Girmit Commemoration 2024 – Hon Sashi Kiran 
Thank you Hon Speaker. Hon Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Leader of Opposition, Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Members of Parliament and all those are watching todays proceedings, sab ko mera Pranam, Ni Sa Bula Vinaka Saka.
Mr Speaker to commemorate the arrival of  60,553 indentured labourers between 1879 and 1916 , the Coalition Government has declared Girmit Day as national holiday . This year we organized a Girmit Mela in Lautoka from 11-13th May at Fiji Girmit Centre.
The theme of this year’s Girmit Commemoration was that of the Journey of Girmit Descendants in Building a New Fiji, acknowledging the journey of descendants in different fields of work and their influence on fabric of our society. The program was organized by Ministry of Multi-Ethnic Affairs and Sugar Industry under the leadership of Hon Charan Jeath Singh and Permanent Secretary, Mr Yogesh Karan and his staff. I was asked to chair the programs committee to support their staff and working committee based in the west.
Taking the national program to the Western Division was significant, Mr Speaker,  as many decendents of Girmityas settled in the West to restart their lives after the end of Girmit era. After completing their indenture many could not go back to India for many different reasons.  Those who chose to stay could access land from CSR, but they were restricted on what they could plant. As a result, many of the settlers negotiated with chiefs to gain access land for farming.  We learned through a Girmitiya elder who resided in Vuda that Momo Na Tui Vuda allowed many settlers to access land in early 1900s. In the writings we also find that Girmityas who made Fiji their home had learnt the language and protocols of the Vuda people well and had developed strong ties with the land owners.
It was important to acknowledge the custodians of the land before we began the program. On Friday evening, 10th May we organized a Vavinavinaka ceremony to honour and thank the chiefs and Bose Na Momo was represented by Tui Nawaka Ratu Joeli Bulu, Taukei Navo Ratu Meli Saukuru, Taukei Vidilo Ratu Wiliame Bouwalu and the Matanivanua nodra na Turaga na Tui Naviti, Sikeli  Mulase.. It was a beautiful event where after the formal ceremony a talanoa allowed for interaction. We ended the evening with a meal and entertainment, a  meke brought by Tui Nawaka, South Indian Dance and the National Youth band that provided entertainment in all 3 languages.
Hon Speaker Sir, those who understand our culture and tradition will know that we treat our guests with deep respect and we seek forgiveness at the end of any such event in case we have erred in any way that may have offended them or made them uncomfortable. When we hold prayers, our priests tell us to seek forgiveness of our parents and community at large in case we have hurt them either intentionally or unintentionally. That’s our tradition. And our Matanivanua, Mr Sundressan Chetty from Tavua, also offered this apology during closure of the ceremony. The proceedings have been aired on various national TV channels including the Fiji Government Facebook page.
Now this event has been misinterpreted, deliberately or otherwise, as a “national apology” on behalf of descendants of  Girmityas . I have seen a rambling Facebook post by Hon Koya and similar comments by some of his colleagues that I had led a national apology on behalf of indentured labourers seeking forgiveness from the chiefs in a Matani-gasau ceremony. Mr Speaker this is false, for the reasons I have stated.
Why do some politicians become fearful and insecure when there is any interaction between the two ethnic groups where we try to look at and do things differently and begin a deeper process of communication? At times we are ridiculed and told we are naïve and unrealistic, even that we are “selling out” our own ethnic community. Why is this, Mr Speaker?
And it is also so interesting that these attacks have all been heaped on a woman leader. I was no more or less responsible for these events than others, including Hon Charan Jeath Singh. It appears it is easier just to attack a woman MP, perhaps so she can be blamed for showing weakness. I am disgusted that Hon Members of these parliament instigated mass cyberbullying with their deliberate lies. It is little wonder that women do not want to stand for politics in our country Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker we had a government that for 16 years said nothing about ethnic relations. Its policy was to ignore ethnic differences and simply say “we are all Fijians.”  We were not allowed even to know the ethnic breakdown of our own population. This was a short-sighted and ignorant policy.  In every country in the world there are people of different ethnic groups. Many of these countries do multiculturalism well. They understand the importance of celebrating diversity and communicating with each other about our different languages, customs and cultures, to improve understanding. Commemorating National Days like Girmit and Ratu Sukuna allows us this opportunity.
