Remembrance of the elderlies and celebrations of the spirit of courage and endurance associated with the Girmitiya fore-fathers of the Fiji-Indian community marked the 142nd-anniversary celebratory event of Fiji-Girmit Day held on Friday, May 7 at Malaeola Community Centre in South Auckland.

More than 1000 people attended the event to enjoy a colourful celebration of the most important civic event within the Fiji-Indian community with a number of cultural performances, speeches, award ceremony and snacks and food.

Among dignitaries who attended the event key were Minister Phil Twyford, Labour MP Dr Anae Neeru Levasa, National MP Melissa Lee, Chris Luxon, Simon O’Connor, Former National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, High Commissioner of India, Muktesh Pardeshi, Hon Consul of India Bhav Dhillon, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon and Judge Ajit Singh.

There was also generous attendance of the community leaders from the wider Kiwi-Indian community, including Jeet Suchdev, President, Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust, Dhansukh Lal, President Auckland Indian Association, Naveed Hamid, Pakistan Association New Zealand, Vai Ravindran, President, Auckland Tamil Association, Ghoose Masjid, Secretary Mana Andhra Telugu Association NZ, among others.

Speaking with the Indian Weekender President of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ Krish Naidu said, “The Remembrance Day is an occasion to celebrate our identity and the contributions we have made to Fiji, Pacific and New Zealand in the realms of culture, economy and society.”

For uninitiated, May 14 is marked as Girmit Remembrance Day to acknowledge the arrival of the first ship bringing Indian indentured labourers to the South Pacific heaven of Fiji, commencing a process of creating new heritage and history for the people deceitfully removed from their original home – India.

The indenture system was designed by the British colonial empire as an alternate system of supplying the labour force after the end of slavery in 1834.

About 60,000 indentured labourers were deceitfully brought from different parts of India in 42 different ships (88 voyages) starting May 14, 1879, to 1916 and forced to work in sugarcane farms under highly exploitative conditions with little respect for basic human right and dignity.

Since then, May 14 is celebrated as “Fiji Girmit Day” by the Fiji-Indian communities living in different parts of the world, mostly as a sombre occasion to reflect upon the tribulations of their forefathers.

However, slowly that trend has begun to see some changes with the new younger generations within the community expressing the desire to move away from the sombre and sorrowful remembrance to celebrations of what they believe as their founding identity and heritage.

In that regard, the current executive team of Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ, which represent the voice of the youths within the community and led by President Krish Naidu and Chairperson Ashfaak Khan and others, have surely brought about a massive change in the look and feel of this traditional event.

This year the scale and zeal of celebrations and the size of the event were way bigger than of its previous avatars, and the spirit of pride and appreciation of their community’s troubled past clearly taking a centre stage. It was aptly reflected in the honouring of 44 descendants of Girmitiyas aged over eighty with medals as a mark of appreciation for carrying the flame of the rich Girmit rich legacy.

The organisers of the event also enunciated new awards to recognise the role and contribution of key individuals and institutions within the community under different categories.

The key winners of the newly created awards included Excellence in Community Services and Leadership (supreme award) -   Sam Achary – Anns Funeral Home & Onsite cremations, Grassroot Volunteer of the year Award -   Dinesh Chand, Contribution to Girmit Literature – Dr Farzana Gounder, Contribution to Arts and Culture - Pooja Cultural Centre.

Towards the end, the organisers thanked all their sponsors and volunteers who made the event a success.