Bechu Prasad - oldest girmitiya of Fiji - passed away at the age of 104

We bring you here some selected articles from various sources.

Bechu leaves legacy of harmony

(Fiji Sun, 8 September 2005) - Download Fiji Sun frontpage

Fiji’s oldest inhabitant, Bechu Prasad, has died peacefully at his home. The 105-year-old, who would rise before sunrise and start his day by walking to his farm, cane knife in hand, died at his Sabeto home in Nadi on Tuesday evening.

Mr Prasad, an inspiration to many, was also a community worker who preached peace and harmony between Fiji’s two major races. Family, relatives and close friends gathered at his home yesterday to pay their respects to possibly the last of the girmitya.

Mr Prasad, who had aged gracefully, proved many wrong by doing his own daily chores and working on his farm until a few days before his death. Eldest son Hari Prasad, 71, yesterday said that his father died peacefully in his sleep and had being feeling weak before passing away.

The family has not confirmed funeral arrangements as yet, awaiting the arrival of the youngest daughter. “We have not finalised a date for the funeral right now as we are waiting for my sister to arrive from overseas,” said Mr Prasad. “However, the funeral will be held before the end of the week and we will let everyone know when.”

Mr Prasad was born on May 10, 1901, in Rakiraki after his parents arrived in Fiji from India during the indentured labourers time before moving to Sabeto, Nadi. He is survived by his ten children – four boys and six girls of whom eight are still alive. Mr Prasad was a strict vegetarian.

Chaudhry hails a man of inspiration

Bechu Prasad has been a source of great inspiration to the people of Fiji. Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said the party was profoundly saddened by the passing of Mr Prasad, a girmatiya, a centenarian, cane farmer and a man who had been a source of great inspiration. “From an early age, Mr Prasad was taught the value of hard work and sacrifice, tenets that were to serve him well all his life,” said Mr Chaudhry.

“He always believed in hard work and using his time to the best of his ability. As such he was a very disciplined, a successful farmer and community worker who enjoyed excellent physical and mental health throughout his life.” Mr Chaudhry said Mr Prasad’s community service was exemplary and he was recognised by the Government for his contribution to the Lautoka Advisory Council, of which he was a member for more than 60 years.

“Mr Prasad also acknowledged the problems of youths today and their lack of respect for others, especially their parents,” said Mr Chaudhry. “This, he said, was contributing to moral decadence and I totally agree with him. “Mr Prasad's exemplary life saw him being a guest of royalty on two very important occasions the first being during the 1970 independence celebrations and recently during Prince Charles’ visit to Fiji in March this year.

“There would not be too many leaders in Fiji that would be accorded such honour but Mr Prasad was an exceptionally special person who first saw the suffering of the girmatiyas, the development of Fiji from the early days of colonial rule and whose selfless sacrifice through his numerous acts of community service had ensured him national respect and admiration.

“With his passing, we have lost an important link with our past. However, being mindful of his hard work, strong moral values and commitment to this country, we can all learn from this great son of Fiji. “My deepest and sincerest condolences to his family. May his soul rest in peace.”

It’s a loss, says NFP

The sudden death of Fiji’s centenarian, Bechu Prasad, was an irreplaceable loss to Fiji, said the National Federation Party. Party president Raman Pratap Singh said Mr Prasad was one of the last surviving girmitiya and personified the struggle and sacrifice of indentured labourers whose descendents have made Fiji their motherland.

“The NFP extends to the family of Mr Bechu Prasad its most sincere condolences and may the Lord Almighty grant them comfort and solace,” said Mr Singh.

Mr Prasad, until his death, had led an active life and his keen interest in politics, social and community work pre-occupied much of his life. “He was also a dedicated patriarch and forever preached morality, ethics, religious and racial tolerance,” said Mr Singh.

“Babuji, as Mr Prasad was revered and respected for, was a national icon. His words of wisdom, advice, love and affection towards all the people of Fiji will be long remembered.” He said that the best tribute that one could pay to Bechu Prasad was to follow his ideals for a united and harmonious Fiji.

