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Prime Minister Chaudhry talks about Indo-Fijians

Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry in a press conference talking about the efforts of Indian in the development of Fiji

Fiji, March 30 (UITV)- At an event over the weekend to commemorate the ending of indentured labor in Fiji, former Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, expressed his belief that more should be done to acknowledge this reality of Fijian history. Between 1879 and 1916 the British transported over 60,000 Indians to Fiji to work on the islands’ sugar cane plantations. A significant population of Indo-Fijian subsequently grew from these initial laborers.

At the commemoration Chaudhry stated that “It is unfortunate that we don’t have the history, or political history, of the indentured system to inform the people about their significant contribution to the development of Fiji. It is not a subject in schools for students to know what our girmit ancestors went through in the 41 years to help build this nation through their contribution.”

While Speight’s attempted coup may have been self-serving, his promotion of ethnic Fijian nationalism was a tactic devised to gain greater traction than his own sour grapes. Fiji’s culture of coups has been motivated by actors who have either wished to establish reduced political rights for Indo-Fijians, or to establish equal rights for Indo-Fijians.

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Image shows Mahendra Chaudhry in a candid conversation

 

 Despite these constitutional changes to provide Indo-Fijians with equal status within the country, recent decades have seen a significant exodus of Indo-Fijians from Fiji. Prior to the 1987 coup that removed the multi-ethnic Labour Party from government, ethnic Indians accounted for around 50 percent of Fiji’s population. However, the continual political instability in Fiji, and a culturally embedded hostility towards Indo-Fijians has led to their emigration.  As a result their percentage of the population has declined to around 32 percent, with most Indo-Fijians moving to Australia and New Zealand, as well as Canada and the United States.

The use of indentured labor by the British to exploit the resources of their colonies remains one of the many unfortunate legacies of the European colonial period.

However, within this historical recognition should come an attempt for Fiji to come to terms with the reality of its ethnic makeup. Chaudhry’s suggestion that schools should learn about the history of Indian indentured labor in Fiji may be a step towards easing the ethnic tensions in the country, and helping it achieve greater political stability.