The Hon. Minister for Multi-Ethnic Affairs and Sugar
The Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Girmit
Centennial Celebration; 
Private Sector & CSO Representatives
Members of the Media, 
Ladies and Gentlemen, My fellow Fijians;
This year’s theme - “Journey of Girmit Descendants in Building a New Fiji” – goes hand in hand with the Coalition Government’s national objective of promoting social cohesion and recognizing the diverse contribution of ethnic communities in progress and prosperity of Fiji. We strongly believe in recognizing and upholding the values and blessings of our ancestors is a path to progress towards a new vision for our beloved nation.
It is also highly symbolic for me to launch the start of an event in a place known as sugar city because I come from the rice fields of Muanidevo in Dreketi, Vanua Levu. 
Sugarcane and sugar are the very reasons why we are here this morning -  to kick-start official commemoration of the struggles and sacrifice of our forefathers that first started 145 years ago. 
Whether it be the sugarcane plantations  in the cane belts or the rice farms of Muanidevo, there is one unbreakable bond that was, is and will link, our past, current and future generations – we are the descendants of the Girmitiya.
More than 60,000 indentured labourers from India were shipped across to Fiji between May 14, 1879, 11th November, 1916, in treacherous conditions by the British Colonial Masters as the vast British Empire ruled both India and Fiji amongst many, many other nations. 
Of course this was after Black birding or shipping of people of Melanesian origin to other colonies. In Fiji’s case, people were brought from the Solomon Islands. Members of our indigenous community were taken to Queensland in Australia. 
We may never learn of the identities of those members of our indigenous community who were taken to Queensland. As descendants of the Girmitiya, we have and are able to trace our ancestry, thanks to the availability of the Immigrant pass. 
Therefore, we also remember them as we commemorate our own struggles because we must learn from history. 
We all know the immeasurable and irreplaceable contribution that our forefathers and their descendants have made to the social, political and economic advancement of Fiji. 
Whether members of the Indo-Fijian diaspora are here or settled abroad, it is our patriotic duty to our motherland,  land of our birth to ensure that our beloved nation is a beacon of hope and land of opportunity.  
And the Coalition government of Prime Minister Honourable Sitiveni Rabuka has recognised this invaluable contribution of the Girmitiya and their descendants by declaring Girmit Day as a public holiday.
This is not celebrating indenture or slavery, as a political leader quite preposterously claimed a few days ago. It is a celebration of our forefathers’ determination to triumph over slavery or servitude and make Fiji their new home. 
And they succeeded because of their unshakable principles of dignity, equality, justice and self-respect. 
They did not receive nor ever demanded any assistance from the colonial government for education, social security, pension, transport assistance or grants to increase sugarcane production. 
But they passed on knowledge and strength to their children and through them to future generations on how and when to peacefully seek solutions to the above issues.
And so duly did the children of the Girmitiya – ably led by someone who wasn’t a descendant of  an indentured labourer but advised to go to Fiji after completing his legal studies because a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi advised him that Fiji had an Indian diaspora.
The party that I lead will be 61 years old in a few months. The National Federation Party, founded by descendants of the Girmitiya,  has forever recognised, understood and respected the wishes, rights and aspirations of both the descendants of the Girmitiya and the i-Taukei or the indigenous community. 
We have not and will never seek to usurp this fundamental value. What we seek, as did our former Leaders is partnership, not domination. And this was the message by the lawyer turned politician in July 1946 to the Legislative Council, 17 years even before that person  in 1963 became the founder leader of a political movement, which I lead today. 
Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel  or A D Patel, will always be remembered as a leader who was well ahead of his time. He became the founder leader of NFP in 1963 after a Rakiraki cane grower, Alparti Tataiya suggested that the struggles of growers and the ordinary people would gain momentum and be recognised if it formulated itself a political party. 
So began NFP from the initial Citizens Federation – initially a party of the Girmitiya and 2nd generation of Indo-Fijians, that sooner rather than later fire-balled into a mass movement ably supported by prominent i-Taukei chiefs like Ratu Mosese Varasikete Tuisawau – father of  our Cabinet colleague Ro Filipe Tuisawau – and Ratu Julian Toganivalu.
The rest is history. No matter what one says, it is indisputable that A D  Patel and his able lieutenants – Siddiq Moidin Koya or S M Koya, James Madhavan – who were later joined by Chirag Ali Shah – backed by Ratu Mosese and Ratu Julian – achieved greatness.
The last ship carrying indentured labourers arrived on 11th November 1916. Indenture officially ceased in 1920. But the Girmitiya and their children who were cane growers, were being exploited and short-changed by the CSR or Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd in terms of cane price.
The security of tenure, firstly brought through ALTO or Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and the Lord Denning Award – whose sharing formula of minimum of 70% proceeds to growers and 30% to the miller is still applicable – is credited to A D Patel. 
So is FNPF that has  now grown into Fiji, if not the region’s largest provident or financial institution with a value of $10 billion. And it is owned by the workers of Fiji. As Member for Social Services, A D Patel moved for its formation in March 1965– having emphasised  the need for social security a decade before that. FNPF came into being a year later in 1966.
The University of the South Pacific is an internationally recognised tertiary institution. A D Patel had already secured land in Waidalice, Tailevu, to build a university if the colonial government failed to do so. 
He worked with Father D P Hurley to establish low-cost housing – what is now known as Housing Authority.  
He led the struggle for Fiji’s independence. Patel died in October 1969 but S M Koya continued his struggle. As a 2nd generation Girmitiya Mr S M Koya ensured that Patel’s vision of a free Fiji became a reality on 10th October 1970.
It was Mr Koya who negotiated that Diwali and Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday be designated public holidays as a mark of recognition for the Indian-Fijian community. 
Mr Koya was succeeded by Mr Jai Ram Reddy and Mr Sharma who also served as his loyal deputy. Both rose to great heights. At 92 years old, Mr Sharma is still around, having risen to Deputy PM in 1987 and leader of Sanatan Dharam – the largest Hindu religious organisation. 
And so did Mr Reddy – a leader regarded as a giant amongst leaders and who provided inspiration and hope when we the descendants of the Girmitiya thought everything was lost. After his political career, he not only became a jurist here but internationally and carved a name not only for himself but for Fiji. 
Such is the pride and patriotism of the grandson of a Girmitiya. 
He was recognised because before this, Mr Reddy didn’t succumb to personal interest. He put Fiji and the rights of the Girmitiya descendants at the forefront.
 He succeeded together with the then and current Prime Minister against all odds. It resulted in the elevation of a descendant of a Girmitiya to the office of the PM. 
It is a strange twist of fate that apart from marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Girmitiya in 1979, no government in our post-independent  history had declared a public holiday to celebrate the life of our forefathers. 
PM Honourable Rabuka and the Coalition government made sure the descendants of the Girmitiya are recognised. 
Former PM of India, the late Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone for the Girmit Centre in September 1981. This centre has endured everything. It has to be restored. The Coalition government will ensure that it should not be tarnished. 
Fiji is the motherland of the Indo-Fijians or descendants of the Girmitiya , just as it is for our indigenous people. Both communities have a diaspora overseas. But even those who have migrated cannot abandon their motherland.