Assistant Minister for Women, Children and Social Protection,
Hon. Sashi Kiran,
Members of the Diplomatic Corp,
Distinguished Delegates,
School Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
And those watching the program through the digital platform in Fiji and abroad,
Bula Vinaka and Namaste!

Welcome to the second day of festivities for the 2024 Girmit commemoration. I am sure you all are enjoying the lovely atmosphere of the Girmit Mela with food, music, entertainment and exhibitions. I would also like to wish a very happy Mothers’ Day to all the Mothers.

Before I begin, let me first acknowledge the dedication and commitment given by the 2024 Girmit Organising Committee in planning and executing this years’ National celebration in Lautoka. In saying this, the Ministry is also appreciative of the Chairperson of the 2024 Girmit Sub-Committee, Hon. Sashi Kiran - Assistant Minister for Women, Children and Social Protection - for her leadership in preparations towards leading up to this event. I would also wish to pay tribute to the Lautoka Girmit Working Committee led by Mr. Selwa Nadan for their contribution towards this event. The Committee has met multiple times to ensure all the things were in order for the event to commence. I also wish to pay tribute to Mr. Yogesh Karan, the Permanent Secretary for Multi-Ethnic Affairs and Sugar Industry and the hardworking staff and officials of Ministry of Multi–Ethnic Affairs. Their efforts and dedication is noteworthy. I am really proud of all your efforts.
Tonight, it will be appropriate that I will speak both as a descendent of the Girmitya, and as the Minister responsible for Multi-Ethnic Affairs, and Sugar Industry.

Girmit Commemoration has a lot of significance. It is the time to remember and commemorate the sufferings that our forefathers went through, a time to reflect on the past, and ensuring that their struggles and sacrifices are not forgotten. It is more a collection of memories for some and for others on the other hand, Girmit commemoration is a time to move on from the past and think of the future. For them, Girmit is part of their lives and they will keep it a moment in history, and march on to achieve greater heights and make a name for them, their family members and the beloved nation, Fiji.

I believe that the best way to commemorate Girmit is to reminisce its significance, and how it has allowed us to contribute to our personal growth and to the development of our beloved nation.

One of the most significant contributions of the Girmityas and their descendants is in the Agriculture Sector, in particular the Sugar Industry. They played a central role in establishing and expanding sugarcane plantations in Fiji, which became a major economic activity for the country since their arrival in 1879. The labor-intensive cultivation and processing of sugarcane provided employment opportunities and contributed significantly to Fiji's economy in terms of our foreign revenue.

Despite its many challenges in recent years, the sugar industry still remains a major contributor to the Fiji’s economy. The Coalition Government under the leadership of our Prime Minister has given me the responsibility to take the sugar industry to new heights. My Ministry is taking many new initiatives to ensure that the sugar industry is modernized to meet and match the demands of this era. To revitalise the sugar industry, a number of initiatives have been developed to increase the cane production to 1.8 million tonnes in the 2024 season compared to the 1.6 million tonnes in 2022. To support this, the diversification within the industry and alternative livelihood programmes will be developed to augment farmers’ incomes against world market price fluctuations.
Apart from sugar industry, the Girmit descendants also diversified the agricultural sector. They introduced and cultivated various crops such as rice, vegetables, fruits, and spices, contributing to the country's food security and agricultural diversity. The Fijians of Indian Descendants communities have practiced communal farming, where individuals pooled resources and labour to cultivate crops collectively. This communal approach to agriculture fostered cooperation and solidarity within the community and contributed to the sustainability of agricultural practices in rural areas. The descendants of Girmityas have continued to be an integral part of Fiji's agricultural labor force. Their hard work and dedication on sustaining the agricultural production in various regions of Fiji, has contributed to the overall development of the sector.
While the Indians were brought largely to cultivate sugarcane plantations, their zest for education never faded away. When they arrived in Fiji, many of them brought with them a strong emphasis on education and a desire for their children to receive schooling. This was a realization after the hardship of Girmit. As it is well known, what land was to the Fijian, education was to the Indian.

The Indians saw education as a means of liberating their posterity from the legacies of Girmit. Despite facing numerous challenges, including language barriers and socio-economic hardships, the Girmityas prioritized education for their children. They established informal schools within their communities, often under trees or in makeshift structures, where basic literacy and numeracy skills were taught. Over time, as the Indian community in Fiji grew and established itself more firmly, they began to advocate for formal education opportunities. This led to the establishment of primary schools and secondary schools. Today there are many prominent schools run by the Girmitya descendants that were created during that time, including those which are led by Sanatan Dharam, TISI Sangam, Arya Samaj, Fiji Muslim League, Sikh Association of Fiji, to name a few.

