The call for moving beyond the ideology of grief and grievances on this forthcoming 139th anniversary of Girmit Remembrance Day on May 14 may not appear soothing to many ears in the Fiji-Indian community.
For them generally, such a call appears as a sign of betrayal to their revered Girmitiya ancestors who have endured all the pain and deprivation only to be forgotten by seemingly thankless descendants.
Yes, in their minds, the call for moving beyond the ideology of grief and mourning is nothing short of complete betrayal and disrespect to their Girmitiya ancestors.
It is perceived as a symbol of indulgences, especially among the younger generation in their newfound relative prosperity. The majority, if not all in the Fiji-Indian community, subscribe to this view or feel sheer peer pressure to subscribe to this view.
Indeed, this view can also trace its historical origin from the broader Indian ethos, with whom the descendants of Girmitiyas share common cultural identity and ethos.
Nevertheless, the intention of this piece is not to negate the validity of this view per se, but to acknowledge the fact that it is completely expectant from a community that has faced too many tribulations in a short history of around 100 odd years.
First, it was the abject absence of any documented history and acknowledgement of Girmitiyas so as to give the community a sense of closure, and then the coup-precipitated mass exodus of the community from a place that everyone has grown to understand as home.
Surely, the latter had further disturbed the community’s already fragile framework of self-identification, which is often shaped by a combination of factors including language, ethnicity, religion, culture and country.
Probably, in the changed reality of the post-coup life, the self-identification of being the descendants of Indian Girmitiyas was the most permanent aspect of their collective self-identification for the Fiji-Indian community.
History is also evident that in the periods of tribulations the urge to preserve is amplified, and that would explain the community’s collective fixation with the idea of grief and mourning, as in people’s mind this appears to be one of the most defining aspects of their self-identity.
The fact that the relative prosperity made available by the modern liberal societies of the Global West, to many in the community, especially to the younger generation, appears to threaten the very basic defining aspect of Fiji-Indian identity.
It is a commonly assumed that those in prosperity tend to be less inclined to appreciate the deprivation and hardship.
Following this line of argument or common assumptions, the majority of the Fiji Indian community feels the anxiety of loosing very basic defining aspect of their self-identification.
Probably, the community will need to find right mental nodes to accept their changed reality – the new found prosperity, particularly in different parts of the world in the West – embrace it and view it with less apprehension.
There is need to accept the fact that a community’s collective mental mapping is bound to be different in the times of prosperity in comparison to the times of acute adversity.
To expect that those who live a life of relative prosperity will have an accurate understanding and sense of appreciation with their distant ancestors who have borne the brunt of acute deprivations is slightly ambitious.
Once again, nothing wrong in these expectations, but the need is to move beyond the ideology of grief and grievances, with which the younger generations genuinely struggle to relate.
There is a need to re-present, or dare we say, re-shape the Girmit Remembrance Day in a manner to make it more relevant with the younger generation.
The media, homegrown, or from commonly shared broader Indian diaspora, can play an important role in shaping positive imagery and developing a positive, celebratory narrative of self-identity.
The Indian Weekender wishes the members of the Fiji Indian community good luck in moving from the ideology of grief and mourning to an ideology of joyfulness.