But Mr Speaker it is also important for those of us in the minority to recognise and acknowledge all that has been done for us by the majority community. Mr Speaker something many descendants of Girmityas may not think about is that the Vanua and Chiefs have a generous heart. They call us Vasu in their own context, A vasu is someone from maternal links and have no restrictions in observing protocols. Yes, there have been times of tension, deep racism and distress, we cannot deny this. Nor should we forget the painful lessons such experiences have taught us. Our history is marred by political upheavals of  last 37 years.  But it is also important that we remember that for more than a century our ancestors have lived here through the support of the people of the land.
One has to read - Fiji : A Love Story by late former ambassador Ajay Singh, who wrote how his grandmother was helped by Fijian chiefs of Ra when she was in distress, listen to the story of Ben Naidu where is grandfather was nursed by women from Sawaike in Gau and nurtured for 10 years by Itaukei family before being returned to his own, read the narrratives of the rescue of Syria wreck and you will discover the political history of last 40 years doesn’t define our relationships, It is important that as we honour our Girmityas, we also honour the relationships and support they received in resettling in Fiji
Its time we look forward with excitement and anticipation about what our new political environment can offer us in our exploration of each other’s ethnic identities, our language, culture and customs.  Only in this way Mr Speaker can we truly become one nation. I am proud of the initiatives of our government in this space. It is a real shame that there are Members in this House who you  use misinformation and bigotry to try and derail these.
Hon Speaker Sir I have been asked by all and sundry who am I to represent Indo-Fijian people in what I say and do. During the mayhem of 2000, I was one of the few who personally visited families who were evicted. I sat with farmers in Dawasamu as they watched their houses burn down, I visited Dreketi, a community gripped by violence, and in Wainikoro to watch the mass exodus of farmers from there. I also took the time to join peace building program and went and listened to indigenous communities in Savusavu, Labasa, Wainikoro and many other parts of Fiji to understand their perspective and over two decades have been working on understanding the ethnic tensions.
So I say to those whose ill-informed criticisms try to drive a wedge between our communities,  learn about your history, to air your insecurities and hate find other avenues rather than ethnic relations.
Mr Speaker, the three-day Girmit event at Lautoka’s Girmit Centre was a great success, Many young and older artists from different parts of West showcased their drama, folk songs, poetry, participated in sports organized. A carnival atmosphere was created by many local artists and musicians from India, through courtesy of the Indian Government  I wish to thank Hon Minister for youth and his Youth Band that coloured the events with their Hindi numbers they learnt within a week.
I would like to express gratitude to his Excellency, the President of Fiji, Ratu Wiliame Maivallili Katonivere for gracing the occasion. , It was an emotional moment for  many recipients of Girmit Descendent awards including Mata Gangmma Ji from Solovi, Nadi, who is 108 years old, has six (6) children, 36 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren, and seven (7) great-great-grandchildren to be awarded by His Excellency .
I also wish to thank the Cabinet Ministers and Assistant Ministers who were present most of the days of the event. I wish to acknowledge Hon Vocea for officiating at Labasa events and Hon Nalumisa for officiating at SavusavuGirmit program. I applaud the working committee in Lautoka, Ministry of Multiethnic, the sugar sector, all artists, exhibitors, sponsors, media organisations and all those who participated in the event including various Government departments, archives and Fiji Museum who all worked hard to make the event a great success.
Mr Speaker , we have much to do to make multiracialism in Fiji not just the norm, but a force for good and a way to catalyse our national development. And I urge every member of this House, and every citizen of our country, to be generous in spirit and to support us as we embark on a new path for ethnic relations in Fiji.