Wednesday January 23, 2019
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UP government to involve Girmitiyas for development works


Agra: The UP government will soon be involving with ‘Girmitiyas’ for social and economic development of the state.

Notably, Girmitiyas were the labourers from Uttar Pradesh who were taken to Fiji to work on sugarcane plantations during 1833-1916.

The move by the UP government was taken on the second day of the UP Pravasi Diwas being held in the Taj city of Agra.

Basdeo Panday, former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, narrated a captivating short story of a small but priceless piece of land that belonged to his great grandmother and was inherited by him, as a reminder of the Girmitiyas’ struggle on foreign soil.

That land of 16 acres, he said, reminded him of his Indian roots and his connection with the Girmitiyas.

To honour those women Girmitiyas, who played a major role in keeping the Indian culture still alive, Panday said he took the initiative to promote education of girl child.

J Goburdhun, high commissioner of Mauritius to India, said connecting the non-resident Indians with their motherland was very necessary, adding that there was so much to learn from the ancient technologies like usage of cow products in farming and cooking at that time was ripe to start the reconnect with the Indian diaspora.

He said people in India should be encouraged to use zero budget natural farming ways to grow better and sustainable crops.

He also presented the delegates on stage with books related to scientific yet natural ways of farming.

Goburdhun’s connection with his motherland was evident from his interest to promote Bhojpuri language.

Rajindre Tewari, country president, Global Organisation of People of Indian-Origin (GOPIO), The Netherlands, while speaking on the occasion strongly supported the Uttar Pradesh government’s initiatives like issuing NRI cards and conducting cultural exchange programmes to connect NRIs with their roots.

Kapil Kumar, director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Freedom Struggle Studies and chairperson, Faculty of History, School of Social Sciences, IGNOU, New Delhi, narrated the story of Trinidad’s Temple in the Sea — a marvellous story of a Girmitiya named Sewdass Sadhu who withstood tides, breezes and slavery to construct a monument that stands as a symbol of undying human spirit.

Kumar proposed a few policies to the Uttar Pradesh government for the betterment of the descendants of Girmitiyas.

He asked the government to recognise the children of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) studying in Indian institutes as Indians and treat them equally in terms of fee structure and other facilities.

He also asked to include a chapter on Girmitiyas in the school textbooks of Uttar Pradesh and to increase the number of direct flights from India to Fiji and Caribbean.

Sanjiv Saran, principal secretary, NRI Department, on the occasion said it was indeed an honour for Uttar Pradesh Pravasi Diwas to conduct a session on Girmitiyas who are actually the crusaders of Indian culture and tradition. (IANS)

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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