From a letter to Indes réunionnaises
(we received the e-mail copy on 3rd July 2004)
I am a film maker and researcher with
girmitiya ancestry now based in Sydney. I have been involved
in Discovering Your India Roots Project since 1994 and have
produced two films on this subject so far. I am the general
secretary of the International Girmit Congress Inc. Presently
I am engaged in Doctor in Creative Arts research on the issue
of Identity among the Indo-Fijians living in Fiji and in the
Firstly let me thank you for taking an
interest in people of Indian origin of Fiji and congratulate
you for adding a virtual interview with Dr Ganesh Chand on you
wedsite. The interview is very well conducted and will provide
a better understanding of the Indo-Fijians in Fiji to your
However there are certain information
provided in the interview which I consider incorrect or
misleading. In my view if they remain so then wrong or
misleading views about the Indo-Fijian community my be
perpetuated indefinitely. I hope you will be able to inform
your readership about my thoughts on the subject.
I do not support Dr Ganesh's view that
"Indenture' is now absent not only from official
educational record, but also from the memory of present day
Indian Fijians". I have been researching on Discover Your
Indian Roots Project for some 10 years now. In this capacity I
attended the Indian Week held last year in Fiji-during which I
held information sessions on Milaap-Discover Your India Roots
in Suva. Despite only a few days publicity some 900 people
came to see us over the week long sessions. Additionally I
have had great response to my Milaap project from whoever I
met during my travels in Fiji. This demonstrates that even
now, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation Indo-Fijians still
remember Girmit and girmityas and are very keen to discover
their ancestral roots,
During the same period I managed to assist
some 100 of these people extract the Girmit passes of their
ancestors from the national achieves in Fiji. Since
information about Milaap Project appeared on this website I
had constant flow of correspondence from Indo-Fijians from all
over the world about tracing their roots in India. Over the
years I have met a number of people from Fiji who have already
traced their roots in India or are in the process of doing so.
So far only a very small percentage of the Indo-Fijians who I
have spoken to-numbering in several thousands, not even 5%
categorically stated that they did not want to discover their
roots in India. From my experience of living in Fiji since
childhood to age of 23yrs and as the originator of Milaap
project, almost every Indo-Fijian in Fiji has a desire to
trace their roots back in India. It is just that no one in
Fiji has brought up this subject or provided assistance to
anyone wishing to trace their roots in India. I would like to
bring to your attention a letter written to the website and
its reply :
I am a british born Indian of Fijian
Indian parentage. It is my sincere wish to relocate to India
and be able to claim my heritage. Unfortunately, I will be
unable to do so until I can offer proof of passage of one of
my great grandparents. I have been seeking this information
a long time and only fell upon your site this evening.
please kindly let me know if you can help me as I am unaware
of what records you hold or where I should be looking.
In kind anticipation
"Sorry, we can't help you with
this. Our organisation has no funding (yet). Your task is
not impossible but it definitely takes time. This is what
Dr. Brij Lal's new book says about this emigration passes to
India :"Subsequently they were transferred to the
National Archives of Fiji where a full set of 60,965 of the
originals is available in some 240 large folios. The
National Library of Australia has a copy of all the Passes
on microfilm and these were used in my research." So
you would have to travel to Fiji to search for yourself.
Sorry for not being able of more help."
In my opinion the reply was most unhelpful -
to say the least. Suggesting to someone to travel from the
other side of the world to carry out a search, which takes at
most half an hour (with sufficient information in hand), in my
opinion, shows lack of knowledge or committment or both. I
have been able to assist people to extract immigration passes
of their ancestors from my office in Sydney!
To one question Dr Ganesh states:
"Other than this category, the vast majority of Indian
Fijians have lost all ties with their relatives in India. For
them, Fiji is their home, and their complete allegiance is to
Fiji. As such, their significance to the country's social and
political landscape is immense."
I think Dr Ganesh has got this wrong. This
is demonstrated by the undeniable fact that nearly 100,000
Indo-Fijians have fled Fiji since the first coups of 1978 in
Fiji. Today for the vast majority of the descendants of the
Fiji girmityas the priority is to leave Fiji permanently.
