Indian slaves who brought prosperity and liberation to alien
Article from: Indian Express:, dated 27th June
In search of gold we sailed to this land. Alas,
our golden body melted away here'. The cathartic song of first
generation 'Girmitias'-the name given to generations of Indians
which was ''forced'' to leave the country in the middle and late
19th century to serve as laborers in the then British colonies where
they eventually settled down- has echoed in the sugarcane fields,
from Mauritius to Fiji and Trinidad to Natal, for more than a
Years of toiling by these people in their adopted
countries has transformed barren lands into mines of golden crops,
bringing prosperity and abundance for everyone-themselves, fellow
African laborers and natives.
The Girmitias survived the ugly world of
colonialisation but today, in the uglier world of ''invisible
colonialism'', some of the fifth generation Girmitia children are
still passing through an ''agnipariksha'' (tough time), more
recently in Fiji.
An Indian Fijian poet-politician Satendra Nandan,
expressing the sadness and helplessness of the community, said,
''yet homeless, nameless between earth-sky/a race without a place
must forever die/uprooted transplanted lives grow in pain/to live,
must their generation die again?''
The world 'Girmitia' was coined by Father of the
Nation Mahatma Gandhi, who called himself 'Pehla Girmitia' (first
Girmitia), as a recognition of his fight for the cause of the
community. ''Girmit is a corrupt form of the English world
'agreement'. The term cannot be dispensed with. An agreement under
which thousands of laborers used to emigrate and still emigrate to
Fiji, Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana on contract for five years is
known by the laborers and the employees as Girmit. A labor so
emigrating under Girmit is a Girmitia.''
Dissecting the word, Gandhi said, ''Girmit is
indeed a state of semi-slavery.''
In 1997, Dr Vasudeo Pandey, a Girmitia and the
then prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, came on a pilgrimage of
sorts of India to visit his ancestral village-Lakshmanpur in
Azamgarh district of eastern Uttar Pradesh. In an emotional speech
at Banaras Hindu University, where he was conferred with D. Lit.,
Honors Causa, Mr. Pandey said ''Lord Ram had to undergo 14 years
banishment, our exile lasted 140 years.'' Gutka of Ramcharitmanas
(hymns) was the main source of solace and inspiration to the
Girmitias-- after a long day of toiling in the fields, one of the
pandits among them would recite the chaupayees, reassuring fellow
laborers that good would triumph over evil and Ramrajya (model
governance) would be established even in that alien land, one day.
Vasudeo Pandey is only one among many esteemed
political leaders of erstwhile colonial countries where Indians
organized themselves and fought against colonialism and later worked
for nation-building, together with African laborers and native
Sir Shivsagar Ramgoolam, Mr. Kashimuttinlk Chhedi
Jagan and recently Mahendra Chaudhry led their people to overcome
colonialism, thus ensuring a better future for them.
Girmitia children actually excelled in every
field-from-politics to sports and literature to popular culture.
Sir Vidiadar S Naipaul is arguably the most famous
Girmitia child, establishing himself as the greatest living writer
in English language. Strangely, he never visited eastern UP, the
land of his ancestors, of course, his father Surajprasad sent his
daughter Kamla to study in Banaras Hindu University in the 1950s as,
if to forge a cultural relationship with the Bhojpuri land.
V.S. Naipaul, a Brahmin from nowhere, searches
India every where-from Majaphit in Indonesia to the palace of Cyrus
in Iran, from frontier province in Pakistan to a Malayk village in
Recently Sir Vidia, in an interview, disclosed
that the family had tried to locate their ancestral village which
was somewhere near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh but the search was not
In the Caribbean countries, Indian community
produced the finest of players and sportsmen. Rohan Kanhai, Alivan
Kalicharan, Chanderpaul and Shravan were and are the strength of the
West Indian cricket team.
Vijay Singh of Fiji is among the top ten golf
players in the world.
Perhaps hard labor, success, enterpreneurship were
not sufficient enough to overcome the legacy of discord and racial
differences left by the British colonialists in these countries.
Mr. Vasudeo Pandey narrated how colonialists ruled
in his country by dividing the people.'' the British rulers taught
natives and Africans that they were the ' sons of the soil', while
Indians were foreigners. To Indians they said- ''look at these
Africans and natives. They are the descendants of Rakshas Ravana,''
Dr Pandey told the BHU audience.
According to newspaper reports, when Dr Pandey was
to take oath as the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, he
expressed his desire to swear by the Bhagavad-Gita but there was not
a single copy of the Hindu holy book in the otherwise rich
In the recent decades the Indian communities in
the erstwhile colonies have been witnessing a resurgence-
politically and culturally. In Caribbean countries, the Indian
community celebrated on a large scale the 150th anniversary of the
arrival of first Girmitia group there. The 500th anniversary of
famous saint poet Goswami Tulsidas was also celebrated in every
major city in Caribbean countries.
District authorities in eastern Uttar Pradesh
receive many inquiries from Girmitia children for help in locating
villages or towns of their ancestors. Unfortunately, the records of
Girmitia laborers are not explicit and unavailable in many cases.
But whenever some success is achieved the Girmitia children
celebrated and make it a point to visit the place.
NB: In Mauritius, the most common term used is "indentured