One of the popular underlying themes that resurface every time the Fiji-Indian community prepares to celebrate another anniversary of Fiji Girmit Day is the theme of questioning the perception that the younger generation is not doing enough to reconnect with their Girmit heritage.
Do they even bother and feel connected with their shared Girmit past is the question that traverses many minds in the community?
Tapping on this theme, with an intention to bring to light the opinions, views, and efforts, if any, of representatives of the younger generations of Fiji-Indian community themselves, The Indian Weekender has reached out to many to share their stories and perception.
To our delight, and to the surprise of many, the representatives of the younger generation were not found wanting, in fact like their seniors, or the current torchbearers of community’s efforts in restoring Girmit heritage; they were overflowing with emotions and passions, though with differing opinions.
The Indian Weekender had the privilege of speaking with equally passionate people on both sides of the ideological divide; however, the common theme was the yearning to do more to rejuvenate the community, especially the youngsters to be connected with the broader Indian cultural identity.
The family history of Rahmat Ali and Hafizan
In a notable case, Faaris Ali, a thirty-three-year-old Sydney based analytics professional flew down all the way to Auckland to the Indian Weekender studio to share his family book on his Girmit past.
Mr Ali had not only visited India in 2017 tracing the original home of his par dada – the great-grandfather who had arrived in Fiji in 1903 – and then never returned back, but also ended up publishing his personal research in the form of a family book which depicts the wonderful journey of five generations of his family.
Mr Ali shared a lot of emotions ranging from the sense of pride associated with his Girmit past and the sense of belongingness with the broader Indian cultural identity.
Here are some excerpts of the interview.
IWK: What prompted you to fly from Australia to our studio in Auckland and share your story?
Mr Ali: I have seen The Indian Weekender doing an exclusive about the Girmitiyas and its history, and I just wanted to share my story. I have always been passionate about my ancestry and my history that had led me to do a lot of research. I wanted to share my journey of looking for my roots and inspire other people to look for their history.
IWK: You have written a souvenir on your family tree based on your travels to India- The Book: Girmitiyas- The family history of Rahmat Ali and Hafizan. What made you to take that leap?
Mr Ali: My life has grown around Girmit stories, and I remember my Dadi telling me the stories about her father and other Girmitiyas. My Dadi’s father died as he was shot in a case of mistaken identity. A couple of years ago my Dadi passed away.
My Dadi’s passing away and her stories sparked me to look for my ancestors and go back to India to look for my roots. We didn’t know more than my Dadi’s father’s name.
So I did my research, collected different clues, joined the dots, more like a detective story. While doing all this research, I developed a very strong personal connection, as this is your own bloodline.
IWK: How was your experience when you reached your great grandfather’s village for the first time?
Mr Ali: It was quite an emotional experience. The people of the village (Durjana, Rohtak) were every warming and welcoming. I felt complete and emotionally satisfied from inside for having been able to complete the journey that my great grandfather Faiz Khan had started about 114 years ago. It is indescribable in words.
IWK: How was the response back in Fiji once you returned back from India?
Mr Ali: There was a lot of excitement and a lot of questions from my family members. My family was very inquisitive about how did the village look like, what did they eat and we found a lot of similarities between India and Fiji.
My par dada came had left the village at the age of 19, and my family members in Australia and Fiji always wanted to go back to the village.
We are not armed with knowledge, as our history back in Fiji is not documented. Once you start looking for the roots, you come to learn a lot about the Girmitiyas.
Some elderly people in our community believe that our history might be lost, the story of their forefathers’ pain and sacrifices might be lost if it is not recorded and documented. So I believe that like me, there are a lot of youngsters out there who are concerned about their history and want to pass this knowledge to the next generation.
IWK: We note that the Book: Girmitiyas- The family history of Rahmat Ali and Hafizan mentions important dates from the world history? What was the reason for that?
Mr Ali: The book notes events that were not just happening in Fiji or India but also globally so as to give us a sense of the context of history and events of that time.
Like, in 1911, the British Raj changed the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi and in 1912 RMS Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean.
Such information tells us about the status of places and people in a broader context and in what environment and circumstances those Girmits were brought and lived in.
IWK: What are your views about the younger generation in our community being less enthusiastic about the celebrations around Girmit Remembrance Day?
Mr Ali: A lot of Girmit celebrations happen once a year and in isolation. The younger generation finds it hard to identify with. I believe we need more frequent and lively platforms to engage with the younger generation. I see the platform of The Indian Weekender as a great opportunity to create awareness among younger generations.