During the India week last year I saw it for myself that even
school children had greater feelings for India than Fiji -
seen clearly during India Week cultural programs. Most people
believe that almost all of the remaining Indo-Fijians will
leave Fiji permanently, if given slightest of chance to do so.
To your question "What could you tell
about the relations with other ethnic groups in the country
?" unlike Dr Ganesh, I believe that there is rampant
racism against the Indo-Fijians by the native Fijians in all
spheres of life. The fact thatIndo-Fijians are denied the
right to purchase land in the country where they are born in
and are citizens of is a form of apartheid similar to that
existed in South Africa. This fact is known to every
Indo-Fijian and it is about time that the whole world knows
about it. Below is one of the articles by the former PM of
Fiji, Mr Chaudhary, whose views are nearer to the truth. There
are more of his articles on the Labour Party website http://www.flp.org.fj/.
I believe that shielding the whole truth in favour of
political correctness or for some other motives will not
assist the cause of the descendants of Fiji's grimityas!
This is one of the articles:
"Former Prime Minister and National
Farmers Union general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry lashed out
at traitors who tried to ingratiate themselves with the
oppressors to serve their own interests at the expense of
He made the comments during the official
launching of the magazine titled Children of the Indus as
part of the celebrations of the arrival of the girmityas to
Fiji, which was held at the Fiji Teachers Union Hall
"We strive for acceptance from others
yet some of our own stab us in the back which is a sad part
of our history that we as a community must recognise,"
he said. "One has to look at what happened to the
Agricultural Land Tenure Act in 1976, the Coalition
Government in 1987 and to the People's Coalition Government
in 2000, where the spoilers in all these cases were the
self-serving in the Indo- Fijian community," he said.
Mr Chaudhry said it was also the rich and
the powerful working against the interests of the farmers,
the workers and the poor.
"At the time of each coup, these
people from within our own ranks were behind-the-scene
instigators, the financiers of the coup and the
destabilisation campaigns," he said.
"The history of the Indo-Fijian
people in Fiji have no dull moment. If we are not oppressed
by others, we fight among ourselves which keeps the story
line moving and the excitement and tension remain vibrant
"Even today, we are denied our
political rights in the land of our birth, we are still
fighting against racially motivated statutory discrimination
in all aspects of life despite a very liberal constitution
that guarantees us equal citizenship rights and equal
"Our people have been subjected to
three racially instigated coups that have deprived them of
their legitimate constitutional rights to participate in the
formation of a government and to help formulate national
To your question "Do you think it would
be possible and useful that Indian people in Fiji and Reunion
Island start cultural (and other) exchanges ?" I have
this to say: I am attaching an article I sent to a number of
individuals last year: Dr Ganesh also sent his opinion about
this but as I recall it, he was not supportive of the idea. As
is clear from our proposal of International Girmit Sammelan/as
and formation of International Girmit Congress Inc in Sydney,
we firmly believe that there is need of far greater
interactions amongst the Global Girmit community. (In absence
of any other single unifying name for the global descendants
of indentured Indians, we are putting forward "Girmit"
as the universal word until such time when a replacement can
be agreed upon).
INTERNATIONAL 'GIRMIT' SAMMELAN
('Girmit' refers to the descendents of
indentured Indian labourers)
I have been promoting the idea of
collaboration between India and the international girmit
community for some ten years now. During this period I have
written papers, travelled to India three times, produced three
documentaries and worked with the government of India Tourist
Office in Sydney on promoting travel to India.
Today there are up to ten million
descendents of Indian indentured Indians (fondly referred as 'Girmityas')
living away from India. The term girmit and hence girmityas
arose because the indentured Indians could not pronounce the
word agreement which they signed to become indentured
labourers. They called it 'girmit'. The word stuck and now has
become an important part of vocabulary when discussing the
indentured Indians. They are now fondly referred as girmityas
and their descendents are now referred as children of
Initially some one million girmityas were
taken mainly by the British Raj to work on their sugar cane
plantations. Now numbering some ten million the majority of
the descendents of girmityas still live in the countries where
the girmityas were takento. They include Mauritius, South
Africa, Guyana, Surinam, Trinidad & Tobago and Fiji.
