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Girmitiyas : From Indentured Labor to Political and Economic Eminence

In 87 voyages, between 1879 and 1916, some 60,600 Girmitiyas arrived Fiji

Girmit Boat Image: Shyamni

By Pashchiema Bhatia

Years ago, thousands of Indians were brought to Fiji as indentured laborers (Girimitiyas) by signing contracts and with the promise of allowing them to return back to their homeland after the expiration of those agreements, yet only few could return. Willingly or unwillingly, many had to stay in Fiji. Almost all the Indians who signed the agreements were illiterate and couldn’t understand the terms and conditions written on those papers.

As almost all the Indians brought to Fiji as indentured laborers were illiterate and could not speak English, they used to mispronounce the English word “agreement” and eventually the distorted word “Girmit” became popular and the people who signed the agreements came to be known as “Girmitiyas”.

Fiji on Globe Image: Wikimedia Commons
Fiji on Globe Image: Wikimedia Commons

It all started after the end of slavery when availability of cheap labor became problematic. In 87 voyages that were made to Fiji between 1879 and 1916, some 60,600 Girmitiyas arrived. These people had to face a lot in their initial days and the confounding thing is that there is no acknowledgement of their struggles in the history of Fiji. They not only had to struggle in working as laborers in plantations but were also tortured. The food given to them was rationed. Also, the women were seen as a subject of lustful advances of Europeans.

According to the agreement, they were supposed to return to India at the expenses of their employer after working for five years but Europeans were never habitual of adhering to contracts. Eventually after 5 years, when the agreements got expired, Girmitiyas were free to return to their motherland India but at their own expense. As most of the Indians working as indentured laborers could not afford the expenses, they had no choice but to stay.

Related Article: Sikhism in Fiji: Samabula Sikh Temple

Fiji Indians or Indo-Fijians

Girmitiyas not only contributed to the economic development of the country but also forwarded their ethics of working hard to their descendants. The Indians in Fiji are known for their dedication in work.

After the Girmits got expired, Girimitiyas started settling in the country by developing their small businesses. These personal initiatives of Indians soon started challenging the already existing commercial enterprises at that time. Indians started migrating to Fiji as free agents and by 1925, there were several commercial enterprises owned by Fiji Indians.

To remain rooted to their culture, Indians in Fiji have been building temples since they arrived which serve as a sacred venue for Indian marriages and various other cultural events.  The Arya Samaj in Fiji advocated Hinduism and education. Various schools were started by Arya Samaj to promote girls’ education.

After facing many obstacles, political participation of Indians was also accepted. The descendants of Girmitiyas sprang up to influence the political and cultural facets of Fiji.

To know how Indo-Fijians made their way from indentured laborers to politically and economically impacting citizens read my previously written article on Girmitiyas titled “May 14 is marked as Indian Arrival Day or Girmit Day in Fiji

Pashchiema is an intern at Newsgram and a student of journalism and mass communication in New Delhi. Twitter: @pashchiema

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Copyright 2016 NewsGram

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Really good to know that Indians have made a mark wherever they go. Proud to be an Indian

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US Government’s International Religious Freedom Report 2016 lists Growing Attacks on Hindus

The report lists growing number of attacks against Hindus in India as well as abroad

Attacks against Hindus
International Religious Freedom Report. Facebook
  • On Tuesday, the US government released its State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2016
  • The report lists the growing attacks against Hindus in India as well as abroad
  • Particularly in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Malaysia, the attacks against Hindus is common

US, August 17, 2017: On Tuesday, August 17, the US Government released its State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report (IRFR) for the year 2016. The report lists growing number of attacks against Hindus in India as well as abroad.

The report, released by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, particularly talks about the growing number of assaults on Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Furthermore, there were also mentioned incidents of assault against Sikhs in Denmark and France.

ALSO READ: 2017 Hindu Human Rights Report Released by Hindu American Foundation (HAF): Here is What you Need to Know!

Interestingly, the recent incidents of Gau Rakshaks of India are also presented in the report. It has highlighted the increasing attack against individuals from minority groups by cow-protection activists.

In Bangladesh especially, there has been a sharp increase in the attacks against Hindus who constitute the religious minority of the country. This can be attributed to the presence of terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

The IRFR also reports an incident from October in Bangladesh. Over a Facebook post that some may find offensive to Islam, more than 50 Hindu families and over 15 Hindu temples were ruined by hundreds of villagers. This attack claimed the lives of 25 people.

The report has also recognized Pakistan government’s inability to help safeguard the rights of religious minorities, particularly Hindus. But a larger problem that exists in Pakistan is the forced conversions of Hindus and Christians.

ALSO READ: Forced Conversion of Hindus in Umerkot and Tharparkar Districts

There have also been offenses against the Sikh community present in France and Denmark. In France, Turbans are banned in schools, offices, and other public spaces. In Denmark, court judges are prohibited from wearing the turbans. These bans include the religious symbols as well as crucifixes.

In England and Wales, 1,055 crimes against other religions such as Hindus, Sikhs, and few Christians were recorded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the US government report.

From April-November 2016, eight Hindu temples were vandalized in Malaysia. Hindu leaders of the country have alleged that the police is ignorant of the problems.

[bctt tweet=”US Government released its State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report (IRFR) for the year 2016.” username=”NewsGramdotcom”]

Zakir Naik, controversial figure in India, was warmly received by the Malaysian government as Hindus protested his speaking tour. Zakir Naik’s speech is always intended to insult Hindus and promote extremism. Bangladesh, on the other hand, had banned Zakir Naik’s Peace TV Bangla as it was spreading extremist ideologies.

In Fiji, three Hindu temples were desecrated in 2016. In Mauritius, no religious violence took place despite the growing tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

This report by the US Commission has come under heavy fire from the Hindu American Foundation. The leaders of the foundation have asserted that the International Religious Freedom Report was outsourced to writer and activist Dr. Iqtidar Karamat Cheema than being written by the staff of the US commission. The Foundation’s allegations have raised questions about the nature of credibility of the commission.

Furthermore, the Foundation claims that the author has cited “alternative facts.” Also interesting to note is that Dr. Cheema has been honored by several Pakistani government bodies previously who has supported separatist agendas.

–  prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

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