As the infamous Girmit enters its 135th year, we look back with mixed feelings of guilt and gratification.
The former is the result of a lack of empathy towards a generation that died as a suffering community and the latter is a feeling of pride over the achievements of a growing number of Indo-Fijians who have reached high levels of fame and fortune in several parts of the world.
Many Indo-Fijians marked the 134th anniversary of Girmit on May 14 with solemnity and sobriety, while a few will observe the event this weekend. There is a tinge of guilt and anger among some Indo-Fijians over the ignorance, indifference and even irreverence that some of their compatriots display towards their forbearers.
Some elders say that Girmit should be forgotten because it was a period of betrayal, suffering, suicides and torture; that it was one of the darkest periods in human history, which saw innocent people who left their homeland in the hope of better life and work, sinking into a life of despair and depravation.
But it is unfair an unwise to erase Girmityas from memory because a generation that does not know its ancestry would run the risk of forgetting its roots.
As a newspaper, Indian Newslink has been paying homage to Girmityas year after year, with admiration and profoundness.
While we hope that those in the know would educate the younger generation on the Girmitya and instil a sense of pride in them, we would also like to focus on the descendants who have, through their intellectual competence, entrepreneurial ability and rectitude, become the pride of the countries and communities in which they live.
Among them are a former Governor-General, lawmakers, law enforcers, captains of industry and community leaders.
But we also remember and pay homage to thousands of impoverished and undernourished Indo-Fijians subsisting in a country that has been their home for at least 134 years. There is little excuse for a polity or system that has allowed such inequity to persist over all these years.
The world has perhaps never seen a community of people who have forever been chased by ill luck and misfortune, like the Indo-Fijians have been all these years.
While the Girmityas suffered the worst effects of bonded labour, racism and inhuman treatment, there is no justification for their successive generations to lead a life of pity and want.
In presenting this report, we salute those settlers who suffered the worst insinuation that they endured; and their sons and daughters and the generations that followed- we salute them for their spirit of sacrifice. We also hope that as we mark the completion of 134 years of Girmit, there will never again be repetition of history.
Indo-Fijians have suffered too long to allow a parade of avoidable events. It is time they too reaped the harvest of their hard labour.
We offer our sincere felicitations to the members of the larger Indo-Fijian family for their achievements thus far and hope that they will continue to prosper and give us opportunities to rejoice with them.