So Long Babuji

(Fiji Times, Thursday, September 08, 2005)

ONE of the last surviving Girmitiyas, Bechu Prasad, has died at the age of 105.

He died at his Sabeto home on Tuesday night after a short illness. The farmer, social and community worker was born on May 10, 1901.

One of his sons Lekh Ram Prasad, 63, said the family respected him.

He said his dad worked hard, was health-conscious and wise and always had the public at heart.

"He was always helping the people," he said.

Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry said Mr Prasad was a source of inspiration to the people of Fiji and with his passing, Fiji had lost an important link with his past.

Mr Chaudhry said Mr Prasad was an exceptionally special person who saw first-hand the suffering of the Girmitiyas, the development of Fiji from the early days of colonial rule to what it is today.

He said Mr Prasad's selfless sacrifice — through his many acts of of community service, endeared him national respect and admiration.

National Federation Party president Pratap Singh said the best tribute one could pay Mr Prasad was to follow his ideals for a united Fiji. Arya Prantinidhi Sabha of Fiji president Kamlesh Arya said Mr Prasad had been an untiring social worker, a community servant and a strong advocate of peace and reconciliation.

His family are awaiting the arrival of one of his daughters from America before they finalise the funeral arrangement.

Mr Prasad is survived by four sons, four daughters, 20 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.

Vinaka Babuji

(Editorial in Fiji Times, Thursday, September 08, 2005)

The nation today mourns the passing away of centenarian Bechu Prasad.

Mr Prasad, 105, was the son of an indentured labourer who arrived in the country from India more than 120 years ago. He became a widely respected and admired national figure because of not only longevity but also his immense contribution to the social, political and economic development of this land he called home.

He was actively involved in the sugar industry all his life but also took interest in the general welfare of young people and the future of Indians in the country.

In his two last interviews with this newspaper early this year, Mr Prasad called on Indians to unite and form a single political party to represent their views on important national issues.

"I have noticed that Indians are more divided now. I believe they cannot unite unless the two political parties representing them come together. Everyone wants to be king."

On the sugar industry: "Leaders should learn from the past and concentrate on the progress of the sugar industry instead of struggling for power."

On young people: "Respect your mothers and fathers and treat elders with respect."

On the future of Indians: "The future of Indians is neither in your hands nor in mine but in the hands of the Almighty."

Babuji, as he was affectionately called by those he was closely associated with, has been a symbol of love, affection, peaceful co-existence, tolerance and goodwill.

Many people of all races and faiths over the years benefited from his words of wisdom and fatherly advice. He was always willing to offer those in trouble various forms of assistance.

Hardworking, kind and caring, the humble farmer from Sabeto in Nadi rubbed shoulders with royalty, heads of governments and high chiefs because he was liked and respected for his work.

It was also in recognition of the hard work and sacrifice put in by the girmitiyas in the development of not only the sugar industry but the economy at large.

In many of his public statements, Mr Prasad advocated the importance of national unity, racial harmony and goodwill among the various communities. He believed in sharing and caring as vital ingredients for progress and prosperity in this land.

As we say Sa Moce Babuji, it is best and to our advantage that we all learn from and take to heart the examples he set and the words of advice he gave to the citizens of this country.

We will certainly miss him.

Passing away of an era

by Verenaisi Raicola (Feature in Fiji Times, Thursday, September 08, 2005)

The death this week of Bechu Prasad - centenarian, girmitya, Justice of Peace and community worker, represents the coming to a close of an era in Fiji.

Cane Farmers Cooperative Savings and Loans Association manager Jone Kedraika who worked closely with the late Mr Prasad since 1977, said his death, though expected, was a great loss, especially to the farmers in the Western Division.

Mr Prasad, a life member of the Association since 1973, visited the office in Nadi every Tuesday and Wednesday to sign documents for farmers applying for assistance.

"He was doing that for years until the last two weeks when he became too sick to travel.

"He used to witness documents for us and we will greatly miss him because now we would be getting the same papers signed at a cost of $50 to $60."

