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Girmit Descendents Have Now Found Dignity, Respect, Equality, Says A-G

Girmit Descendents Have Now Found Dignity, Respect, Equality, Says A-G
Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum during the Girmit Remembrance Day celebration at the Suva Museum on May14, 2017. Photo: Jone Luvenitoga
May 15
11:00 2017

Respect, dignity and equality are what the Girmitiyas and their descendants have been looking for in Fiji since their arrival in 1879.

Officiating at the Girmit Remembrance Day for women at the Fiji Museum last night, the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said these three values were once a missing link for Girmitiyas and their descendants.

The Attorney-General said the indentured labourers wanted equality and today they had gained that respect and equality as they were now called Fijians constitutionally and legally.

He said last night’s gathering was evident enough and already a testimony that they have gained this and it was a huge shift from what happened on May 14, 1879 for both men and women of the Girmitiyas.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said cheap labour was provided when the Girmit arrived and help build the economic base of Fiji.

However, with this they faced malnutrition, lives were lost and they suffered from emotional and psychological stress.

However, women were the backbone and strength in a family, they also worked amongst men in the sugarcane field and through their perseverance they encouraged their children to get educated.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said education became a huge focus and they began to change their Girmit mindset.

He said there were many stories of the Girmitiyas and one of them included how women gave birth, took their children to sugarcane plantations and how they had a high mortality rate.

However, he said the reality for any country was for people to be mature enough and focus and build a strong future and to actually come to grips with their past.

He said it was important for a person to recognise their history, recognise those who contributed to their history without politicising it.

Unfortunately in Fiji for decades because the Girmit system was part of the colonial system, the educational system and the syllabus actually clouded the issues faced by the Girmitiyas and their descendants.

The Attorney-General said there were many untold stories of the Girmitiyas and people would be surprised to find a lot of untold stories.

Meanwhile, a book written by Dr Mohit Prasad called ‘Girmit: The Indentured- a General History’ was launched at the event last night.


Be thankful for what you have today: Rupan

Mothers who were descendants of women during the Girmit period were urged to be thankful for what they have today.

“While we remember those women during Girmit period I would like to urge all Fijian mothers to be strengthened by their stories of struggle and be thankful for what you have today,” chief guest at the Labasa event Rupan said.

Businessman Mr Rupan who worked at the Fiji Sugar Corporation in Labasa for 25 years, said the women during the Girmit period played an important role at the Remembrance Day which was held yesterday at Labasa Civic Centre in Labasa.

Mr Rupan, the founder of Local Timber and Distributors Limited, said it was important to remember the hardwork, 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 and neither had they enjoyed the technology and assistance that you have access to today,” he said.

Meanwhile, Special Administrator for Labasa and Savusavu Town councils Vijay Chand said 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.

“2017 marks the 138th year since the arrival of the first indentured labourers to Fiji,” Mr Chand said.

“This year’s Girmit celebration coincides with Mother’s Day.

To honour both occasions, 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.

The theme for this year celebration is “Remembering women of the Girmit.”


Respect parents, says 93-year-old Muttamma

93-year-old Muttamma yesterday urged for the respect and importance of parents during a Mother’s Day celebration in Nadi.

“We should respect and love our parents and God will bless us abundantly,” she said.

Ms Muttamma celebrated the day with other mothers from around Nadi at the Nadi Civic Centre.

Her grandparents were Girmitiyas who arrived from Calcutta in India during the Girmit period.

Chief guest and retired schoolteacher Shushila Ramesh reminded the children of the families not to ill treat the parents in their homes.

“They are the reason we are here today, please daughters, daughter in law respect your mothers and value them, do not ill-treat them and put them into old people home,” Ms Ramesh said.

“Value and treat them well while they are still here on earth.

Edited by Rusiate Mataiaka


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