By Umesh Chandra
GOPIO Qld commemorates Girmit Diwas every year on 14th of May, 14th of 1879 was when the first shipload of indentured Indian labourers arrived in Fiji aboard Leonidas; the significance of the day is the observance on that very date. GOPIO, Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin observes Indian Arrival days in many countries throughout the world, there are many countries Indians were taken by the British while they were ruling India, in the recent years a lot of research has gone into this subject, and is more openly discussed, from the early days many people had documented their experiences or experience of their ancestors, but now more than ever the quest for tracing their roots.
During my recent visit to America I was approached by youngsters interested in the topic, they have been following me on facebook and have seen my quest in many of these nations such as Fiji, Mauritius, Guadelope, Trinidad and Tabago, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka, where I have visited and witnessed the observance of Girmit Diwas, they all share a common bond, sugarcane. GOPIO International has been instrumental in inaugurating many monuments in these countries, with the assistance of respective Indian High Commissions in those countries. Perhaps the greatest achievement was the inauguration of the monument in Kolkata at Kiddorpore Ghat, the very port from which the majority of Girmitiyas left India for distant lands, please note that there were other ports from which girmitiyas left, but this is where the majority of them left. The inauguration by them minister for Overseas India Affairs Vylar Ravi was a milestone in the history of GOPIO and Girmitiyas, the inauguration was attended by many descendants of these heroic Girmitiyas from all around the world. Today many of these descendants have left their counties of birth and are residing in other countries, often referred as twice migrated; despite their county of residence they still hold dear to their hearts the memory of their ancestors and remember them in a solemn manner on Girmit Diwas.
The Girmit Diwas of GOPIO Queensland was once again held at Queensland Multicultural Centre in Kangaroo Point. The event attracted a research Scholar, Anjali Singh, from Jaipur University whose research is on Indian Diaspora with a special focus on Fiji. She presented a well researched paper. She is inviting anyone wishing to take in the research questionnaire, if you wish to take part, please contact our office and we will forward the questionnaire to you.
On a different note Kavita Maharaj, daughter of Atma Maharaj gave a different perspective, whereby she is looking at correcting the historical records in Fiji, the records in Fiji state that roughly about 61,000 Indians arrived in Fiji under the indenture system. It is fact that some people from Nepal had also been recruited under the indenture system, now in Fiji they have all been recorded as Indians, Nepal is separate Independent country. Kavita has presented this talk (paper) in Fiji during the Girmit forum there.
Umesh Chandra presented the Global perspective of Girmit, from his own experience and finished off his presentation with a video compilation of old photos from Girmit era with the backing bidesia by Pooran Singh, originally of Bua, Labasa now residing in Sacramento USA.
The official party laid the wreaths at the replica monument of Kiddorpore Ghat, everyone present were given an opportunity to lay a wreath or flowers in the memory of the girmitiyas. GOPIO Queensland’s free event attracted a houseful audience, the biggest so far. GOPIO Qld wishes to advise that Girmit Diwas 2018 will be held on 14th May, 2018 at Queensland Multicultural Centre kangaroo Point, we hope to see you all there – lest we forget.