Girmit can never be an occasion for celebration – Chaudhry

Girmit can never be an occasion for celebration – Chaudhry

By Mansi Chand
Monday 13/05/2024
Former Prime Minister and Fiji Labour Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry

While the debasing experience of Girmit has a place in our history, it can never be an occasion for celebration, instead, we need to honour our Girmitya forefathers who had the vision and the determination to create a more dignified and respectable future for their children.

This was highlighted by the former Prime Minister and Fiji Labour Party Leader, Mahendra Chaudhry in his Girmit Day message and he questions what are we celebrating today, and if we celebrating the bondage of Girmit, the enslavement of our people under a system that was evil, humiliating and degrading.

He also questions whether we are celebrating the resilience, fortitude and perseverance of our Girmitya forefathers who rose above this system to carve a dignified future for themselves and their children.

Chaudhry says they preserved their culture and traditions, making sure their children were brought up appreciating and understanding their roots.

The former Prime Minister says the 14th of May 2024 marks the 145th anniversary of the arrival of the first batch of 463 Indian Indentured labourers to Fiji on board the ship Leonidas to serve British mercantile interests.

Chaudhry says over the next 37 years, 86 more ships brought 60,090 more men and women to work in plantations owned by white settlers and the Australian Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR), under dehumanising conditions akin to slavery.

He says this evil system was eventually abolished in 1916 following a vigorous campaign against it by India’s freedom fighters among whom were Mahatma Gandhi, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rev CF Andrews and Sarojini Naidu.

He says they overcame immense challenges in a colonial system which was determined to keep them subjugated as ‘coolies’ even after Indenture and remained focused on their priorities.

The FLP Leader says when the colonial administration refused to set up schools for their children, they established their schools to educate their children so they could live as equals in their adopted homeland as nothing was handed to them on a platter.

He further says the history of the Girmityas and their descendants is a tale of their struggle for rights and recognition as equal citizens – a struggle which continues to this day.

Chaudhry says our forefathers did not only work on cane, banana and cocoa plantations but they were used as labourers to cut down heavy tropical jungles to build Fiji’s early roads and bridges and develop communication lines to open up the country.

In the years to come, they contributed immensely to the country’s development via the education system, commerce and the professions.

He says that total acceptance remained elusive as evidenced by the racially motivated coups of 1987 and 2000.

He says it forced thousands of Indians to leave Fiji in search of a more secure future for themselves elsewhere and today we have a sizeable diaspora in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.

Chaudhry says for those who remained, the future remains insecure in many ways quite apart from the issue of acceptance, lack of access to land coupled with insecurity of tenure remains a major problem for the farming community.

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