Sunday, August 12, 2018

Book Review-Enslaved in Paradise: Reclaiming, Retelling and Restoring Fiji’s Distorted Past – and Invalidating Some Historical Myths

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Rajendra Prasad’s second book on Fiji’s untold history was launched by Indian High Commissioner, His Excellency Sanjiv Kohli at New Lynn Community Centre, Auckland on Sunday 12 August 2018. 

Enslaved in Paradise (2018) refutes Fiji’s history and retells it from perspectives of victims.

Prasad fearlessly and boldly declares wickedness of the colonial government and chiefly collusions. He reveals many self-serving, self-centred and arrogant leaders, who had ravaged Fiji’s political landscape, but escaped scrutiny. And they eventually degenerated Fiji permanently into the ‘coup coup land label. 

The book also tells how the British sabotaged the return of Indians to save the sugar industry and Fiji’s economy in the  early 1920s and discredits a historical lie that Indians opted to  stay back and that the British were magnanimous in granting them the right to live in Fiji.

Democracy in Fiji was acceptable as long as Itaukei and Chiefly Party won. If they lost, democracy was demonised and trashed. This also happened in 2000 when Muaniweni farmers were terrorised, raped and pillaged after win and one year rule of Chaudhry-led People's Coalition Government. This photo well depicts the sad status of Indians/Indo-Fijians in Fiji from the Girmit days of 1879 to 2006, when all they did was suffered and cried. Only when  Bainimarama stopped state-sponsored and institutionalised racial discrimination against Indo-Fijians through extra legal means did the descendants of Girmitiyas attained security, social justice and equality.
The book is an eye-opener on the biggest lie ever told. It reveals how indigenous chiefs, in 1963, concocted a lie to unite the Taukeis, misleading simple common ITaukei about non-existent fears of the Indo-Fijian threat to land ownership, customs and customary rights. 

The book also gives an opportunity for Indo-Fijians to objectively evaluate how the failure of leadership denied them respect, justice, equality and dignity, and also how their own folly and wrong choices have been the reasons for their sufferings.

It provides irrefutable evidence the Taukei chiefly system did incalculable harm to the social, economic and political development of the Taukeis and Fiji. All the while, the blame for their poverty was mischievously attributed to Indo-Fijians. 

It is a must reading for ITaukei, especially the new generation, to get an appreciation of how a system of Chiefly rule was the biggest shackles for common ITaukei, and how their poverty was self-inflicted. 

The book, in ten chapters makes a gripping reading, and reclaims Fiji’s history never told by any author in that language and passion. In the first chapter, appropriately titled “My Quest for Justice” Prasad reproduces three self-explanatory letters he wrote to Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR), Australian and British governments respectively, and their replies. They eloquently sum up the pain, suffering and sacrifices of Girmitiya. 

The question that arises is, why this was not done by any of those famous Girmitiya lawyers who became rich from an infighting community?  And how about academics or Girmitiya businessmen? Why it took a simple poor but passionate author from a sleepy rustic village to do the unthinkable?

The book also answers many questions that it raises.
Laisenia Qarase
Ratu Sukuna
Ratu Mara: Was he behind 1987 coup? Was he really a multiracial leader as internationally projected or was he just another ethno-nationalist leader? Was it divine justice of Karma when he was "exiled" out of Suva and his Presidential position by his own Itaukei subjects who should have been protectors and not vultures to their respected chief? Read Enslaved in Paradise to get the answers.

Was Ratu Mara really an advocate of multiracialism? Who was the best or worst of ITaukei leaders: Ratu Sukuna, Ratu Mara, Rabuka or Qarase? And among Indo-Fijians? A.D Patel, Koya, Jai Ram Reddy, or Chaudhry? Was Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) really that great? What were the reasons for racial tensions and political instability in Fiji? Who was the greatest Girmitiya who did enormous good for the oppressed people and whom over 95 percent of Indo-Fijians do not know? 

Jai Ram Reddy and Sitiveni Rabuka. Indo-Fijians have suffered because they rejected the multiracial path carved by Reddy and Rabuka alliance in 1999.

A.D. Patel

S.M. Koya
Mahendra Chaudhry: Did he achieve Pyrrhic victory where he could not enjoy the fruits of his victory, where his victory had taken such a heavy toll that it negated any true sense of achievement? Was it self-inflicted? Did he score many own-goals?

You will be shocked and annoyed with some of the answers this very well-researched book gives and substantiates.

And where does Frank Bainimarama stand?

Some may feel that the author Rajendra Prasad is advocating for Fiji First Government and Frank Bainimarama. Nothing is further from truth. He has never met Bainimarama, his deputy or any of the other movers and shakers in Fiji First. His quest for justice began with research for his first book in late 1990s. This was long before Bainimarama came on the political scene. And that self-financed research of some seven years culminated in publishing of Tears in Paradise in 2004.

