Girmityas : Indians Forgotten By Time And Distance

A few days ago, I watched a television program on a popular Indian television channel. The discussion was on the need and value of families. The program also talked about the desperate need for the Indian migrant workers taking desperate steps to join their families in the villages of UP, Bihar and other states.

Throughout this program I thought about the 1.2 million young Indian men, women and children who were transported from the villages of UP, Bihar and many states of India by British and other Europeans colonialists to colonies all over the world.

What struck me most was the fact that today many intellectuals and commentators are making a lot of noise for the internal Indian migrants stuck in some of the big cities of India who were subjected to lockdowns for a few weeks because of the dangers posed by Covid-19.

On the other hand, majority of the 1.2 million Indians transported as girmityas under the indenture system (girmit pratha) from 1828 to 1917, were deceived by the recruiters and transported to colonies for a minimum of 5 years. But history has noted almost everywhere that they left India to escape poverty and chose to stay in the colonies for better life.

In the Memory of all those who suffered and died ; all those who struggled and could not see the fruits of labour so that their Progeny could live with their head held high ; all those who excelled and led from the front so that tomorrow could be filled with a fragrance of a free and a dignified world . To all those who struggled in a foreign land for the freedom of their fellow countrymen, I Request a minute of Silence

I believe that I am the only person who has proved through my doctoral thesis that majority of the 40,000 Indians who could not return to India were in fact prevented from returning to ensure the continued supply of cheap labour in Fiji. This figure applies only to Fiji; if extended to other girmit colonies, this number could rise to 1 million.

Today, when the Covid-19 pandemic is reminding the 1.3 billion Indians the value of being united with their families, I appeal to the Indians to think about the 40,000 young Indians who could never return to their families in India. The research could prove that most of the Indians who could not return to India from other girmit colonies were also prevented from doing so.

My research over 20 years in India has shown to me that the descendants of the families from where the girmityas were stolen and transported to the colonies are even today waiting for someone from the descendant of the girmityas to return to their village and make contact with them. I have been unsuccessfully trying to connect the approximately 15 million descendants of the girmityas with the descendants of the Indian families from where their ancestors were stolen.

We saw a glimpse of hope in 2016 when, on an initiative by Chander Prakash, the President of Connect Lucknow, the first ever girmit session was held during the Uttar Pradesh Pravasi Divas in Agra. This was also the first occasion when one-minute silence was observed on the initiation of Prakash.

The following year one full day was devoted to girmit issues and the 100th anniversary of abrogation of global girmit was also commemorated. Since then several girmit organisations have come up globally, including Indian Diaspora Council, Girmit Global and Global Girmit Association. Many conferences, seminars and events are being organised in India and internationally on many girmit related issues now.

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the termination of all the existing indenture agreements (girmit). As a mark of respect to the brave Indians who sacrificed the comforts of their families and matrabhumi, on behalf of the Indian Diaspora Council and Global Girmit Association, I humbly request Prime Minister Modi, CM of UP, Bihar and other states from where a large number of girmityas were transported, to initiate projects to bring together the descendants of global girmityas and the descendants of the ancestors in India.

Some 1 million girmityas could not return to their homes and families in India. They all perished in the faraway colonies; their dreams and aspirations to return to their villages, to their families and to help them to have better lives were never fulfilled. Today, as their descendants, the 15 million descendants of those unfortunate girmityas wish to reunite with their descendants in India and fulfil their unfulfilled dreams and aspirations.

The souls of the girmityas live inside all us in the girmit diaspora. When we return to India, we will bring back with us their souls to their villages, homes and their families.

— Dr Satish Rai/Sydney

(The author of this article is a Sydney based filmmaker, journalist and an academic. He was born in the Fiji Islands. His grandparents and 2 uncles were transported to from India (UP) to Fiji around 1910. He migrated to the UK in 1980 and worked as a Metropolitan Police officer, anti-racist professional and local government elected councillor. He has been living in Sydney, Australia, since 1995. Presently he is the Director of Indian Diaspora Council Australia and the interim President of Global Girmit Association.)

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