Furthermore, many descendants of the Girmityas have excelled in education, becoming teachers, academics, and professionals in various fields. For instance, our own late Professor Brij Lal, is a well renowned historian, whose family was allowed by the Coalition Government to bring his ashes after his demise in December 2021. Professor Lal became the finest historian Fiji has ever produced, a world leader in Pacific history, and also in studies of the Fijians of Indian Descendant diaspora. He published 58 books in his career as a sole author and edited. This is a remarkable achievement indeed, which we all are very proud of.

It is imperative to say that Girmit descendant’s commitment to education has had a lasting impact on Fiji, contributing to the intellectual and socio-economic development of the nation.

Fiji in comparison to other Pacific Island Countries, has a very robust political party system that are well organized, and the appreciation goes largely to the Fijians of Indian Descendants who have had a very strong sense of organization in search for parity with other races. The descendants of Girmityas have been represented in Fiji's parliament since the country gained independence in 1970. They have held important positions in government, including Prime Ministerial and Ministerial roles. Leaders such as late A. D. Patel, Jai Ram Reddy,
Saddiq Koya have played a significant role in Fiji’s politics. Fiji’s first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister Mr. Mahendra Chaudhry, and Professor Biman Prasad, our current Deputy PM, are also prominent figures in Fiji's political landscape.

The Contribution of Girmit Descendants in the commerce sector is also admirable. It is a fact that majority in the business sector in Fiji, from small to medium or even the big businesses are owned by the descendants of the Girmityas.

Today Fiji is proud to have some prominent businesses, not only in Fiji but spread across the Pacific. Some notable names which we all know include Punjas Group, Tapoos Group, Mothihai Group, CJ Patel, RB
Patel, RC Manubhai’s, Tanoa Group, Gurbachan Singh, to name a few.
The Girmit Descendants have contributed in many ways in the development of Fiji and will continue to contribute to this country’s development.

Given the fact that the Girmit Descendants have contributed tremendously to prosperity of Fiji, their unwavering commitment to inclusiveness and adoptability to multiracialism and multiculturalism should also be acknowledged. They symbolize people who are more than willing to unite and take Fiji to greater heights. They are a force to reckon with!

This is where my Ministry, Ministry of Multi-Ethnic Affairs will assist the descendants of the Girmitiyas and those that belong to other cultural groups, to build social cohesion almost themselves and with the i-taukei community.
I wish to state the Presidents message on 4th March 2024 while opening the Parliament:
The Coalition Government is committed to protect and preserve our traditions, cultures and languages to promote social cohesion among our people. To accomplish this, the Ministry of MultiEthnic Affairs will launch a new policy framework that will enhance social cohesion among all ethnic communities through sound policies, consultations and inclusiveness.

As the Minister responsible for Multi-Ethnic Affairs, I applaud His Excellency for emphasizing on the importance of promoting social cohesion. I also thank the Coalition Government for re-establishing the Ministry of Multi-Ethnic Affairs which was disbanded more than a decade ago. I agree with His Excellency and I also believe in promoting Fiji where culturally diverse societies are socially- cohesive and all citizens share and agree on a common direction of a nation. We all will do better economically and socially and will be more successful at attending to the challenges as it arises.

In saying this, I happy to say that the Ministry of Multi-Ethnic Affairs now has a Strategic Plan based on the Multi Ethnic Policy Framework. The new Strategic Plan outlines our commitment to creating a Fiji where every citizen feels a sense of belonging, where trust and respect permeate through our communities, and where the richness of our cultures are celebrated and embraced. With a renewed focus on bridging the gap between different ethnic groups and promoting understanding and acceptance, we aim to pave the way for a more harmonious and prosperous society.

Through targeted initiatives and collaborative efforts with government agencies, community organizations, and ethnic groups, we will strive to ensure equitable access to government services, empower ethnic organizations, raise awareness about the role of the new Ministry, and promote cultural celebrations that enhance social cohesion.

In conclusion, I wish to state that as descendants of the Gitmityas we have contributed a lot to this beloved nation. And in return, the Fiji has also given us many opportunities to prove ourselves to succeed in so many fields.

On the occasion of Girmit commemoration tonight, keeping line with the theme - Journey of Girmit Descendants in Building a New Fiji - as a descendent on a Girmitya, I offer my commitment to this nation with open arms. I am sure all of the descendants of the Girmitya have the same commitment and vision. I wish you all the best for the rest of the program tonight.

Dhanyavaad, Vinaka Vakalevu.

Thank you very much.