original home was Gonda in India. I was lured by recruiters when I
was about twenty-five years of age. I could read a little in those
days and had a copy of Gita with me.
I left India because I was enticed by
stories of earning more money. I did not know where Fiji was but was
told about the money available and that the work involved cane
I enjoyed my work when I got there.
The first two weeks I cut cane and was quite happy because I took
the view that if I worked hard I would get plenty of money.
After a fortnight I was made a sardar
in charge of the cane carrying trucks. Indenture was not for those
who were lazy. After being a truck sardar
for six months I became a field sardar.
I had a lot of trouble with Europeans.
If European overseers used to growl
at men I used to tell them to go away.
I thought it was my job and not theirs to deal with the
labourers. I told them that if they had any objections then they
should tell them to me and not abuse the men. While sardar
I helped send three or four labourers back to India because they
wanted to return since they could not cope with the work.
While some sardars
were bad the overseers were pretty bad as well. Sardars lived in the same lines but they had better accommodation,
instead of one room they sometimes had two or three. There used to
be a lot of strife and sometimes overseers were assaulted. Both men
and women hit overseers.
did not side with Europeans but with their fellow Indians. Sometimes
there was bloodshed amongst Indians, usually over women.
There was a physically weak man
working with me, so I gave him very easy work to do. One day he
asked me to let him go to the hospital. I got a letter from the
overseer for him and sent him away. He was away for four weeks and I
found that he was not in the hospital. Then I had to mark him absent
from work. One day we found him hanging from a tree. The man was a Kohar
by caste. Apparently he did not like Fiji.
In those days we got on well with
Fijians. There was no question of conflict. They were frightened of
us as well.
During indenture days people used to take part in festivals
like Holi and tazia,
in the reading of Ramayana and in singing and dancing. Everyone
whether Hindu or Muslim took part in the tazia.
Every estate used to build a tazia
and then they all used to converge towards one place. The tazia
was a decorated-paper edifice. In the procession people used to play
There was wrestling for sport. But
one year there was a great deal of fighting and several people went
to jail as a result. It was over who should lead his tazia
first. There was a Muslim lawyer, after the girmit
era in Labasa, he opposed tazia,
describing it as irreligious.
people used to follow their religious books. Muslims fasted but
there was not all that much of it. For their prayers they used to
call people to their homes; some said their prayers in the field.
When I first came to Labasa there was
no school or religious house of any kind there. Indians in the
time-expired settlements used to help indentured labourers. There
was social contact between the two groups. In the evenings
individuals congregated to read the Ramayana or other books or to
tell stories. These were stories from India, not of girmit
our immediate experience. Girmit
was the reality of working hard or cutting cane or doing something
I used to read the Ramayana in the
evenings. We also visited other estates. We walked, and were not
frightened of Fijians.