Tribute to Girmityas 139th Anniversary
Losirene Lacanivalu, Shratika Naidu and Litia Tikomailepanon
Girmityas and their descendants have found dignity, respect and equality that they were looking for in Fiji since their arrival in 1879, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has said.
Speaking at the ‘Girmit Remembrance Day for Women’ at the Fiji Museum in Suva on May 15, 2017, he said that these three values were once a missing link for Girmityas and their descendants.
He said that the indentured labourers wanted equality and today they had gained that respect as they were now called ‘Fijians,’ constitutionally and legally.
He said this was a huge shift from what happened on May 14, 1879 for both men and women of the Girmit.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said that cheap labour was provided when the Girmit arrived and help build the economic base of Fiji.
However, the Girmityas suffered from malnutrition, emotional and psychological stress and many lives were lost. Women, who are the backbone and strength in a family, also worked amongst men in the sugarcane field.
Through perseverance, they encouraged their children to get educated.
Remembering the past
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said that education became a huge focus and the Girmityas began to change their Girmit mindset. There were many stories of the Girmityas and one of them included how women gave birth, took their children to sugarcane plantations and how they had a high mortality rate.
The reality for any country was for people to be mature enough and focus and build a strong future and come to grips with their past, he said.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said it was important for a person to recognise their history and those who contributed to their history without politicising it.
Unfortunately, in Fiji, for decades, because the Girmit system was a part of the Colonial system, education was excluded.
This was among the issues faced by the Girmityas and their descendants; there were many untold stories of the Girmityas and people would be surprised to hear them, he said.
A book written by Dr Mohit Prasad called, ‘Girmit: The Indentured- a General History’ was released at the event.
Event in Labasa
At the ‘Remembrance Day’ held in Labasa, Fiji businessman Rupan, who was the Chief Guest, said, “Mothers who are were descendants of women during the Girmit period should be thankful for what they have today. They should be strengthened by the stories of struggle,” he said.
Mr Rupan, who worked at the Fiji Sugar Corporation in Labasa for 25 years, said that women during the Girmit period played an important role.
Founder of Local Timber and Distributors Limited, Mr Rupan said it was important to remember the hard work, sacrifices, resilience, tolerance as well as brutalities of physical violence borne by women brought into or born into indenture.
“In those days, women had no access to better health facilities to deliver their babies. They did not have the technology and assistance that you have today,” he said.
Special Administrator for Labasa and Savusavu Town Councils Vijay Chand said that May 14 each year marks the Anniversary of the arrival of the first shipload of indentured labourers from India to Fiji, abroad the Leonidas in 1879.
To honour both occasions, the local communities, supported by Municipal Councils invited all Fijians to pay respect to all women and girl-child as part of a larger celebrations in their respective centres.
Nonagenarian’s advice in Nadi
93-year-old Muttamma reminded people of the importance of mothers in the society.
“We should respect and love our parents and God will bless us abundantly,” she said.
She celebrated the day with other mothers from Nadi at the Nadi Civic Centre.
Her grandparents were Girmityas who arrived from Calcutta.
Chief Guest and Retired school teacher Shushila Ramesh advised children not to ill treat their parents in their homes.
“They are the reason we are here today, please daughters and daughters-in-law, respect your mothers and value them, do not ill-treat them and put them into old people’s home,” she said.
The above Report and Picture, which appeared in Fiji Sun on May 15, 2017, has been published by Indian Newslink under a Special Agreement with the publication.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum speaking at Girmit Remembrance Day at the Suva Museum on May 14, 2017. Photo for Fiji Sun by Jone Luvenitoga