Fiji – a tiny island country in the South Pacific Ocean, has a considerable Hindu population. Like many countries across the planet with a sizeable Hindu population, the Indo-Fijian Hindus were initially brought to the island nation in 1879 by the British colonists as part of the indentured labor system to work on sugarcane plantations.
Reportedly, between 1879 and 1916, the British transported over 60,000 Indians. The system was created to provide cheap workers for British colonies, after the abolition of slavery in Britain and its colonies in 1833.
Ethnic composition of Fiji:
While the practice was cruel, as was the norm at the time, the Hindus, as they usually do, made the foreign, alien conditions hospitable to call it home.
According to reports, presently, Fiji’s population is split primarily between two main ethnic groups: iTaukei (indigenous Fijians), who constitute 56.8%, while the Indo-Fijians, who make up an estimated 37.5% of the population.
Most Indo-Fijians are Hindu (27.9% of the total population and 76% of the Indian community) while the natives are mostly Christians. The overwhelming majority of Indo-Fijians speak Fiji Hindustani or Fiji Hindi.
Contribution of Indo-Fijians:
Although Indian laborers initially could communicate fairly well, they had some difficulty at times being understood. Over time, a unified dialect emerged. Since then, it has become the language of Indo-Fijian identity.
The agricultural base of the country has been developed over the last century by the contribution of the migrant Indian population, who are known for their skills in agriculture. For more than a century now, after the first Indians landed in Fiji, they have contributed enormously towards the economic and social development of island nation, and generally the Pacific.
Cultural and food habits of Indo-Fiji inhabitants:
Ramayana is an integral part of children’s education in Sanatan Dharma schools (nearly 20-23% of schools in Fiji are Sanatan Dharma schools). Kids are encouraged to pick music just so they remain glued to Satsang and through it, to Ramayana.
Much like India, the Indo-Fijians brought the indigenous food habits to the island nation as well. Roti (a staple bread served with every meal), rice, and curry across India has also become the staple item of Indo-Fijian food.
Discrimination faced by Indo-Fijians:
Although Hindus form a major part of the society of Fiji, they are constantly discriminated by the natives. The racial prejudice and inequitable treatment in different sectors of the country have held the Indian-Hindu minority community back.
Meanwhile, the longstanding ethnic tensions between the iTaukei population and Indo-Fijians continue to linger in the background.
In 1999, Mahendra Chaudhry became Fiji’s first, and so far, only, ethnic Indian prime minister. However, miffed that an Indian-Hindu was at the top governmental post, the native Fijians, brainwashed by businessman George Speight launched a coup, a year after Chaudhry took charge.
Reportedly, Chaudhry and his cabinet were held hostage for 56 days in the coup and ultimately a military coup ensured that he never returned to power. Fiji has had a history of coups. Prior to the 2000 coup, another coup took place in 1987 that removed the multi-ethnic Labour Party from the government.
Before the 1987 coup, ethnic Indians accounted for around 50% of Fiji’s population. In the 1960s, the Hindu population accounted for over 60% of the island country.
However, the continual political instability in Fiji and a culturally embedded hostility towards Indo-Fijians have led to their emigration, with the numbers dwindling. Reportedly, after the 1987 coup, approximately 30,000 – 40,000 Indo-Fijians fled the country.
Land laws in favour of the natives, as Indo-Fijians struggle:
Moreover, the land laws in Fiji are unilaterally in the favor of natives, as they do not want Hindus to gain access to their ancestral property.
The majority of land in Fiji is still concentrated in the hands of iTaukei Fijians with restrictions on the ability of Indo-Fijians farmers to purchase land under discriminatory land tenure legislation.
Reforming land ownership legislation to provide equal ownership rights to Indo-Fijians has been a long-standing demand, but no significant headway has been made so far.
Indian books have little to no mention about the history of Indians, especially the Hindus in Fiji. The government should introduce it in the curriculum and also ensure that human rights of Indo-Fijis are not trampled in the island nation.