Over the course of 37 years (1879- 1916), nearly 60,500 labourers were transported to Fiji from India to overcome a shortage of labour caused by the prohibition of commercial employment of the native Fijians. Majority of these Girmitiyas stayed in Fiji to make a life for themselves and their families, toiling the land under the heat of the tropical sun silently laying the foundation for better life for their progeny. These unsung heroes of our past are the architects of the luxuries and security we enjoy in our lives.
Today Fiji Indians can be found in almost every corner of the world, and it is an enormous salute to the sacrifices of their forefathers that the Girmit Children of Fiji are making an exemplary contribution in whichever country or society they live in. The bond of Jahaji Bhai or shipmate which was formed by our Girmitiya ancestors has transcended caste, religion, and bias which was ingrained into the Indian culture at the time.
This attitude toward each other has thankfully, for the most part, been inherited by the Girmit Children and it has given us an enriching life of peaceful coexistence despite every adversity thrown their way.
The term Girmit has become synonymous with struggle, in Fiji Hindi dialect. In times of tribulation, it’s common for the descendants of girmit to say, “sign kar diya Girmit”.
It is rather poetic that many Fiji Indians have chosen to leave the country of their birth to create better opportunities for themselves and their descendants.
This new Girmit may not be anything similar to the hardships endured by our forefathers, but there is definitely some similarity in setting-off for the proverbial sail, and the pursuit of better life in a new land where rewards they reap are laced with blood, sweat and sacrifice.
Throughout history stories have been used to illuminate, to educate, to recount, to challenge and to engage.
Every individual’s life experience is unique and dynamic, particularly for those of us who have journeyed far from our homes to establish new lives in foreign countries. The factor that unites all immigrants is the struggle to belong.
To have a place where you are from being integrated with where you have reached.
A very important part of what immigrants bring to their new home are their values, culture and traditions which allows us to assemble as a community.
However, sometimes in the midst of the chaos of making a life for yourself in a new nation people tend to forget that they are not alone in this Girmit. What our forefathers figured out very early in the Indenture system is the only way they could survive the ordeals they faced was to face them together. It is definitely something we can reflect and learn from.
It is important for every person from the Indian Diaspora to know that we all share a motherland and come from a common cultural background. It is therefore very important for us to stay united and set aside our petty differences much like the Grimitiyas did. We are all united in the struggle to make our lives and the lives of our descendants better.
We are all going through the same Girmit.
The effort The Indian Weekender in creating awareness and celebrating a very important part of Indian history is commendable. This effort is also a gigantic leap of integrating the Fiji-Indian community within the great Indian diaspora.
After all no matter how different we think we are from each other our aspirations and struggles are similar. We are in the same Girmit. We are together sailing from a place we once called home into a new beginning. We all are Jahaji Bhais.
Krishal Naidu is a Lecturer, Business owner, Youth mentor, Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation and Hindi Language and Cultural Trust
Ashfaq Khan is a writer, film-maker, reluctant journalist and a proud Girmit descendent.