was a student in Bombay and was on my way home when I met some men
who asked me if I were interested in work. They took me and my
companion through Dawalpur. There
I was registered. I was promised work in Jamaica but I had no idea
where Jamaica was. When we went as far as Singapore then we were
told we would be sent to Fiji.
were told that Jamaica was far away, but that we would receive 10/-
a day. We
were ten or twelve and fell into temptation that comes through greed
for money; this is wily we migrated. I was only 18 then. My
companions and I were all unmarried at that stage. I was at school
studying to be a maulvi.
I came to Fiji in 1902 and served my
indenture in Labasa. In India we were told that we would get any
work that we desired but when we got to Labasa we were told that we
would have to work in the canefields. My intention for coming here
was to teach children. That is why I enlisted. I was given the
impression that there were many Muslims in Fiji so I could teach
them Arabic and Urdu and receive a good remuneration. When I got to
Fiji I tried to pursue my intention but instead I had to work in the
canefields. I had no idea of working as an agricultural labourer at
all when I arrived here.
During the indenture period if you
did not work you were punished by Europeans. A Whiteman once told me
to work. He retorted that I would not work, either I would die or I
would kill him. He punched me. I grabbed him and threw him to the
ground. The Whiteman hit me and I retaliated; I struck him a blow
and lie bled. Two other Europeans came and held me. I was given such
a beating that I was unable to drink water for a week. No Indian
came to my rescue. But none could. Had they interfered they too
would have received the same treatment. Some people then advised me
not to get into strife but to work. A European came and saw me and
looked at my hands. He said my hands were soft as a woman's and
asked me what type of work I had been doing. I said I was a teacher.
He then told me to do ploughing.
With hardships my days passed. The sardars
used to give us a terrible time, Only God knows how evil they were.
As an Indian I am ashamed to relate what these Indians did to other
Indians in association with Europeans. Sometimes women too
collaborated. They went and advised other women to go to Europeans,
the reward was work that was not difficult.
Do not ask about religion in the
indenture days. It is nonetheless true that no matter how hard the
work was some of us did fast during girmit
but it is not true at all to say that we said, our prayers in the
field. It might have been possible to do this in other estates but
certainly not on the one where I was. There, if anybody tried to say
his prayers he would have got a kick on his behind from a European.
It was just not possible to say your prayers on that estate. There
was no talk of religion at all on my estate. There was nobody who
used to read either the Koran or the Ramayana. There were no Kathas
or anything of that kind. Even during the weekends we did not
discuss religion. Hindus and Muslims got on very well without
We did, however, discuss amongst
ourselves the need to serve our period and then to become free. When
we became free and I went to Suva, it was then that I practised my
religion fully: saying prayers and observing festivals.
We had contact with people who lived
in the settlements of time-expired indentured labourers. They
advised us to serve our girmit
and become free. We did not have dances or poetry-readings. ALL we
did in the indentured days was work. We
waited for freedom and then made sure that we left the place lest anything else
unfortunate occurred to us. There were days when we had nothing to
eat, nor the money to buy anything. People helped us, irrespective
of religion. In those days we were united, and stayed as one. Hindus
helped through contributions, build Muslim mosques and Muslims
likewise made donations towards the building of Hindu temples. In
the indenture days Muslims tool: Hindu wives and vice-versa. All
retained their religion during girmit.
There was a shortage of women in the
indenture period and one could not be selective. There were
occasions when there was one woman with two men interested in her,
and this invariably led to strife. Sometimes one killed the other
and faced the risk of being hanged afterwards.
How could we get back to India after girmit?
We had no money. The money we earned under indenture was not enough.
Earning 2/- or 3/- a week was hardly enough for food for a big man.
So how could we save to go to India? There were times when our work
became so tough that we thought death would be easier than some of
the things we had to endure. For the married things were even more
difficult at times. The divine injunction forbidding suicide saved
us from taking our own life. It was our religion that saved us; and
gave us incentive to live.
There were Christian missionaries who
helped us by giving us medicine. I cannot say that they showed
favouritism towards those Indians who were Christians.