As they say, once a writer, always a writer. Some more information came on hand, he had some unfinished business, and that extensive investigations climaxed in the blockbuster and bombshell that shatters so many historical myths. And that is Enslaved in Paradise.

Enslaved in Paradise is a hard-hitting book that tears into Fiji's wanting leadership, their betrayals, British treachery, Chiefs and Great Council of Chiefs which were very destabilizing force and threat to  Fiji's democracy. The Chiefs spread false rumour of Indo-Fijian threat to win political support through misplaced fear of Indo-Fijians. Among others, that has been the reason for continued racial-tension through divide and rule mantra the Chiefs aptly learnt from the British.
And what motivated Prasad? He was no academic and neither had any privileges of academic freebies. It is a non-academic writing, deep from the heart and without desire of any academic rewards. It was done to seek justice through untold bare history unable to be told from the confines of a university. 
I have grieved in the stillness of the night and, in the deep peal of thunder, I have heard the muffled cries of our ancestors, imploring us, their descendants, to ensure that their pain and suffering during the indenture period in Fiji, was not lost in the mist of time.
The book tells what happened in 2006 through extra-judicial means could not be done through democratic process. The Bainimarama initiative liberated Indo-Fijians from state-sponsored racial discrimination and granted them equal citizenry. In addition, it stopped the exploitation of the commoner Taukeis by chiefs who benefited hugely through the entrenched legislations. Significantly, the dissolution of the GCC in 2012 meant it could no longer interfere in Fiji politics, leaving its governance to the elected representatives.

Author’s plea in the final chapter sums it all for the forthcoming Fiji election:

The 2018 election is the watershed, which would decide the political trajectory of Fiji. If Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama fails, Fiji could resurrect the politics of ethnicity, which would be disastrous for Fiji. In him, Fiji had a true indigenous Fijian leader who cared for everyone, irrespective of race, religion or culture, lifting Indo-Fijians, in particular, from the ignominy of being the second-class and being the most despised citizens of Fiji. I sincerely hope Fiji overwhelmingly rejects those who profess restoration of ethnic seats, ethnic voting and the Great Council of Chiefs, including politicians and parties that masquerade as champions, hiding their villainous deeds and intents. 
What is also unprecedented is his direct plea to misinformed iTaukei people. Never had Indo-Fijians ever discussed, conspired or even thought of disposing them of their land, culture, customs or customary rights. Ironically, this was done by their trusted people and savors:
…the Europeans appropriated over 500,000 acres of prime land through deceit and lies, facilitated by your chiefs…

Your chiefs, who posed as God’s chosen ones to rule over your lives, deliberately lied to secure their social, economic and political advantage, creating racial discord to benefit from disharmony between you and us. The coups (1987, 2000) executed behind the façade of your rights and interests were sheer illusion, which did not benefit you but only those who concocted deceit and lies.
He compared their changed status after 2006 when an inclusive government, advocating equality and unity in diversity, saw unmatched social, economic and political advancement. 
Oddly, the military coup of 5 December 2006 brought change, which liberated the people of Fiji from draconian acts of defilement in the governance of the nation that continued for over a century. The people of Fiji became hostage to the villainy of those who hid behind the democratic façade to violate the freedom and rights of Fijians. 
History of Fiji was manipulated and conveniently missed all atrocities. British treated Indians as economic slaves and threw them in front of ITaukei when they left. Indians were indeed treated as derelicts of the empire, used as scaffolding in building, and abandoned when the building stands up.

This book tells of all those missed stories and thus fills this historical chasm.
It is a must reading for all Fijians. You will be enlightened, shocked - and angered.

Rajendra Prasad, the author of Tears in Paradise (2004) and its sequel, Enslaved in Paradise (2018). Although being a non-academic, and researching via self-finance, he has done what no academic could achieve with all the university resources. He deserves an honorary university doctorate, and one of Fiji universities should volunteer and be honoured to launch his excellent book which shatters many historical myths.
The author’s caliber of research, depth of thought, tenor of writing and aptitude of language would be cause of envy to most, if not all Indo-Fijian historians in Fiji universities. The only historian deemed capable is retired Professor Brij Lal, who stands tallest, Prasad comes the second, and I struggle to see even a distant third.

Universities in Fiji could redeem this deficiency by offering honorary doctorate to a non-academic author, Rajendra Prasad and volunteering Fiji launch of this brilliant book. This would bestow more honour and dignity to the institution with initiative, rather than to Prasad who does not expect any kudos for what he deems was his obligation to his aggrieved forebears. 

Over to you, University of the South Pacific (USP), University of Fiji and Fiji National University (FNU) respectively. You may ignore this plea at your peril –and retain your right to be enslaved by ignorance in paradise!

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a journalist, media commentator and runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT. E-mail:]

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