Mr Kedraika said Mr Prasad taught him many things, among the most important being the virtues of hard work, love, honesty and service.

"To him service to others was a priority, it was something he was cut out to do and always reminded us to practice.

"He (Mr Prasad) refused to accept money from anyone needing his services and as long as I can remember, I have never seen him in a cab or behind a wheel of a car despite the fact that he owned one.

"Though he had a car Bechu always traveled back and forth from Nadi town in a bus and he taught many what humility was all about."

Mr Kedraika said the office was usually full of members of the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because they knew where to get forms witnessed at no cost.

Mr Prasad only took less than $10 from the association to pay for his bus fares.

"Even then he would take the cash with hesitation," he said.

Two weeks ago, when Mr Prasad, a vegetarian, was admitted to the Nadi Hospital he emphasized to Mr Kedraika during a visit the importance of being faithful to God, being true to people and the importance of wise time management.

Mr Prasad, who in March this year entertained the Prince of Wales with halua and ladu (Indian sweets) at his Sabeto home, said at the time during an interview he would live another 20 years.

In return, Prince Charles promised the farmer who had been harvesting 300 to 400 tonnes of cane per season another visit shortly.

During the royal's brief 20-minute visit, Mr Prasad described Fiji as his homeland where he was brought up and intended to die despite the fact that he was originally from Hariyana in Punjab.

He made it clear before his meeting with the Prince that there would be no discussion of politics.

Mr Prasad said Fiji was a paradise with good land, people and water.

After their meeting he described Prince Charles as a very good and humble person who showed a lot of concern about his health and appreciated being hosted at the home by his family.

Opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry who was profoundly saddened by the death of Mr Prasad, said Fiji had lost a man who had been a great source of inspiration.

He said Mr Prasad's community service was exemplary and was recognized by the government, especially his contribution to the Lautoka Advisory Council, of which he was a member for 60 years.

"Mr Prasad's exemplary life saw him being a guest of royalty on two important occasions-the 1970 Independence celebrations and during the recent Prince Charles visit in March," Mr Chaudhry said.

"There would not be too many leaders in Fiji let alone persons that would be accorded such an honor.

"But then again Mr Prasad was an exceptionally special person, who saw first hand the suffering of the Girmityas, the development of Fiji from the early days of colonial rule to what it is today.

"His selfless sacrifice through his numerous acts of community service had endeared him national respect and admiration.

"With Mr Prasad's passing we have lost an important link with our past.

"However by being mindful of his hard work, strong moral values and commitment to this country we can all learn from this great son of Fiji,' said Mr Chaudhry.

National Federation Party president Raman Pratap Singh said the sudden death of Babuji, as he was commonly known, was an irreplaceable loss for Fiji.

He was one of the last surviving Girmitiyas and personified the struggles and sacrifice of the indentured laborers.

Shiri Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji president Surendra Kumar said Mr Prasad's death was a loss to an organisation he supported all his life.

"He used to attend our functions and I remember a lot about this great man."

In one of his last interviews, Mr Prasad, who had always maintained his links with his ancestors in Northern India, said things had changed a lot since his days as a young man.

He said leaders in the country needed to be concerned about the welfare of everyone as there was no way that Indians would return to their homeland.

Mr Prasad said he loved Fiji because he was born here but if the government one day decided to send Indians back to India, he was willing to return. He had urged Indians to live peacefully in the country and work hard for their welfare.

He said the younger generation was uncontrolled with most turning to criminal activities because they had no respect for others.

"These youths do not respect their parents and some of them cannot tell the difference between their sisters and their brothers any more because the values within society have crumbled."

He said Indians and Fijians who played, ate and lived together should learn to live in harmony. "My advice to the younger generation is respect your parents and look at the older generation with love."

He said leaders were setting the wrong examples by fighting with each other for political benefits, forgetting that life would one day come to an end.

"More people are educated as lawyers, doctors and experts but they have political agendas instead of creating racial harmony for everyone in the country in order to set good examples for the young," he said.

