Mahendra Sukhdeo –
In the late 1800s and 1900s, when the Chinese were streaming out to different parts of the world, the nascent Indian National Congress paid scant attention to the Indian Diaspora. In fact, it was principally instrumental in the abolition of the indenture system.
It was in this underbelly of colonisation that the biggest Indian migration began in 1830s.
It came on the back of the African ‘slave trade.’
Fiji was the last of the colonies for indentured labourers. The brain drain of 1960s and 1970s and the subsequent oil boom in the Arab world gave impetus for Indians to leave the shores for greener pastures abroad.
Wherever Indians had settled in larger numbers, their socio-political and economic aspirations were soured by ethno nationalism and/or indulgent, adversarial leadership among the settler Indians.
The expulsion of Indians from Uganda, fall of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, imposition of Bhumiputra (Sons of the Soil paradigm) in Malaysia, mutation of leftist leaders in Guyana, muzzling of Indians in Suriname and the coups of Fiji point to the lackadaisical local leadership and the failure of the Indian foreign policy to engage actively with the recipient countries.
The 1987 coup was a defining ethnocentric political drama for Fiji and the Pacific Island Nations (PINs). Indians at once felt completely disenchanted and in a fit of epileptic anger and anguish, moved out of Fiji in droves.
There are certain common themes that characterise the Indian diasporic experience in places as different as Trinidad, Fiji, Canada, Britain, US, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
They share a common history, culture and spiritual beliefs and they had to face issues of identity, problems of acculturation and confrontation with racism.
Taking 1987 as the benchmark, Indo-Fijians have now resettled in their adoptive countries for well over 26 years. They did not go through the trials and tribulations in the same magnitude as the ‘Girmitiyas’ and yet there are gripping tales of groupism and negativity as observed in the incidence of physical violence, family disputes, inter-personal ruptures, depressive withdrawals, manic suicide, and social inclusiveness.
Displaced Fiji Indians in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States of America bewail their tragic loss of socio-political leverage and indulge in a nostalgic form of cultural ‘auto-voyeurism’ through the lifeline of religious rhythm and/or social intoxicants.
Their absorption as minorities in a dominant Caucasian milieu is bound to be frustratingly slow and depressingly cathartic.
Indo-Fijians, being one of the minorities of the minorities, need to dilute their penchant for repetitive (and fruitless) religious grooving and start forging links with like-minded ethnic groups to begin the process of active assimilation and nation building in their adoptive countries.
In ‘Aryan Avatars,’ I have attempted in four chapters to cover the full course and discourse of the system including the spectacular progress of the ‘Girmitiyas’ and their descendants from ‘coolies’ to ‘kulaks’ under extremely trying conditions.
In the next article in Indian Newslink (May 15, 2015), I will argue that if both the slave trade and the indenture system had been permitted to continue unabated under modified conditions, the scope of Indian Diaspora and the history of the Americas and the British colonies where Indians were resettled would be different.
I will also argue that in spite of the excesses of the regime, Indian settlers markedly improved their status economically and socially, although their impact was diluted by their marginal demography.
Mahendra Sukhdeo was born in Nadi and is a third generation Fiji Indian whose grandparents migrated as contracted labourers from a remote village near the India-Nepal border in early 1900. Migrating to New Zealand in 1999, he worked in Auckland at Adult Education Centre (Manager) and Sky City Group (Administrator) before relocating to Australia. He is married and has four children.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: aryanavatars.wordpress.com
- Malti & Mahendra Sukhdeo with Dr Amar & Anupama at the launch in Melbourne
- Malti Sukhdeo with Sujata, Shivali and Vandana
(Photos By Jainesh Jogia)