Indo-Fijian

From Academic Kids

Indo-Fijians are people born in Fiji, but are ethnically Indian. The constitution of Fiji defines "Indian" as anybody who can trace, through either the male or the female line, their ancestry back to anywhere on the Indian subcontinent. They are mostly descended by indentured labourers brought by Fiji's British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji's sugar plantations. These were complemented by the later arrival of Gujarati and Sikh immigrants.

Contents

Origins

The Leonidas, a labour transport vessel, disembarked at Levuka from Calcutta on 14 May 1879. The 463 indentured servants who disembarked were the first of over 61,000 to arrive from the Indian subcontinent over the following 37 years. More than 70 percent were from impoverished districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, such as Basti, Gonda, and Faizabad. Another quarter came from the emigration prone districts of South India such as North Arcot, Chingleput, and Madras. There were smaller numbers from Punjab, Kashmir, Haryana, and other parts of India. Their contracts, which they called girmits, required them to work in Fiji for a period of five years, after which they would be free to return to India or remain in Fiji. The great majority opted to stay. Most worked on sugar cane plantations, many of them living in squalid huts known as "coolie lines." After the expiry of their girmits, many leased small plots from Fijians and developed their own sugarcane fields or cattle farmlets. Others went into business in the towns and cities that were beginning to spring up.

Indians in Fiji largely abandoned Caste distinctions, and the religious divisions between Hindus and Muslims that were so prevalent on the Indian subcontinent at that time mostly passed Fiji by.

On 6 June 2005, Stolen Worlds: Fijiindian Fragmants, a collection of writings recounting the arrival and the subsequent experiences of the indentured workers was launched at Suva's University of the South Pacific (USP). Edited by Dr Kavita Nandan, a USP Literature and Language academic, the work of seventeen contributors contains stories of childhood and youth, love, grief, arrivals and departures. Prejudice pertaining to race and caste feature in the collection, as do the complexities of relationships. Speaking at the launch, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Singh said that the lives of present day people were built on the past which should always be remembered.

Recent developments

Indo-Fijians outnumbered indigenous Fijians from 1956 through the late 1980s, but by 2000 their share of the population had declined to 43.7 percent, because of a higher ethnic-Fijian birthrate and particularly because of the greater tendency of Indo-Fijians to emigrate. Emigration accelerated following the coups of 1987 (which removed an Indo-Fijian-supported government from power and, for a time, ushered in a constitution that discriminated against them in numerous ways) and of 2000 (which removed an Indo-Fijian Prime Minister from office).

Differences between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians complicated preparations for Fijian independence, which the United Kingdom granted in 1970, and have continued to define Fijian politics since. Prior to independence, Indo-Fijians sought a common electoral roll, based on the principle of "one man, one vote." Ethnic Fijian leaders opposed this, believing that it would favour urban voters who were mostly Indo-Fijian; they sought a communal franchise instead, with different ethnic groups voting on separate electoral rolls. At a specially convened conference in London in April 1970, a compromise was worked out, under which parliamentary seats would be allocated by ethnicity, with ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians represented equally. In the House of Representatives, each ethnic group was allocated 22 seats, with 12 representing Communal constituencies (elected by voters registered as members of their particular ethnic group) and a further 10 representing National constituencies (distributed by ethnicity but elected by universal suffrage. A further 8 seats were reserved for ethnic minorities, 3 from "communal" and 5 from "national" constituencies.

Political differences between the two communities, rather than ideological differences, have characterized Fijian politics since independence, with the two communities generally voting for different political parties. The National Federation Party founded by A.D. Patel was the party favoured overwhelmingly by the Indo-Fijian community throughout most of the nation's history, but its support collapsed in the parliamentary election of 1999, when it lost all of its seats in the House of Representatives; its support fell further still in the 2001 election, when it received only 22 percent of the Indo-Fijian vote. The party currently favoured by Indo-Fijians is the Fiji Labour Party, led by Mahendra Chaudhry, which received about 75 percent of the Indo-Fijian vote in 2001, and won all 19 seats reserved for Indo-Fijians. Originally founded as a multi-racial party in the 1980s, it is now supported mostly by Indo-Fijians.

Demographic factors

Indo-Fijians are concentrated in the so-called Sugar Belt and in cities and towns on the northern and western coasts of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu; their numbers are much scarcer in the south and inland areas. The majority of Indo-Fijians are Hindi speakers, with large minorities speaking Tamil, Bihari, and Punjabi, among others. Almost all Indo-Fijians are also fluent in English, and in the younger generation, English appears to be gradually replacing Indian languages.

According to the 1996 census (the latest available), 76.7 percent of Indo-Fijians are Hindus and a further 15.9 percent are Muslims. Christians comprise 6.1 percent of the Indo-Fijian population, while about 0.9 percent are members of the Sikh faith. The remaining 0.4 percent are mostly nonreligious.

Hindus in Fiji belong mostly to the Sanatan sect (74.3 percent of all Hindus); a minority (3.7 percent) follow Arya Samaj. There are smaller sects, as well as numerous unspecified Hindus, comprising 22 percent of the Hindu population. Muslims are mostly Sunni (59.7 percent) or unspecified (36.7 percent); there is an Ahmadiya minority (3.6 percent). Indo-Fijian Christians are a diverse body, with Methodists forming the largest group (26.2 percent), followed by the Assemblies of God (22.3 percent), Roman Catholics (17 percent), and Anglicans (5.8 percent). The remaining 28.7 percent belong to a medley of denominations.

See also

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