came from Basti when I was 28 years old. I left India because there
was a shortage of work there, so four of us got together and decided
that we would go abroad in search of work. We met an arkati
who recruited us. We were told that we would get 12 annas a day
abroad and this was a lot of money for India. Abroad to us meant
another town, probably Calcutta. People used to go and work there
and then return home. This is why we regarded it as abroad. We did
not ask the arkati where
Fiji was, all we knew was that we were going away to work and earn
money. We put our faith in the arkati.
We did so because we thought that he would provide us with work
which would enable us to earn our livelihood as well as accumulate
I took my wife with me and then ran
away from home. I had decided to run away at night when everybody
was asleep. We met the arkati
later and then he took us to the depot. Some of my companions also
had wives. We intended to go abroad and earn and then return home.
We regarded Fiji as some place
nearby, but when we were on the ship it took us four weeks merely to
travel to this place. I only thought of my parents and home when we
got into Fiji and found the indenture days difficult. But we all put
up with the girmit.
We did not combine and fight
Europeans because there was no point in it. Government was on their
side. Our view was to endure girmit,
it was for five years, thereafter we would be free.
When we first saw Fijians we were
scared. We were worried that we might become like them when we saw
their hair. On our estate we were told that these were the natives
of the country. Their disposition towards us was quite good. In
those days they seemed rather frightened of Indians. When we first
came to Fiji all the Fijians wore banana leaves as skirts. They used
to keep their money in their mouth and when they got into a shop
they used to take it out of their mouths and give it to the
shop-keeper. Sometimes Indians used to buy fruits from them. There
were some Indians who could converse with them in Fijian.
When I came I used to work where the
boats were and on the punt. My wife worked in the field. I used to
start work at 7am and finish at 5pm. My wife's work was very
difficult. Some days she could complete her task, other days she
could not. I supplemented our income by working on Sundays at the
boilers which were used to produce sugar. Otherwise I would not have
had enough money.
When I first came to Fiji I was quite
a strong man therefore not many people tried to get up to mischief
with me or my wife. The work was very difficult.
Sometimes we were told to cut down a tree and then to dig up
its roots. Once we had started work we used to keep at it until we
had completed our task; it was almost four o'clock in the afternoon
some days when we had our lunch. If we did not complete our task we
did not get our money.
is no doubt that Europeans used to beat up people who did not do
And the sardars used to collaborate with the overseers. There was a sardar
who was beaten up in Manoca. Europeans were also assaulted now and
then. Indians did gang up and attack Europeans and they did this
because Europeans used to hit them when their task was not
completed. Some overseers insisted that if one of us was wearing a
hat then on meeting them we must take it off for them and say salaam
to them. If we did not oblige we were punished. Indians were not
permitted to wear hats in the presence of Europeans. They used to
call us ‘boy’ and treat us like little children. We did not know
what ‘boy’ meant. So we thought ‘boy’ was a term for
something good. Some may have known the meaning of ‘boy’
but others, when they were addressed as ‘boy’ used to
think this was something great that they had been called.
When Indians behaved as though they
were the children, Europeans treated them well but if they asserted
themselves and tried to be like them then they found themselves in
trouble. Assertion of equality led to a thrashing.
Some women were paid in full even
when they had not completed their task, that is if the overseer
fancied them. On the other hand, some who finished their tasks
sometimes did not get fully compensated. There were some sardars
who used to provide overseers with women. These were Indian sardars
who were doing this to Indian women but we could do nothing. We were
frightened. We spent five years full of fear because if we did not
conform we were in trouble.
had they been reasonable and explained the situation to Europeans,
the latter might not have been so ruthless. Once a European saw me
all full of sweat cutting steel, he asked me what I was getting. I
said, “A shilling.” He then went and saw the overseer and asked
him why I was paid a shilling. He was told that was what I was
supposed to get during indenture. But he said that I was working
like a European below an overseer, so the overseer increased my rate
to 1/6. Others used to get 15/- or one pound a week.
There were many hangings and killings
over women. Some-times a woman had liaisons with two or three men
and this was a source of conflict. The relationship between jhaji bhais was so strong
that it seemed better than that between brothers. There was always a
case of mutual assistance whenever the need arose.
Hindus and Muslims were all friends.
Muslims used to invite Hindus to their Koran readings and Hindus
reciprocated when they did likewise. In those days there were no
cattle slaughtered. It was only when people became 'free' that they
resorted to killing cattle.
Hindus and Muslims used to live like brothers on the same
Indians who were in the 'free'
assisted us when we were in difficulty. Hindus and Muslims used to
help one another. Those who knew of their religion from India,
practised it even though there were neither mosques nor temples.
They performed their religious rites in their house or within their
own room. Despite the rigours of the indenture system there were
some Muslims who fasted. They were able to do so because they had a
will for the purpose. Those who knew how to say their namaj used to say it in the field when the time came. If there was
no water they used mud to do their ritual preparation before prayer.
Having said their prayers they returned to work. Indenture was very
harsh but nonetheless Hindus and Muslims retained their religion,
without it they 'would not have survived or retained their identity.
It was their religion which enabled both Hindus and Muslims
to survive. Even though there were no genuine maulvis
or pundits here at the time, persons became pundits or maulvis merely because they knew a little about religion, and when
the need or occasion arose for someone to perform these duties, they
But it was much later that many maulvis
and pundits began coming into Fiji from India. During girmit
those who could read or write could improve their status. People respected
anyone, either Muslim or Hindu, who could read and write. There were
one or two pundits and maulvis who were rogues but even they received respect from some
people. As was
traditional, those who performed religious rites as maulvi or pundit
received a donation. But there were no pundits or maulyis
who made it a profession of going around and performing religious
rituals and collecting money.
I had put up with indenture for five
years, it would have been foolish to re-indenture myself for another
five years. Some used to have a good time and squander everything,
so they had no alternative but to re-indenture themselves. There was
a brewery in Nausori. Some Indians tried to pinch some liquor from
there. They put a match to the tin and there was an explosion and
several got burnt. So it was closed down. Europeans took the view
that such attempts would kill all the Indians.
There were no schools here and there
was no education for anybody except that provided by Christian
missionaries. When men became Christian the missionaries often used
to find them wives as well.