An­niver­sary of Two Con­flict­ing Events On Same Date: A Great Para­dox of His­tory

Fiji Sun - - EXPLAINER - Gir­mi­tiyas in Fiji. Feed­back: ne­­laibatiki@fi­jisun.

How can two con­trast­ing and con­flict­ing his­tor­i­cal events fall on the same date?

It may be a co­in­ci­dence but it is one of the great para­doxes of Fi­jian his­tory.

To­day (May 14) 1879, the Leonidas, the first ship car­ry­ing 522 In­dian in­den­tured labour­ers, ar­rived at the port of the old cap­i­tal, Le­vuka, Ovalau.

One hun­dred and forty one years later, on the same date, Si­tiveni Rabuka, then a colonel in the Royal Fiji Mil­i­tary Forces, led the coun­try’s first coup.

Iron­i­cally the tar­gets were the de­scen­dants of those on board Leonidas and sub­se­quent ships that came later. The In­dian In­den­tured labour­ers were brought here by Bri­tish colo­nial­ists to work in sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tions in ap­palling con­di­tions. It was also the Bri­tish that founded the Fi­jian mil­i­tary that staged the 1987 coups.

To­day is Gir­mi­tiya Day, or­gan­ised to com­mem­o­rate the Gir­mi­tiyas, the an­ces­tors of many mod­ern­day Indo-Fi­jians who have played a prom­i­nent role in build­ing this na­tion eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially. On the other hand, we also re­mem­ber the ter­ri­ble pain and suf­fer­ing in­flicted on Indo-Fi­jians at the height of the 1987 events. Pol­i­tics aside, the col­lat­eral dam­age in terms of hu­man and eco­nomic loss is still be­ing felt to­day.

It’s a grim and som­bre re­minder that we once lost our way as a na­tion of peace lov­ing and tol­er­ant peo­ple. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the ideals of peace and unity are ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­ity ir­re­spec­tive of our eth­nic­ity. For the iTaukei their po­lit­i­cal griev­ances are of­ten based on their eco­nomic cir­cum­stances and this needs to be ap­pro­pri­ately ad­dressed which the cur­rent Govern­ment has been fo­cused on.

The Indo-Fi­jians were used as scape­goats by politi­cians who backed the coups be­cause they could not ac­cept the re­al­i­ties of mod­ern democ­racy. In their mind democ­racy was only ac­cept­able when they were in con­trol.

The politi­cians were blinded by their own brand of na­tion­al­ism when in fact it was pure racism. Many iTaukei jumped on the band­wagon of an ad­vo­cacy for in­dige­nous is­sues, hop­ing for a mir­a­cle solution to their griev­ances. But all they got were bro­ken prom­ises.

Dis­il­lu­sioned, they joined the 2000 coup led by Ge­orge Speight af­ter Ma­hen­dra Chaudhry won the 1999 Gen­eral Elec­tion and be­came the first Indo-Fi­jian Prime Min­is­ter. The coup was de­signed to com­plete the “un­fin­ished busi­ness” of 1987.

Again the Indo-Fi­jians were gets.

Sadly, to­day racist sen­ti­ments, rem­i­nis­cent of 1987 and 2000 are still present in dis­cus­sions on so­cial me­dia. They are fanned by peo­ple with self­ish po­lit­i­cal agen­das.

They can­not ac­cept that we have a new Con­sti­tu­tion that has elim­i­nated those is­sues that cre­ated the en­vi­ron­ment which led to the events of 1987 and 2000.

As we cel­e­brate Gir­mi­tiya Day, and re­mem­ber 1987, it is a good time to re­flect on our past, learn from its lessons and build for the fu­ture.

Let us not make the same mis­takes from our dark past be­cause we can­not af­ford to go back there. De­scen­dants of the Gir­mi­tiyas, born and bred here, have ev­ery right to be called Fi­jians be­cause they have earned it through their im­mense con­tri­bu­tion to Fiji. Happy 141st An­niver­sary. tar

Ne­mani De­laibatiki

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