• The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics, Hon. Biman Prasad;
• Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Hon. Viliame Gavoka;
• Members of the Diplomatic Corp;
• Honourable Members of Parliament;
• The Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on International Conference, Dr. Ganesh Chand;
• The Board of Trustees and Committees of the Global Girmit Institute;
• The Vice Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, Professor Pal Ahluwalia;
• Distinguished guests;
• Ladies and gentlemen.

Good Morning, Miau sa bula re and “Namaskar aap sabhi ko”!

It is a great honour for me to address you all at this International Conference, which is part of the Girmit Day celebrations for Fiji. I wish to welcome all visiting scholars and those from abroad who have travelled to Fiji, specifically for this Conference. Your presence here, after the dreadful period of the COVID -19 pandemic, is acknowledged and appreciated.

I also welcome those who are joining the conference through the virtual platform, and hope that you will begin to plan to come to Fiji for the next conference.At the outset, I would like to commend the Government of Fiji for declaring a public holiday to mark the advent of Girmitiyas in Fiji.The story of Girmit is generally well known in Fiji and the world. I vividly remember in my province in Macuata, growing up peacefully with descendants of the Girmitiyas that have now called Macuata, Vanua Levu and Fiji their home. While the broad history is well known, there are many aspects of the history and lives of Girmitiyas which we are not aware of. It has been quite sad, and rather unfortunate for all of us, that our primary and secondary school curriculum does not give due emphasis on our own history.

There is an urgent need to review our Primary and Secondary schools’ curriculum to include all matters of significance for Fiji. Girmit is one such vastly significant event for all of us, and will remain so well into the future of Fiji. The presence of Girmitiyas in Fiji raised hard questions for all communities, mainly on the Indian presence in Fiji, and their rightful place in Fijian society. I am pleased to say that the wealth of diversity and inclusivity in Fiji was and continues to be learnt
through the Girmitiya presence here.

Today, I wish to talk a bit on the importance of cultural diversity and inclusivity in Fiji. As we commemorate the arrival of the Indian indentured labourers, we are reminded of the rich cultural heritage that they brought with them to Fiji. Their unique culture, traditions, and religions have greatly enriched our nation's cultural landscape, and it is essential to acknowledge and celebrate this diversity.

However, cultural diversity should not just be recognised, it needs to be embraced and respected. Our society needs to continuously foster an environment of inclusivity where everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background, feels valued and appreciated.

As President, my vision is to be the ‘Pillar of National Unity’ and in this capacity I remind us all of our responsibility as citizens to promote diversity and cultural exchange; and encourage us to reject any form of discrimination or prejudice. It is paramount that we work together to create a society that recognises and celebrates our differences; and encourages mutual understanding and respect. Only then can we fully appreciate the beauty of our nation's cultural tapestry and realise its potential for growth and prosperity. Let us continue to embrace cultural diversity and inclusivity in Fiji, not just for today, but every day. As we celebrate the diversity of our nation, we must also recognise that our differences make us stronger. We must embrace our cultural differences and learn from each other's customs and beliefs. In doing so, we can build a more tolerant and inclusive society, where everyone is valued and respected regardless of their race, religion, or background.

Furthermore, as a nation, we must ensure that cultural diversity is not only celebrated but also protected. We must work together to preserve our unique traditions and heritage, ensuring that they are passed down from generation to generation. This will require a collective effort from all of us, including our leaders, educators, and community members.

We must also recognise the importance of language in preserving culture and ensuring that the languages of all our communities are supported and promoted. By working together to protect and promote our cultural diversity, we can build a brighter future for all Fijians.

Fiji has a long history of multiculturalism, and it is a source of great pride for us. We have a diverse population, with Girmitiyas making up a significant portion of our community. This diversity has brought about a range of benefits, including economic prosperity, cultural exchange, and social cohesion. However, we must also acknowledge that our history has not always been perfect. The Indian indentured labourers faced significant challenges and injustices during their time in Fiji. It is essential to recognise and remember these challenges so that we can learn from them and work towards a more inclusive and equitable future.

As a nation, we must acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by these past injustices, and work towards healing and reconciliation. We must strive to create a society where everyone feels heard, understood, and respected. This requires a commitment to truth-telling, acknowledging the harm that has been done, and making amends wherever and whenever possible. It is only by confronting the difficulties and the injustices of our history that we can move forward as a more united and just society.

Moving forward, we must continue to celebrate our diversity and promote inclusivity in all levels of our society. This includes our schools, workplaces, and communities. We must ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and thrive, regardless of their background.We must actively work towards addressing any remaining inequalities and discrimination that exist within our society. This requires us to examine our own biases and prejudices and intentional efforts to challenge them. We must also hold ourselves as well as each other accountable for creating a culture of inclusivity and respect, where diversity is not just tolerated but is embraced and celebrated. Only then can we truly achieve our goal of building a society that is truly united in our diversity. As we move forward, let us continue to uphold the values of inclusivity and cultural diversity, and work together to build a brighter and more equitable future for all Fijians.

At this juncture, it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the significant role of Academics. Academics play a vital role in creating and generating new knowledge from their research. We must encourage and actively support the endeavours of academics in conducting their research, in digging into the past and the present, in delving into projections and the future, all in order to make a better society for every one on this earth.

I note from your programme that the good professor, the Vice Chancellor of USP, Professor Pal will speak on the role of universities. I believe, that it is now the right time for academics to come out clearly on their role in creating a multiracial and inclusive society here and abroad.I understand that conferences are a means through which results of years of hard research by academics are presented to their peers for critical comments and analysis.

So, I, welcome all researchers gathered here to present their findings, leave no stone unturned in your deliberations. I have been reliably informed that for Fiji, this is the 4th such conference, which is organised once every 2 years. This year's event is by far the largest of its kind, and I believe that this is a testament of the enormity of this occasion and the significance of the Indian indentured labourers' in Fiji’s history as well as its future. I am advised that this conference has attracted the world’s ‘who-is-who’ in Girmit Research. This is indeed a remarkable achievement. I welcome all the top scholars, and while I understand that you would be busy during the two day conference, I do hope you will find some time to enjoy Fiji - the environment, the culture, the food and the people, while you are here. I am sure that many of you would continue to mentor new students and researchers, and leave lasting legacies in Girmit research, much like Fiji’s very own the late Professor Brij Lal.

In closing, I would like to thank in particular the Government for taking the lead in making possible this major event for Fiji. I also wish to thank all other sponsors who have made this event possible. I thank the organisers of this event for bringing together such a diverse and talented gathering of academics and experts on Girmit history and heritage. Let us continue to celebrate our diversity and work towards a more empathetic, inclusive and prosperous future for all Fijians.

I have much pleasure now in declaring the International Conference on Girmit open. I wish you all well in your deliberations. Vinaka vakalevu, Dhanyabad and Thank you!