The historic Khalsa College of Fiji – which possibly holds the reputation of being the first Sikh educational institution in the entire South Pacific region - recently celebrated its sixtieth anniversary.
The Khalsa College of Fiji was established in 1959 to provide instruction in the Gurmukhi script of Punjabi to Sikh pupils and later evolved as a multi-racial and co-educational institution open to students of all communities.
Recently, in an event held in Fiji, several alumni and founding members of the college travelled from all around the world, including Auckland, to celebrate the historic foundation of the premier Sikh educational institution.
Harnam Singh Golian, a former Fiji parliamentarian, Trustee-Chairman-Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ, and an ardent student of religion and philosophy who has been living in Auckland since last two decades and is immensely proud of his shared Girmit and Sikh heritage, also attended the event as one of the “special invitees” to be honoured by the college.
“I was greatly humbled and honoured to be a special invite by virtue of being a co-founder of the Khalsa institution way back in 1959 on the occasion of Diamond jubilee celebrations of the reputed institution,” Mr Golian told The Indian Weekender.
“Khalsa College may be one of the earliest educational institution established by the Sikhs of Fiji outside India,” said an enthusiastic Mr Golian making an ambitious claim that might need some authoritative backing from the historians of Sikhism.
However, regardless of this pending confirmation from the historians of Sikhism, there is complete unanimity about the shinning role of this premium educational institution in spreading education among all Fijians for six decades.
“In 1950’s British era, the Fiji Sikhs (also known as Punjabi’s) of the western districts of Lautoka, Ba, and Tavua, was a thriving community who felt immensely along with our Girmitiya brethren about the acute lack of learning and educational opportunities for our community,”Mr Goliyan said, revisiting his memory lanes about the origins of the college.
Several prominent members of the Sikh community gathered together in Tagi Tagi Gurudwara (Three Sikh temples in Suva, Lautoka, Tagitagi (Ba/Tavua were already operational by then) and formed Sikh Education Society of Fiji,” Mr Golian said.
Notably, Sardar Inderjit Singh Walia had earlier played a key role in forming the Sikh education society and making the audience receptive towards the idea of Khalsa institution. The committee, called as Shri Guru Nanak Khalsa School Committee, represented all the Sikhs of Fiji who were estimated to be about 4000 during this period
Meanwhile, paying tribute to his foremost colleagues in the earliest days of Khalsa College of Fiji Mr Goliyan said, “I had the honour and privilege to serve as a secretary of the founders of the institution under the leadership of Late Bakshi Singh, also known as ‘Baasu,’ Late Sardara Singh and Late Bhagat Singh Dhadda.”
“I would also like to acknowledge my colleagues Late Mr J. K. Singh along with other members of institution Mr Gurmej Singh Virk, who now lives in the US, and also recently deceased Balwant Singh Chahal.”
History of Sikhism in Fiji
Unlike the majority of Fiji's Indian population, who are descendants of Indian indentured labourers brought to Fiji between 1879 and 1916; most of the Sikhs came to Fiji as free immigrants (mostly as policemen, teachers and subsequently settling as farmers).
Recruitment of indentured labour for Fiji did not take place in the then British-Indian state of Punjab (the traditional home of the Sikhs, where people of other faiths Hindus and Muslims also resided).
However, some people who stated their home province as being Punjab were recruited from other parts of India and boarded ships to Fiji from Calcutta. According to some estimates in the period 1879 and 1900, out of the 21,368 emigrants from Calcutta, only 369 were from Punjab.
It is largely assumed (in absence of any official break down of indentured labours from Punjab on the religious lines) a large proportion of these would have been Sikhs.