Mr Prasad, the father of four sons and five daughters, was born in 1901, the same year his father Mamraj arrived here as an indentured immigrant from Punjab.

He settled down in Sabeto with his family in 1909.

Mr Prasad, whose wife Bagwain died in 1983, leaves behind nine children, 20 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.

We salute and honor a man who served this country with pride - May his Soul rest in Peace.

Qarase to attend Bechu's funeral

(Fiji Times, Friday, September 09, 2005)

PRIME Minister Laisenia Qarase will deliver a eulogy at the funeral of the late Girmitya, Bechu Prasad, today.

Mr Qarase yesterday sent a condolence message on behalf of the people and the Government.

"We thank God for his long and eventful life," the PM said in a statement.

"What impressed me most was his humility, how he looked after himself and his wise views on issues we faced.

"He was an outstanding patriot and citizen of Fiji," said Mr Qarase.

Mick Beddoes of the United People's Party said Bechu's death brought an end to a colourful career of service to the people.

"Bechu epitomised good health and his ability to remain self reliant up to his death, was itself a feat rarely achieved by man," said Mr Beddoes.

Jeremaia Waqanisau sent his sympathy from China.

"It was in January 1997, a few weeks after assuming the post of Commissioner Western, a very well-dressed and neat old Indian man entered my office in Lautoka and introduced himself," Mr Waqanisau recalls.

"Bula vinaka sir, my name is Bechu Prasad, 96-years-old and member of the Lautoka district advisory committee. I am very glad to see you, sir."

"I was lost for words," said Mr Waqanisau.

"He may have come to Fiji under the indentured system but he became a loyal and dedicated son."

Bechu's grand-daughter Swastika Prasad said her grandfather's final journey would start at the Lautoka Hospital at 8.30am today.

It will be transported through Lautoka City to Nadovu where dignitaries will deliver their eulogy at an official ceremony.

Then it will be taken to Sabeto where his family will conduct a private funeral service.

Bechu's body will be taken to Wailoaloa crematorium at 1.30pm for final rites before cremation.

Village repays Babuji

(Fiji Times, Saturday, September 10, 2005)

THE 20-acre land on which the late Bechu Prasad lived all his life will now belong to his family, a tribute to Fiji's humble ambassador of peace and goodwill.

Mr Prasad's family was yesterday promised the property as a show of appreciation for the work the 105-year-old had done for Sabeto villagers.

Delivering a eulogy on behalf of the Tui Sabeto, Ratu Kaliova Numuni, his spokesman Maikali Turuva said Mr Prasad was considered to be part of Sabeto Village in Nadi.

Mr Turuva said Ratu Kaliova thought that it was only fitting that they, as the traditional landowners, hand over the 20-acre property which Mr Prasad spent most of his life on.

He said it was a token of thanks from the landowners for his contribution to the people of Sabeto.

Mr Turuva said Mr Prasad had always had a close relationship with Sabeto and was involved in all activities at the village.

"Whenever there is a function at the village, Mr Prasad either gives money or sees to it that he is present," said Mr Turuva.

"We also used to invite Mr Prasad to come to the village and speak to our youths because they had enormous respect for him.

"We have never had any problems with the Prasad family and I think that is why Ratu Kaliova decided to give the property to his sons and daughters.

"They are also part of Sabeto.

"Ratu Kaliova has already started the process of ensuring that the handover is documented legally so that no one will be able to create any problem with the Prasad family in the future," said Mr Turuva.

He said Mr Prasad's commitment toward the development and improvement of the standard of living of people of Sabeto had seen him being involved in almost every project conducted in the village.

He said all Sabeto villagers were proud to be associated with Mr Prasad and his family.

And they were looking forward to a long and continued fruitful relationship together with the members of his family he left behind.

Mr Turuva said Ratu Kaliova was determined to see that the Prasad family would continue to live in the area peacefully and harmoniously for as long as they wanted. He said the legacy left behind by Mr Prasad would not only remain in the minds of the present generation.

They would guarantee that the future generations of Sabeto Village were made aware of the contributions which Mr Prasad made to the lives of the villagers.

