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Fiji Girmit Website Launched

Post launch press release
Release date : 19/04/2004
Attention: News Editors

Fiji Girmit Website Launched

Indian indentured labourers arrived on Fiji 125 years ago, yet while their contribution to Fiji’s economic, social and cultural scenes is evident , the life of the girmitiyas, as they were known, remains less evident.

This comment was made by USP's Associate Professor in Economics and associate editor of the Fiji Institute of Applied Studies, Dr Biman Prasad during the launch of the Fiji Girmit website – today.

“Through this website the details of the life of the girmitiyas can be accessed easily by anyone, anywhere in the world,” Dr Prasad said.

“It is important as we commemorate the 125th year of the presence of descendants of the girmitiyas in Fiji that people become aware of the whole girmit story. The simplest and most economical way to do so is through this website.”

The website contains information about the struggles of the girmitiyas, their personal experiences, and texts written by noted historians like Professor Brij Lal, Dr Ahmed Ali and other researchers. It also contains various links, a discussion forum and poetry written by descendants of the girmitiyas.

Conceived as a comprehensive tool for recounting the whole girmit story, the website also has some pictures of the Fiji girmit era – 1879 to 1920.

During the girmit era some 60,553 labourers arrived in Fiji. Their boat trips from India lasted some two to three months and during this period 87 shiploads of labourers landed in Fiji. Today, the descendants of the indentured labourers constitute approximately 41 percent of the total population of Fiji.

[end of press release]

Launching of Fiji Girmit Website
Monday 19 April, 2004
By Biman Prasad
Associate Professor and Head of Department of Economics

The launching of the Fiji Girmit website is an important occasion for many reasons. It is a celebration of an event that took place 125 years ago which brought to Fiji a group of people who chose to stay in Fiji and make Fiji their home. While the atrocities, trials and tribulations of the indenture system in Fiji have been well documented, the descendants of girmitiya's have moved on and the third and fourth generations Indo-Fijians are truly part of Fiji's landscape and this is going to remain the case no matter what the circumstances in this country is going to be in future.

There are some in Fiji and the Pacific Islands who view Indo-Fijians as not being part of the Pacific Islands and Pacific culture. This is regrettable and advocates of this view are bordering on racism. There are other groups who arrived many years ago in Fiji, so have Indo-Fijians who are now third or fourth generation people since the arrival of the first lot of Indians in 1879. Just like Solomon Islanders who are different from Samoans but are Pacific Islanders, so are Indo-Fijians who are descendants of the Girmitiya's and who have a different culture but are Pacific Islanders. While they cherish their cultural heritage and have maintained them to a large extent, they are Pacific islanders. This fact will remain no matter what others continue to view them as.

The celebrations to mark the 125th anniversary of the arrival of Indo-Fijians should move away from articulation of the past in a way that reinforces the victim mentality that we have somehow created amongst the Indo-Fijian population in Fiji. While recent political events have let to overt racism against the Indo-Fijians from the state institutions and by some who are associated with them, it should not let us only to believe that we are the victims of oppression as an ethnic group.

Our political leaders have to rethink the language, the posturing and how they: articulate the problems and plight of the Indo-Fijians. There is a tendency to articulate them with short-term political objectives and in particular for electoral success and the problems of the Indo-Fijians have not been addressed properly. We need a new culture of dialogue, unity, and cooperation with political leaders of other ethnic groups to forge a new approach to politics in this country.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Ganesh Chand for taking this initiative to launch the website. It is going to be an extremely useful source of information on the history of Indo-Fijians in Fiji and how they have come to make Fiji their home. I am therefore happy and pleased to launch the new Fiji Girmit Website. Thank you.


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