Opinion

Raj: Discrimination Begins With Distinction

The social media post by a provisional candidate of the People’s Alliance Party, that refers to Indo-Fijians as ‘vulagis’ or ‘visitors’, is reminiscent of the prevailing sentiments that sowed the seeds of division and hatred that led to the events of 1987 and 2000.
17 Aug 2022 11:15
Raj: Discrimination Begins With Distinction
(L)- Ashwin Raj and (R)- Liliana Warid.

The Fijian Constitution affords everyone, irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, colour or creed, the right and privilege to call Fiji their home. In a country that has been marred by so much discord, acrimony and political violence, it is extremely important that we create unity and foster mutual respect for diversity.

The social media post by a provisional candidate of the People’s Alliance Party, that refers to Indo-Fijians as ‘vulagis’ or ‘visitors’, is reminiscent of the prevailing sentiments that sowed the seeds of division and hatred that led to the events of 1987 and 2000.

In societies like ours that have been structured by settler colonialism the question that must be asked is how long does it take before a community ceases to be a ‘vulagi’ or a visitor? Has it not dawned on us by now, as the advent of the global pandemic and the existential threat of climate change reminds us every day, that we are all ‘vulagis’ on planet earth and that we share common vulnerabilities?

Discrimination begins with distinction and the passive but poisonous stereotyping of Indo-Fijians as different in terms of their physical attributes, culture, work ethic and intellectual capabilities from the iTaukei as a community that is different in terms of its biological make up, religious beliefs, culture and traditions and perceived to be left behind is exactly what has emboldened ethno-nationalist sentiments in this country and led to entrenched racism for decades.

We must be proud, that unlike the indigenous communities in many countries including developed nations such as Australia and the United States, Fiji has a thriving indigenous community that is vociferous in the political sphere, that has excelled in businesses such as the Fijian Holdings Limited and the Hot Bread Kitchen.

 

Itaukei Contribution To Fiji

Our iTaukei have made immense contributions to trade, tourism and agriculture and have left an indelible imprint on the global arena through their sporting prowess.

They are academics and intellectuals and senior civil servants that are instrumental in shaping the future of our country. Unlike the precarious predicament of indigenous people in so many parts of the world, our iTaukei enjoy the constitutionally guaranteed legal safeguards against the permanent alienation of their lands as well as their right as landowners to fair share of royalties for extraction of minerals and distribution of lease monies that is no longer the privilege of the elite few.

Only a few years ago, Indo-Fijians were likened to an ‘obnoxious weed’ by an emboldened ethno-nationalist member of parliament while another aspiring politician, on the cusp of 2014 elections pronounced that Indo-Fijians and iTaukei were like ‘water and kerosene’ that cannot be mixed and by now almost everyone in this country is very aware of the expression ‘barking like an Indian dog’.

 

This is not to say that there aren’t sections of the Indo-Fijian community that do not harbour disparaging sentiments about our iTaukei community but my point is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Racism and bigotry have no place, whether it is coming from an Indo-Fijian or iTaukei or any other community, if we are to build a community of equals.

The xenophobic attacks on the Chinese community, for instance with the release of the numismatic note by the Reserve Bank, is a sad indictment of the fact that there are elements in our society who will look for every opportunity to divide and sow the seeds of hatred. If it is not for the 2013 Constitution, and its strong and salutary legal safeguards affording everyone common and equal citizenry and the right and privilege to be called Fijian and being protected against the advocacy of hatred including hate speeches, one would see a surge in inciteful comments that have the real potential, as we witnessed in 1987 and 2000 to descend into violence.

Let us not forget that the 2013 Constitution does not pretend that we are a homogenous people.

 

Constitution

The Preamble of the Fijian Constitution pays a homage to the diverse communities that strengthen our national fabric.

Irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed, everyone needs food and a roof over their head, they need access to institutions of justice and social security schemes, every child needs to be safe and enjoy the right to education, every woman must be given the space to flourish in an environment free of violence, and the desire to thrive in a socially inclusive environment on the basis of equality is the same for every person with disability, sex worker or an LGBTI person.

It defies reason to agitate for disaggregated data when the State does not have an ethnically induced affirmative action policy as it did under previous governments led by Sitiveni Rabuka and Laisenia Qarase.

 

There is no such thing as distinction without discrimination. Given that these retrogressive comments are coming from a provisional candidate, it is imperative to ask whether the political party that she is aspiring to stand for in the upcoming general elections subscribes to and endorses her views.

Furthermore, it is well worth asking whether the coalition partner for the People’s Alliance Party, the National Federation Party also subscribes to these views.

It is highly likely, that as we head into the general elections, there will be an increase in inflammatory rhetoric and it is important that we call it out.

Our silence is the first sign of our complicity.

 

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj



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