Mr Prasad died on Tuesday night after a short illness.

The farmer, social and community worker was born on May 10, 1901.

He is survived by four sons, four daughters, 20 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.

Last salute for a hero

(Fiji Sun, September 10, 2005)

They came in their hundreds from all walks of life. Young, old, of all races, religions and different backgrounds. They were united in thought and reflection as one of Fiji’s last surviving girmitiya, Bechu Prasad, was given a last farewell befitting a legend.

The 105-year-old farmer, who died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday, left an impression on their minds with his dedication to preaching racial harmony, patriotism and lifelong devotion to service for the community. Words of comfort from the Prince of Wales, Charles Philip Arthur George, halfway across the world, were read and acknowledged by all who lived to witness a lesson on how life should be led.

Eulogies were read by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, British High Commissioner Charles Mochan, Sugar Cane Growers Council chief executive Jagannath Sami, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Singh, chiefs, Members of Parliament, friends and family at the Girmit Centre in Lautoka, and at his rural home at Sabeto, Nadi.

New Alliance Party president Ratu Epeli Ganilau, in his eulogy, said Mr Prasad would be remembered by many as a great man and “we should all follow in his footsteps”. “He (Mr Prasad) was a very good friend of my father (the late President Ratu Penaia Ganilau) and they lived harmonically in a multiracial society.

“We should all follow in his footsteps as he helped many understand the meaning of multiracialism,” said Ratu Epeli yesterday. The Tui Sabeto, Ratu Kaliova Numuni, said the Prasad’s family residence and their farmlands would always belong to them. He acknowledged the contributions made by Mr Prasad to people in his traditional jurisdiction.

“We have made an agreement with the Native Land Trust Board and the Prasad family land will belong to the family generation after generation because the late Bechu Prasad was a son of Sabeto,” said his spokesman. “He had done a lot for the people living in Sabeto. We have most of the business people living in the area and the late Mr Prasad always showed support for the Indian community and the indigenous people of Sabeto without any difference.”

It was a farewell gathering where race and religion came together in a melting pot of multiracialism that Mr Prasad always preached about. Mr Prasad’s journey concluded at the Wailoaloa crematorium where he was cremated after the final Hindu rites were performed.

Prince pays tribute to Bechu

(Fiji Times, Saturday, September 10, 2005)

THE passing of Bechu Prasad is a loss to Fiji and the rest of the world, says the Prince of Wales Prince Charles, in a condolence message read by British High Commissioner Charles Mochan.

In his message, Prince Charles recalled the warm reception he received the last time he visited Mr Prasad at home, in March this year.

He said he would never forget Mr Prasad because of the honesty and courtesy he showed during their brief encounter.

Mr Mochan said the news of Mr Prasad's death caused deep sorrow for the prince who described Mr Prasad as "Fiji's special son".

Mr Mochan was one of many who delivered a eulogy for Mr Prasad to a multi-racial congregation of about 1500 people at the Girmit Centre in Sabeto. A congregation of a similar number were gathered at Mr Prasad's home.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said Mr Prasad had grown to value health, family and the country.

He said Mr Prasad gained tremendous inner strength enduring distressing periods in the years of his life as an indentured labourer.

"It was this humility that impressed me most," he said.

"He was an inspiration to the nation in how he took care of himself and his family and his willingness to help those who sought his assistance."

Indian High Commissioner Ajay Singh described the death of Bechu Prasad as the end of an era.

He said Mr Prasad's death was a huge loss because he was a living history book of the developments that took place since the Girmit period.

Jagannath Sami, chief executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council, said a quality of Mr Prasad that everyone admired was his selflessness.

Mr Sami said even though he was going through difficult times, he made sure the needs of others came first.

Praveen Bala, president of the Fiji Local Government Association, challenged the country's leaders to work toward achieving Mr Prasad's dream of a united Fiji.

He said there was no point in offering condolences or speaking of how great Mr Prasad was if they did not appreciate the goal he set his life to.

Mr Bala said Mr Prasad always preached about peace and unity between the two major races.