Thakur Ranjit Singh Writes of Indo-Fijian Differences and Modern Day Inconsistences

The Indo Fijian Easter conventions should unite the people

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Easter is a time for the Christian community in Fiji to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also a time, in a deeply religious Fiji with harmonious interfaith activities, when Indo-Fijians of Hindu, Sikh and Islamic faiths come together in sporting and social events, and when Indo-Fijian Diaspora from around the world descend on Fiji to show family, religious and ethnic unity. 


 I have been advised by my Facebook contacts in Fiji that this Easter, Gujaratis are meeting in Rewa (Nausori), Sanatan at Rishikul in Nasinu, TISI Sangam at Nadi, Andhra Sangam in Rakiraki, Muslims in Lautoka and Sikhs in my hometown of Ba (Ba toh Ba hai -after all, Ba is Ba in uniqueness). That basically covers all the ethnic and religious dominations in the Indo Fijian community. The whole country will be swarming with NRIF – Non Resident Indo Fijians. No rental cars will be available, most local hotels will be booked out, and the visits from the former residents with stronger dollars from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA will be a good boost for Fiji’s tourism and economy.

While all the ethnic organisations are unique and full of fun, joy and networking, the unmistakable leaders of all the gatherings is the TISI convention - Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam representing the majority of descendents of girmitiya (indentured) South Indians.

This is because despite representing a minority ethnicity among Indo Fijians, they are dominant in the extent, level and professionalism of their organisation. They are probably the most successful ethnic organisations in Fiji. Unlike the religious nature of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim gatherings, the TISI is more about ethnicity and South Indian ancestry. While most are Sanatanis or Hindus, some are also of Christian and other faiths. All are free to participate as long as they have South Indian heritage. But this is where the issue gets somewhat controversial, due to living in a globalised world and he diaspora of girmitiya.  

Challenges for overseas affiliates

The problem and criticism that Sangam has been facing is its male-orientation that some may call male chauvinistic conventions where one is considered a South Indian only through ones paternal links. I have a niece who is married to a South Indian and her husband attended a Sangam forum in Brisbane that addressed the challenges the overseas Sangam affiliates were facing. Sangam limits membership to people who have a paternal South Indian link. He felt that it would be a bonus if our children married a South Indian, but this is not so. We could not continue to have these groupings of social/cultural groups because future generations would not care and the organisations would die a natural death.

History

I tried to explain him through historical facts that I linked to the changes our migrant community has faced. Most early girmitiyas (indentured labourers) were North Indians from Uttar Pardesh and Bihar. Fewer numbers came from South India. Because of language problems and different looks, they felt ridiculed and discriminated against by other Indians in those dark days of girmit. Even the overseers (koolambars) were harsh on them.  Most  faced great hardship and difficulties even post-girmit. Through all this developed the Sangam, now TISI, to protect their heritage. They have done a great deal more, together with other girmit communities. Today they stand tall in ownership of schools, temples, nursing school, the ability to organise the convention in international style, women’s groups, youth groups and all facets of an ethnic organisation. I take my hat off to people like my dear friend and class mate, Sada Sivan Naicker (originally from Ba, but now) of Nasinu for his selfless services to the community through TISI.

The advancement of Indo-Fijians in general and South Indians in particular has now made the original purpose of the birth of Sangam somewhat obsolete. Now things have to change to attract the younger generation if they are not to be  put off  by too many complicated and unexplained rituals and restrictions placed by a past generation. Sangam is not a religious grouping as most are Sanatanis or Hindus. Sangam is an ethnic group. That is why we have so many South Indians playing in Sanatan Soccer teams.

Discrimination defying international laws

My friend Sada Sivan Naicker is married to his high school sweetheart, Sarita, who happens to be a North Indian. Sada’s son Nitesh can play in Sangam tournament and is eligible for Sangam membership. He is classed a “Madrasi” or South Indian because his father is a South Indian.

However, my nephew in Calgary, Melvin Singh, is married to Shristi Ryan who is a South Indian. Melvin’s son is not eligible to be a member of Sangam according to Fiji rules (and hence he will not be able to play in Sangam soccer) because while his mother is South Indian, Melvin is North Indian. 

Such gender discrimination goes against the spirit of human rights laws of most progressive democracies where our Diaspora has settled. It obviously can be challenged in court  if Sangam does not come to terms with the globalisation of Indo-Fijians in general, and “mixed” South Indians in particular. This rule has to change.

The advent of modern education, westernisation and more liberal thinking has led to many intermarriages and this will cause problems for Sangam worldwide. Hence Sangam should change this law before they are classed as hypocrites who adopt the good  ways, opportunities and wealth of the First World while embracing  Third World gender and ethnic discrimination.

TISI has to come to terms with the modern world. Its discrimination has caused displeasure and broken hearts. Non Resident Indo-Fijians with greater exposure to the developed world may find such restrictions and discriminations abhorrent.

It is time TISI heeded the message that the retired International Judge and Fiji’s statesman Hon Justice Jai Ram Reddy gave during the Sangam Convention in 2003:

Lest we forget, let us remind ourselves once again that Sangam was conceived in benevolence. The name itself stands for coming together of people and the participatory process that it entails. It was born out of adversity that in times that were equally dark. I Salute all those who have persevered to keep the human values of love, compassion and service alive through Sangam. I urge you to work for the good of all the people of this country. Sangam has always given us a sense of security and identity. DO not do anything to weaken this organization. Take it from strength to strength so that we can all be proud to belong to the Sangam family.

Therefore the message for Sangam and all other participants during Easter convention is of coming together in this participatory process to unite through human values of love and compassion.

It is ironical that while Commodore Bainimarama’s vision for Fiji is a country and its politics devoid of racism,  some Indo-Fijians continue to discriminate against their own people based on gender and ethnicity. I hope the spirit of love of Easter will prevail on all of us and help us change.


A happy, fruitful and a blessed Easter to all and hope we encounter more things that unite us and fewer that divide us as the people of Fiji.


Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator, a community worker, a Trustee of Sanatan NZ and heads Sanatan Media Watch in New Zealand. E-mail: thakurji@xtra.co.nz

Comments

Islands in the Stream said…
This is a very thought-provoking article by Ranjit Singh and we need to pay attention. As he says, the TISI Sangam was conceived and has been run with beneficent intent. However, times have changed and continue to change. Women must above all be free to participate substantively and to voice their views independent of husbands and sons. Otherwise, we continue the endemic and too frequent silencing of women's rightful ideas and thoughts on so many pressing issues. Not just for them but for a nation needing urgent assistane and evolution towards liberty for all. Has the leadership been up to this challenge?
Thakur Ranjit Singh said…
Since my article has been published and circulated, it has received popular support from prominent South Indians. My wish was only to be a medium of change and awaken the community to a practice that is obsolete, and obviously discriminatory. With support for change from within the hitherto silent South Indian community, I am confident change is inevitable.
I was prompted to write this from encouragement of South Indians themselves who found it hard to crack a very conservative nut at TISI leadership in Fiji. I hope the change in leadership this year may spell good news for those seeking more liberal and inclusive rules.
Since I also expect this article to be published in Brisbane, Sacramento and Vancouver, I hope the Non Resident Indo-Fijians (NRIF) will be that medium of change. Best wishes for a more progressive and inclusive TISI which treats its daughters same as its sons.

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