Quest for identity | ‘Fiji-Indians are a Pacific people’

Ulamila Naitini, in her iTaukei costume, is flanked by Sonali Bishwar, left, and Nandani Sami during the Girmit Day celebrations at Albert Park in Suva on Monday, May 15, 2023. Our columnist says Fiji-Indians should be considered people of the Pacific and so enjoy the same rights and be afforded the same opportunities. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

The advocacy for Fiji Indians for their correct identity and proper treatment by New Zealand Government in general and Ministry of Pacific People in particular was evident in an overflowing Malaeola Community Centre on May 20, 2023, with over 1500 people.

This Mangere, South Auckland venue was the celebration of 144th Anniversary of Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day. And that is the number of years Fiji Indians have been part of the Pacific – and some six generations on.

Krish Naidu, the president Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ, the umbrella body of Kiwi Fiji Indians, very judiciously and expediently chose the right place and time.

This was on the stage overflowing with community leaders, diplomats, government ministers, academics, and a potential national PM, among other politicians, in the welcome presidential speech.

On stage were NZ Deputy Prime Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, Leader of the Opposition, and possibly future NZ Prime Minister (according to the latest polls), Christopher Luxon, Ethnic Minister Priyanka Radhakrishnan, Transport and Auckland Minister Michael Wood, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, Fiji government representatives — Sugar and Multi-Ethic Minister Charan Jeath Singh, Fiji high commissioner to NZ Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and representative of Indian High Commission, among others. His advocacy was emphatic, and he sounded like a confident sure leader.

Two years ago in 2021 at the same place he had advocated that Fiji Indians were Pacific people.

They were not asking for a favour, but just wished to be recognised for what they were.

He had advocated that Fiji Indians needed to be acknowledged as part of an inclusive Pacific community where diversity within the Pacific community was embraced and celebrated.

An official recognition was needed from the government beyond the role of Stats NZ. However, it was evident the Ministry of Pacific Peoples and NZ Government have ignored these pleas.

In his emphatic and forceful welcome presentation with a very attentive audience, Krish complained that the Ministry for Pacific Peoples continued ignoring Fiji Indians. He hit it hard.

“It appears the injustices and discrimination our girmitiya met in Fiji 144 years ago have been following their fourth and fifth generations in a supposedly fair, just and a transparent First World New Zealand.” Krish lamented.

This was after the author of “Tears in Paradise” Rajendra Prasad, in his keynote address, gave graphic details of institutionalised discrimination on the girmitiya by the colonial government in Fiji.

It was indeed a bad reflection on NZ’s human rights record, especially when the Race Relations Commissioner was on stage, and two years ago, he had also supported a call of the Foundation for Fiji Indians to be rightfully recognised as Pacific peoples. It was evident this had not been done.

Krish continued: “The Ministry of Pacific is taxpayer funded for all Pacific People, but it fails to bring the whole Fiji community together.

“In the National Fijian Wellbeing Plan 2022, while Fiji Indian demographic data is used, there was no consultation or engagement with Fiji Indian community. Ironically, while Fiji Indian data is used to show the high number, these people are excluded.”

He said it showed lackadaisical attitude of this ministry towards Fiji Indians. Krish continued championing the view that Fiji Indians should not be treated as a ceremonial piece only.

They needed to be part of official policy framework of Pacific People always, and not merely when it suits them.

He accused the ministry of institutionalised discrimination and requested for real political leadership, and PM-inwaiting Christopher Luxon was listening.

He continued with shortfalls in Ministry of Pacific Peoples by revealing that Fiji Indian youths in tertiary education continue to be denied Pacific scholarships in some areas.

A recent Pacific scholarship of $18.3 million was allocated for science, technology, education, arts and mathematics (STEM), yet none of these funds were allocated for Fiji Indian youths.

He questioned why should a NZ-born privileged Pacific person be entitled, but a Fiji Indian excluded?

“Pacific language week strategy and planning has no focus and recognition of Fijian Indian language. It excludes Fiji Indians, and fails to celebrate the diversity of languages in Fiji.

It’s a missed opportunity and discrimination,” Krish complained.

He called for a need to build unity and social cohesion among the wider Fiji community, and questioned the need for so many vaccinations drive for different communities from Fiji, wasting taxpayer resources. Apart from these crucial issue for Fiji Indians, the evening was a fitting tribute to memory of legacies and heritage of Fiji Indians.

A miracle was that it was a free event that was fully funded by the community, with cultural programs, formal speeches, rewarding of and recognising of Fiji Indian octogenarian seniors, event overflowing with snacks, refreshments, kava and of course very sumptuous dinner and desserts.

This was through enlightened generosity from businesses and individuals in their community which collaborated to salute the girmitiya — the indentured labourers to Fiji. The wellbeing of Fiji Indians has been obtained through their tears, sweat and blood, and forever they were thankful to them.

He paid tribute to his forebears and hoped the discrimination and injustices they faced in Fiji over 140 years ago would not be mirrored on their descendants in the present New Zealand. In conclusion, Krish hoped the leadership of NZ present there on stage would take note of concerns that were expressed previously, with no action.

It is hoped somebody would listen, at least in the election year.

• THAKUR RANJIT SINGH is a founding trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation, a journalist, a media commentator and blogger at FIJI PUNDIT. This is not a press release by the foundation but an independent observation. E-mail: The views expressed are not of this newspaper.

More Stories