India conveyed its warm greetings to Fiji on the special occasion of Girmit Day – to commemorate the day when the first batch of Indian indentured labourers arrived via ship to Fiji on May 14, 1879, under then British colonial rule.
Around 60,000 Indian labourers arrived on the South Pacific archipelago in 42 ships and 87 voyages. The Leonidas was the first ship that brought Indians, which became a historical landmark to remember and commemorate.
Minister of State for External Affairs Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, who was present on the occasion in Suva, conveyed the greetings of the Government of India.
The Indian High Commission in Suva said
“Minister of State for External Affairs Hon’ble @RanjanRajkuma11
conveyed warmest greetings of the Government & the people of India on the special occasion of #GirmitDay. Reaffirms India’s strong commitment to further strengthening our partnership for progress with Fiji.”
Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka in his address said the social and economic contributions of the Girmitiyas to Fiji are immeasurable, yet the acknowledgement is long overdue.
“This is a special day Fiji. We are now coming together as a nation to acknowledge and honour the Girmityas from India to Fiji between 1879 and 1916,” he said, during an address at the Girmit Day celebrations at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
“We should be aware that millions, not just a few thousand who came to Fiji, millions were indentured as laborers over the British colonies of those days.
“They came to work, some of them did not know that they came to Fiji; today we pay our respects to them and acknowledge the contribution of their descendants who are among us today.”
Some of the hardships faced by Girmitiyas include a lack of employment regulation, labour laws and immigration laws, a report said.
“Many laws were not in place to ensure that they were fairly treated, the official approach was one of exploitation involving physical and mental ill-treatment, terrible working hours and poor pay if any.
“This generation is now reaping the rewards of what was sewn in the colonial days and now the onus is on us to form a solid foundation for the future.
“I congratulate you all the descendants for the survival of your forbearers, they lived through, what was really similar to what we see in movies of wild west America.
“Those who decided to stay, fled from their oppression and the agreement made new lives for themselves and they became independent farmers well before the colony become independent.”
Lautoka City Council chief executive officer Mohammed Anees Khan said: “The organising committee is grateful to the Coalition Government for bestowing this fitting honour in the memory of the girmitiyas and acknowledges the immense contribution in the economic development of Fiji although it came late, nonetheless, it is a momentous occasion worth celebrating.”
While speaking on behalf of the Fiji Girmit Council, secretary Selwa Nandan said the Girmit Day was a fitting tribute.