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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Report from Fiji (3)

Further to Report from Fiji (2): The young fisherman I talked to yesterday also said that he wished the Americans or the British would take Fiji over again. He thought that would enable the Indos to get a fair go. I didn’t get to talk to him about the Labour Party. The tractor arrived to tow his boat up the beach so our conversation was cut short.
A moving account of the plight of the Indo-Fijians over the 120-year history of Indian habitation in Fiji was written by Rajendra Prasad (2004). It is called Tears in Paradise and outlines the “British depravity and the barbarity of the CSR Company against the indentured labourers” brought to Fiji, more often than not, under false pretences.
Over a 37-year period from 1879 to 1916 this “reformed system of slavery” transported 60,553 girmitiyas (indentured labourers) from India. This was part of a programme of systematic utilisation of Indian nationals by the British from 1834 to 1916 to serve as cheap, tied labour in its colonial outposts.
Prasad writes: “Indenture was a system of manipulation, domination, intimidation and exploitation of human labour, and mental and physical violence were mercilessly used to increase productivity and raise the profitability of the white planters.”
Indenture contracts lasted five years, but the girmitiyas had to work another five years for extremely low wages to qualify for a free return trip back home. Most never made it back to India.
Another writer, Hugh Tinkler, quoted by Prasad said of the indentured labourers: “It was their labour, along with British capital and expertise, which created the overseas wealth of Britain.”

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