Government must fund Girmit celebration

As the nation commemorates the 135th anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indians to Fiji, the National Federation Party (NDP) calls upon all peoples of Fiji to remember and reflect on the struggles and sacrifices of our forefathers for equality, dignity and justice for all our people.

At the same time, we should not forget that May 14, the day that indentured Indians arrived on our shores, also is one of the darkest days in our history, when Fiji witnessed its first military coup and the overthrow of the democratically elected Government in 1987. The start of the coup culture 27 years ago has had devastating consequences for the social, economic and political advancement of our country.

Honest reflection

After 135 years since the arrival of the first Indians on Fiji’s shores, the time is right, not only for the celebration of our rich history in this multicultural society, but also for a reflection of the freedom gained, and lost on the journey.

Our forefathers operated on the basis of freedom, human rights, dignity and a virtuous living- the values that, over a period of time, guided our fight against the vices of the indentured system.

Today however, we have forgotten and some would have us forget, those hard-fought for virtues and principles in support of those who have taken our freedom in the past.

Significant year

This year is particularly significant in that as we mark 135 years of Indian arrival and the subsequent ending of Girmit, we are also preparing for restoration of our lost freedom and rights since 2006; freedom that has been promised to the people of this nation through free and fair elections.

To mark this momentous occasion, the NDP would like to reiterate our need, as diverse communities of a great Nation to work together for our collective free and secure future.

Girmit is thus a celebration as well as a commemoration of that single momentous event that forever changed the destiny and the landscape of the Fijian society. While the atrocities, trials and tribulations of the indenture system in Fiji have been well documented, the descendants of Girmityas have moved on.

Indifferent descendants

This is evident in the way the third and fourth generation Indo-Fijians have integrated themselves into Fiji’s landscape. As such, they have tied their own personal circumstances to the destiny of the country.

In the light of this, this year’s Girmit celebration should also be about a paradigm change; that is we should move away from the rhetoric of the past and the way in which they reinforce the victim mentality so prevalent within the Indo-Fijian populations in Fiji.

While the recent and past political events have led to overt racism against sectors of the Indo-Fijian communities from state institutions and by some who are associated with them, this does not necessarily mean that we are all and the only victims of oppression as an ethnic group.

Our political leaders have to rethink the language, the posturing, and how they articulate the problems and plights of Indo-Fijians. There is a tendency to articulate them with short-term political objectives and in particular for electoral success. Consequently, the root problems of the Indo-Fijians have not been addressed properly.

Cultural change

We need a new culture of dialogue, unity and cooperation with political leaders of other ethnic groups to forge a new approach to politics in this country. The dialogue should never include coercion or support for coercive activities.

Moreover, the dialogue must incorporate diverse opinions from a broad spectrum of the ethnic groups that make up the nation. As such, celebrations like these, highlighting a specific group of people in all their diversity, must be the cornerstones of processes of nation building.

It is because of this, NFP believes that any Government of the day should provide funding for a national celebration of Girmit – a celebration where the nation comes to grips with the diversity that is its essence; diversity that demands mutual respect as the basis of more secure dignified life.

Dr Biman Prasad is Professor of Economics at the University of South Pacific based in Suva, Fiji, and Chairman of the Oceania Development Network, a regional network supported by the Global Development Network. He recently launched his career in politics and became the leader of the National Federation Party.

The above is a statement that he issued on the eve of Girmit Anniversary on May 13, 2014.

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