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