized. Financial contributions have not been forth coming from all the member organizations. Most have concentrated in promoting their own organizations and hence FGC is not in their priority list. The centre is struggling financially. Due to the escalating operational cost the council’s financial position is in deficit with accumulated debts surpassing $180,000 this year.

After a lapse of three years the Indian High Commission has restored its grant for its cultural programs with a funding of $20,500.00 last year. Having endured several cyclones in the recent years the girmit centre buildings are in a dilapidated state and in urgent need of repairs and upgrading. 

Occasionally it organizes fund raising events to boost its revenue. But that is still not sufficient to meet the rising cost incurred for the delivery of its services. FGC has applied for funding assistance from Fiji government, Government of India, charitable organizations and other donor agencies but without success. As part of their new initiatives they plan to invest into income generating projects for the long term sustainability of the centre.  

In case you have forgotten, that glucose and blood bottles from Reddy Group of companies are still hooked up to this sick organisation for life-support, which needs our attention – and urgently. We should all join hands to bail out the Council from its financial doldrums

PART 2: Moving ahead -suggestions and recommendations - adding colour, glory and dignity to memory of Girmitiyas and our heritage-Fiji Girmit Council.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is Secretary and Founding Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ which had successfully marked Girmit Remembrance Day in NZ and had Professor Brij Lal as their Chief Guest in 2014. They had raised Girmit awareness in NZ and abroad. Thakur is a journalist, a media commentator, and runs his blog FIJI PUNDIT]

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