History wipes out ill-fated generations

Tribute to Girmityas  139th Anniversary

Venkat Raman

Journalists who cover wars, natural and man-made disasters and events that attract public attention would be stupefied to discover the atrocities suffered by generations obscured by history – generations that subsisted in Fiji, in order that their children and succeeding sons and daughters will live amidst peace and plenty.

Their desire may have been fulfilled in the case of hundreds of thousands of Indo-Fijians who established their careers as businesspersons, professionals and employees in large, medium and small enterprises in Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and other countries to which the post-Girmit generations migrated, especially after the first coup in 1987 (see several separate stories that will appear everyday from today).

Sacrifice and Death

The story of the Indo-Fijians as indentured labourers is one of betrayal, torture, sacrifice and death. Successive generations have heard how their ancestors suffered the brutality of their colonial masters, whipped like animals and were pushed towards suicide- many of them ended their lives either hanging at home or falling into the nearby river; many others simply perished as a natural outcome of physical and mental abuse.

The world has scoffed at slavery and those who drove them but has seldom cared for the victims, unless the latter fought for their rights in strange lands and asserted themselves politically, socially and culturally, winning a rightful place in the society.

Marginalised Indo-Fijians

Africans in Europe, the US and Canada are prime examples of such self-determination but in the case of Fiji, people of Indian origin remained marginalised and relegated to secondary positions.

True, there are a number of success stories of people who have established their presence commercially and lifted Fiji’s economy in later years, especially after the country gained independence in 1971.

But they did not achieve success overnight; they too struggled, alongside their compatriots, risked their fortunes and promoted businesses. It is often said that without Indo-Fijian enterprise, the country’s economy would be far more impoverished and regressive than it is today.

Back to the Girmit and the Girmitiyas, the reason for their massive abuse by the Colonial Sugar Research (CSR) Company is not known but it is assumed that their belief was subjugation through terror was far more effective in gaining control over the migrant workers than letting them live and work in dignity.

The First ‘Shipment’

The first shipload of Girmitiyas aboard Leonidas, accounted for 522 men and women, who were apparently taken from various parts of India on false pretences. If those people sported a dream of making it in Fiji through hard work followed by happiness and prosperity, they only got the former.

A series of articles today and in the ensuing days leading up to the 139th Anniversary on Monday, May 14, 2018 will detail a little more about those unfortunate men and women and how history obscured them into non-entity.


Photo Caption:

  1. A shipload of ill-fated men and women-Leonidas arrives in Fiji on May 14, 1879
  2. Indentured labourers aboard a ship to Fiji

(From Indian Newslink Archives)


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