By Pashchiema Bhatia
May 14 is marked as Indian Arrival Day in Fiji as well as Girmit Day. On 14 May 1879, the ship called the “Leonidas” arrived in Fiji carrying the first wave of indentured laborers from India. The system of bringing people as indentured laborers came to be widely known as ‘Girmit’ which is actually a mispronunciation of the word ‘agreement’ by the non-English speaking Indian laborers.
Here are 10 facts about Girmitiyas in Fiji:
- The people who were brought as indentured labourers had to struggle a lot in their initial days. They were not only made to work in the plantations but also tortured and the confounding fact is that there is no acknowledgement of their struggles and life in the history of Girmityas.
- Life was so hard for them; even the food was rationed for them as they had to face corporal punishment and even imprisonment in case of failure to complete allotted tasks.
- Eventually, after working for five years as indentured laborers or free laborers, they were given the choice to return to India but at their own expenses. Majority of people had to stay as they could not afford the expenses for the journey.
- After their agreements or Girmits got expired, they developed their own small businesses in the towns and gradually began to spring up.
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- They developed a koiné language (also known as Fiji Hindi) formed from different languages and dialects of India and further many Fijian and English words were included. This language is now spoken by Fiji Indians and also in different communities of Fiji where there is majority of Indians.
- The Arya Samaj in Fiji founded the Fiji Samachar in 1923 in order to spread their views. It influenced girls’ education and advocated Hinduism.
- One thing which is good about Fiji Hindus is that they lack caste system. This might have happened because they all worked together as indentured laborers in plantations and everyone’s profession was revolving around farming.
- Being rooted to their culture, Indo-Fijians celebrate festivals like Holi, Ram Navami and Diwali out of which Diwali is a public holiday.
- Fiji Hindus have been building temples since they arrived and these temples are served as venues for important cultural events.
- In addition to temples, various schools and community centers were also developed by Hindus to improve the social and educational opportunities.
Rajendra Prasad, a descendant of indentured labourers, wrote a book titled ‘Tears in Paradise’ in which he wrote about the struggle and torture faced by the Girmitiyas.
Pashchiema is an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @pashchiema