Hundreds of scholars, researchers, and academics from around the world, together with some descendants of Girmtiyas, gathered at The University of the South Pacific (USP) Laucala Campus to attend the two-day International Girmit Conference, which began today (May 12, 2023).
Opening the conference at the Japan ICT Centre, Fiji’s President His Excellency Ratu Wiliame Katonivere, said the presence of all visiting scholars to participate in the conference signifies the importance of Girmit Day and its history.
“While the broad history is well-known, there are many aspects of history and the lives of the Girmitiya that we are unaware of. It is quite sad and unfortunate that our primary and secondary school curriculum does not emphasise our history. There is an urgent need to review our primary and secondary school curriculum to include all matters of significance for Fiji.”
The President further emphasised that “Cultural diversity should not just be recognised; it needs to be embraced and respected. Our society needs to continuously foster an environment of inclusivity where everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or cultural background, feels valued and appreciated.”
Delivering his keynote address at the conference today, USP Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia emphasised the importance of remembering the history of Girmitiyas.
“For the localised Indians, Fiji was the only home they knew. Sure, they were Indo-Fijians, but they were not willing to succumb to being merely part of an Indian diaspora. They were a unique localised indigenous Indo-Fijian diaspora.”
Professor Ahluwalia added, “Girmit day has the potential to be a powerful endorsement that a new dawn has arrived where inter-racial harmony is recognised not only as a pragmatic solution to contemporary issues but fundamentally born of an ethic which embraces the other.”
Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Professor Biman Prasad, also the National Committee on Girmit Chair, said today’s “144th-anniversary commemoration is a momentous occasion for us to reflect on the significance of Indian indenture in shaping the course of Fiji’s history.”
“For Indo-Fijians, ‘girmit’ connects us; it is the foundation for our shared language; it is the foundation of our spirituality. It is part of our history and our very being today.
“The history of Indian indenture is a crucial part of Fiji’s past, and it is essential that we continue to study and reflect on the period, not only to understand the challenges and hardships faced by our ancestors but also to honour their legacy and contributions to our society.”
The two-day conference’s primary objective is to facilitate discourse on all aspects related to documenting, researching, writing and communicating the histories and lives of Girmitiyas.