Girmitya descendants honour Professor Brij Lal

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand decided to introduce Girmit Legacy Awards to recognise Fiji-Indians, who have hitherto been somewhat ignored.

Girmit Legacy Awards have been established to fill the void.

These Awards recognise the achievements of the descendants of Girmityas for bringing pride, joy, sense of belonging and social cohesion to what our ancestors bequeathed us: A distinct Fiji-Indian race, with a distinct language, culture and attachment to Fiji, being a distinct Pacifica people with their roots in India.

Seedlings from India

Former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand, who was the Chief Guest at the 140th Anniversary of Girmit held in Auckland on May 10, 2019, said: “Former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Surendranath Ramphal described Indian cultural heritage, in his own instance as being like a seed from a tree growing in India being taken across the seas and growing with encouragement from a seed again to flower in the Caribbean – that is, being different but maintaining the essence of Indian origin.”

The same applied to Fiji-Indians who were honoured at the Girmit Day. A seed from India, flowering in Fiji, and taken to other countries, maintaining the essence of Indian origin, but still being a Fijian.

Rich and Inspiring Legacy

What Girmityas have done is to give us a rich and inspiring legacy. And through that Fiji has produced outstanding people that have become role models to inspire others and ensure the hard work, spirit, values of Girmityas continue to live in action every day.

When we speak of such legacy, one name comes to our mind.

Professor Brij Lal, a simple person of high stature. The man from Labasa was the recipient of the Girmit Legacy Award 2019 in the Literature Category, ‘Girmit Sahitya Ratan.’

Professor Lal’s Award citation read:

“Girmit is our foundational history, which was gradually being lost with the passage of time. However, had it not been for Professor Brij Vilash Lal, a descendant of the Girmityas – the very words ‘Girmit’ and ‘Girmitya’ would have been lost forever.”

In fact, there was a real danger of us losing the entire Girmit history, had it not been for Professor Lal, who is a world-renowned scholar on Pacific and Girmit history. He single-handedly retrieved and restored our foundational history. He removed the stain linked to the words ‘Girmit’ and “Girmitya’ and turned them into jewels of our history that we have come to treasure and embrace.

Man of Lore

Professor Lal’s work spanned various disciplines – from history, biography to political commentaries and compiling an Encyclopaedia. He is regarded by his peers as the most eminent scholar in the school of humanities and social sciences Fiji has ever produced and remains one of the most highly acclaimed intellectuals of Fiji – a proud descendant of the Girmityas. He is the author of more than 40 books.

He makes us, the descendants of Girmityas, very proud through his achievements. His most memorable quip, which is fondly quoted is: “The Girmityas were ordinary people, who achieved extraordinary feats in extraordinary circumstances.”

What Professor Lal has achieved through his writings is to give voiceless people a voice, place and purpose, a sense of dignity and inner strength that comes from never giving up no matter how difficult the circumstances.

He strongly believes that history belongs to the victor as much as it belongs to the vanquished. And through his scholarship, initiative and sacrifice he has filled the blank pages of our Girmit history.

Professor Lal was the Chief Guest at the Fiji Girmit Foundation’s ‘Girmit Day’ in 2014.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a founding Trustee of the Fiji Girmit Foundation, Auckland. He is a journalist, a media commentator and a blogger at ‘Fiji Pundit.’

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Photo Caption:

Professor Brij Lal

(Picture from INL Archives)

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