However a fair proportion million live in the western world
including the UK, Holland, the USA, Canada, Australia and New
One important part of my ten year long work has been DISCOVER
YOUR INDIAN ROOTS. The aim of the project is two fold.
Firstly, it seeks to unite the children of girmityas with
their ancestral land and relatives in India. Secondly, it is
designed to financially benefit India through increased
tourism and financial and skills investment by the children of
Upon learning about Up Government's Discover
Your Roots project, in 2000-2001 I visited Uttar Pradesh
Tourist Office in Lucknow and met Mr Desh Deepak Verma, the
person who claims to have started Discover Your Roots project
in UP. He spoke about the project and I shot some footage with
him and his officers for my documentary 'Milaap-Discover Your
During our conversation I mentioned to Mr
Verma some of my thoughts on organising an International
Girmit Sammelan in Uttar Pradesh. Mr Verma agreed that such
event should take place but unfortunately no further
discussion took place between us since then.
There are several reasons why such event
should be held, maybe in Uttar Pradesh:
- The majority of girmityas were either
from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. Maybe a joint UP and Bihar
venture is called for. I believe Lucknow has the
infrastructure to organise and host such event.
- The international girmitya community has
some specific needs and aspirations which are different
from the rest of the Diasporic Indian community. This fact
was amply demonstrated during the recently concluded
Pravasi Bharatiya as. It is felt by many that the Pravasi
Bharatiya as was more Non resident Indian (NRI) focussed
rather than PIO focussed, the girmitya community falling
into the People of Indian Origin (PIO) category.
- I also mentioned to Mr Verma that
migrants from Indian states such as Punjab and Gujarat
were contributing enormously towards the economical growth
of their respective states. Same can be done by the PIO's
for the economy of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh
and Tamil Nadu.
- The leadership of Indian states such as
Punjab and Gujarat are actively engaged in dialogue with
their overseas migrants. In return they are benefiting
from the contributions of those migrants.
- By holding the event in UP/Bihar, the
leadership of these states will be engaging in direct
dialogue with the children of migrants from these states.
(A similar event can be organised in Madras for girmitya
migrants from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh).
- The Pravasi Bharatiya as had Bollywood
and music as major draw factor. I believe the Girmit
Sammelan should draw upon the sporting success of the
girmitya community, specially in cricket and Golf. Vijay
Singh and Dinesh Chand of Fiji have put the girmityas
firmly on international golf scene. The success of the
girmitya community is well known in cricket with
international cricketers such as Alvin Kallicharan, Shiv
Narayan Chanderpaul et all. If events can be organised
around these international girmitya sports people in Uttar
Pradesh/Bihar, I am sure it will attract massive interest
from the international girmitya community, local Indian
people and the international media. This can be
complemented by girmitya music and by presence of
Bollywood personalities originating from UP/Bihar-Amitabh
Bachchan and Shatruhan Sinha.
- This event can also target the girmitya
business people, with view to offering them opportunities
to invest in UP/Bihar or to import from these estates. It
can also target people who wish to carry out social
projects in these states.
- I believe that just by attracting
girmitya tourists to their ancestral land will generate
substantial revenue in form of transport, accommodation,
food and entertainment.
- Although Pravasi Bharatiya as had many
plusses, it did not provide opportunities as listed above.
- The Girmit Sammelan should be over a week
or two, allowing for all the activities, including special
sightseeing tours to the state's icons and visits to some
of the villages where roots of the girmityas have been
- A video documentation should be made of
the whole event for subsequent promotion of the theme in
the international girmitya community.
I believe an international event such as
International Girmit Sammelan on the footsteps of Pravasi
Bharatiya as will be very beneficial for India as well as the
international girmitya community.
Compiled by Satish Rai (BA Hons, MA)
As I have mentioned before the above
critique is designed to provide an alternate view about
plights and situation of the Indo-Fijian community. I
understand others may have different views to mine and would
welcome their views if they are put forward to further the
cause of the Indo-Fijian community or the Girmit community.