November 9, 2016: History says, the last ship that sailed from India was the ‘Sutlej V’- on 1916. It arrived in Fiji on 11th November. November 2016 marks the 100 years of the of British Indian Indentured Servitude system in Fiji. The arrival of the last Girmit ship ‘Sutlej-V’ from India to Fiji was at the Albert Park, Suva in Fiji on 9th November 2016.
To mark the 100 years of Indian Indentured Servitude System, Indian Diaspora in Fiji organized amazing centenary celebrations today. This was followed by the police band of Fiji, who led a float procession. Needless to say, that the events and the functions have wonderfully served the purpose of the celebrations.
The Indo-Fijian community dates back its history to the time of 1879. That year marks the historic arrival of the indentured laborers from India to Fiji. On 14th May of 1879, the British colonialists took the contracted laborers from India, transporting a mass segment of the population to the Fiji archipelago. The first ship, “Leonidas”, hit the shores on Fiji and marked the beginning of a long period of heavy labor, struggle and unmentioned tortures!
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The system of bringing the laborers got popularized as ‘Girmits’, mispronounced from the original term “agreement”, which had the Indians bound in a contractual labor to the foreign lands under the British rule.
Fiji saw the arrival of total 87 voyages in between 1879 and 1916. The history of the Girmitiyas is well narrated in a documentary concerning the indentured laborers. ‘Calcutta to the Caribbean- an Indian Journey’, directed by Gideon Hanumansingh, portrays the plights of the Indians who got transported to the Caribbean and post the abolition of slavery, started working in the sugar plantations.
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Post the historical sail of the ship ‘Fatel Rozack’ that carried 217 Indian men and women and reached the port of Trinidad on 1845, the voyages followed and about 1, 43,939 Indian indentured laborers got shipped to Trinidad in the course of the next 72 years. The majority of the workers, that is 2, 40,000 were shipped to Guyana, 36000 to the land of Jamaica and smaller numbers of the population to Grenada, Martinique, St. Vincent and St. Lucia.
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The contract-bound laborers were taken from various states across the country that included- Bengal (through the port of Calcutta), Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Oudh. In the earlier times of the transportation, laborers were taken from Chennai as well. The workers mostly belonged to Hindu faith and a few of them were Muslims.
History records the torture, struggle and the painful lives of the doomed laborers. A contract that got them cursed for lives. Their journey and their laboring period tell us a lot about slavery. The multiple numbers of voyages that carried the indentured Indians to the foreign lands are cataloged in history. The National Library of Australia holds the record of a proper catalog of the pass-numbers and the year and date of all the ships that carried the laborers. It includes names of ships like- Leonidas, Berar, Syria, Howrah, Ganges, Bruce, Allanshaw, Jamuna, Arno, Virawa, Sangola, Mutlah, Chenab, Sutlej and many more.
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