Indians in Fiji

Indians, defined by the constitution of Fiji as anybody who can trace, through either the male or the female line, their ancestry back to anywhere on the Indian subcontinent, constitute about 38 percent of Fiji's population. They are mostly descended from indentured labourers brought to the islands by Fiji's British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji's sugar plantations. These were complemented by the later arrival of Gujarati and Punjabi immigrants.

The Name Debate

The Constitution of Fiji refers to citizens of Indian descent simply as "Indian," and all Government documents use this name. A number of names have been proposed, however, to distinguish Fiji-born citizens of Indian origin both from the indigenous inhabitants of Fiji and from India-born immigrants. Among the more popular proposals are Fiji Indian, Indian Fijian, and Indo-Fijian. All three labels have proved culturally and politically controversial, and finding a label of identification for the Indian community in Fiji has fueled a debate that has continued for many decades.

An Internet search using a popular search engine found 56,500 hits for "Indo-Fijian", 20,600 for "Fiji Indian" and 28,000 for "Fijian Indian".

Indians versus indigenous Fijians

In the late 1960s, the leader of the National Federation Party, A.D. Patel, who used the slogan, "One Country, One People, One Destiny" suggested that all Fiji's citizens should be called Fijians and to distinguish the original inhabitants from the rest, the name Taukei should be used for native Fijians. There was widespread opposition to this from the native Fijians who feared that that any such move would deprive them of the special previleges they had enjoyed since cession in 1874. The Fiji Times started using Fiji Islander to describe all Fiji's citizens but this name did not catch on.

The United States Department of State gives the nationality of Fiji citizens as "Fiji Islander" and states that, "the term "Fijian" has exclusively ethnic connotations and should not be used to describe any thing or person not of indigenous Fijian descent."

As the labels carry emotional and (according to some) politically loaded connotations, they are listed below in alphabetical order.

Fiji Indian

For a long time Fiji Indian was used to distinguish between Fiji citizens of Indian origin and Indians from India. The term was used by writers like K.L. Gillion and by the academic and politician, Ahmed Ali. The late President of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, also used this term in his speeches and writings. The term was also used by the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, Fiji's largest Christian denomination, which had a Fiji-Indian division.

Indian Fijian

This term has been popularized by the academic and former politician Ganesh Chand [1], and a number of others.

Indo-Fijian

This term has been used by such writers as Adrian Mayer and Brij Lal. Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, Fiji's Vice-President from 2004 to 2006, also used it in his speeches. Its use has proved controversial among Indians and non-Indians alike: in August 2006, Cabinet Minister Jone Navakamocea called for the banning of the use of Indo-Fijian to describe Fiji's Indian community, claiming that it amounted to identity theft. Similar sentiments have also been expressed the Adi Litia Cakobau, a chief and former Cabinet Minister.

History of Indians in Fiji

India's links with Fiji Islands commenced in 1879 when Indian labourers were brought here under indentured system to work on sugarcane plantations. The first ship load of 498 labourers arrived in Fiji on May 14, 1879. Between 1879 and 1916 (when this system was abolished) around 60,000 Indians were brought to Fiji. In popular parlance, indenture was known as 'Girmit' - a distortion of agreement and those taken under it the 'Girmityas'. Their descendants now form the second largest (44% as per 1996 census) ethnic group in Fiji. Despite maintaining minimal contacts with India, ethnic Indians here have retained their religion, culture, tradition and language. They speak Fiji Hindi (a mixture of Awadhi and Bhojpuri). They are also great fans of the Bollywood. Hindustani is recognized as one of the three official languages (besides English and Fijian) as per 1997 Constitution. Hindi is also taught in schools and colleges and 3 radio stations broadcast round the clock Hindi programmes. Owing to 1987 and 2000 coups, over one lakh Fijians of Indian origin have emigrated from Fiji between 1987 and April 2004, mainly to Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada. This included many doctors, engineers, professionals, skilled personnel, senior officials, businessmen, etc. besides students. Number of ethnic Indians is bound to decrease in the forthcoming census in 2006.125th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Fiji was celebrated in May 2004.

Fiji has a small but growing Indian expatriate (around 400) population. These are mostly professionals such as Doctors, IT specialists, Accountants, Sales and Marketing executives, Teachers, etc. A number of them are working in the University of South Pacific. Several Indian doctors have also been employed by the Government Hospitals here. Most of the expatriates are working in local companies owned by Gujarati businessmen.

Economic and Commercial

The bilateral trade between India and Fiji has been small but growing gradually. From F$ 16.8 million in 1998, the bilateral trade has grown to F$ 43.6 million in 2004. The balance of trade is heavily in India's favor. Our exports amounted to F$ 43.2 million as against imports of F$ 0.4 million last year. Major items of export from India are gem and jewelry, man-made yarn, fabric, cotton, etc. M/s Asian Paints established a joint venture company (M/s APCO Coatings) in 1978. It has a manufacturing unit in lautoka and now holds 51% of the market for paints in Fiji. It is also exporting its products to other countries in South Pacific.

There are three GOI undertakings based here. These are M/s New India Assurance Company Limited (set up in 1954), Life Insurance Corporation of India (set up in 1956) and Bank of Baroda (set up in 1961). These companies had continued their business activities here during the absence of the High Commission here.
Fiji India business Council was established in 1999. It was formally launched in the beginning of 2000. The Council is keen to establish contacts with the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India.

Education and Culture

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offers 25 slots every year to the Republic of Fiji Islands for the nomination of Fijian students for tertiary education (undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral courses, etc.) in India under the General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSS). As a special arrangement, the Fijian nominees are also provided with return air fare to India and back by the Government of India for the GCSS slots. A few scholarships are also available for dance, drama courses under the ICCR scholarship scheme.

As a part of the Indian Cultural Centers in Suva and Lautoka, ICCR has deputed Kathak and Tabla teachers for Suva and Yoga teacher for Lautoka. The classes have already been commenced.
 
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