OUR NAKAULEVU EXPERIENCE
OUR NAKAULEVU EXPERIENCE
1965 TO 1972
By Dr Ram Lakhan Prasad
“If you cannot do great things then do little things with greater interest.”
My wife, Mrs Saroj Prasad, and I arrived on transfer as teachers from Nadi to Nakaulevu on 10th January 1965 and were met at the school by the school manager Mr Shankar Nar Singh MBE, who showed us the house that we were to live in while teaching there. Then with his team of villagers, he organised help for us to unload our personal effects from the truck and our Bluebird Datsun car K609.
That evening we had our dinner with the Singh family and met their children. It was a very kind and warm welcome to a new environment. The reception at the Singh Family was so warm that I had to establish a specific relationship with them and started calling Mr Shankar Nar Singh my uncle, my Kaka.
His children and the children of his three other brothers Sundar Singh, Ram Singh and Ram Narayan Singh developed a brotherly relationship with me. This mutual feeling of humanity stored a lot of deep emotional sentiments among the respective families and for the next two years my wife and my children felt at home away from home.
It took us a week to organize things in the house to make it our new home. Of course, we were introduced gradually to other members of the community. By the time the school reopened for the New Year in late January, we were all ready to start our new teaching assignment with other members of the staff.
There was no connection to the urban piped water supply and there was no provision for any electricity supply as well. Our water supply either came from the rain water collected into large concrete tanks or delivered by the Public Works Department during draught into out own tanks connected to the downpipes of the roof of our house. At night we had to use our lanterns or kerosene or benzine lamps. Our cooking was either done on primus or kerosene stove or outside on makeshift stone stoves.
Despite all these short-comings, life at Nakaulevu was reasonably comfortable because of the generosity and kindness of the community. Soon we found a lot of friends who became our part of our relatives and extended family members. A few of my good friends helped and guided me well. They were Narayan Nair, Baal Kisun, Ram Narayan Jokhan, Moti Lal, Chandar Dip, Tilak Ram, Rajendra Prasad and Isri Prasad to name just a few of the many kind and considerate people. Of course, the whole Nakaulevu community was behind us to bring the right kind of progress and prosperity for them and we did just what was their wish and eagerness. It all looked as if we had some sort of hunger for victory, success and service.
We put in our heart and soul into the welfare of the students and the community and began taking extra classes for senior students to make them better in their usage of the three Rs of Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Of course, on Sundays we asked the interested students to attend religious classes which culminated in testing their spiritual knowledge and personal discipline when we awarded them with Certificates. One person that was my greatest support in this religious venture was Sri Ram Bharos, who I called Lurkiwala.
Some of the teachers who helped us make all the difference to the people and the children of Nakaulevu were S N Hari Prasad, Shiu Prasad, Ram Krishna, Lakshmi Singh, Kamla Singh and Sonmati. Of course, there were many others but my memory is slowly failing me at age 76 however, the school log book and other records would reveal their dedicated service to the community.
One of the other dedicated families that was our inspiration was that of Mr S N Hari Prasad. The whole family rallied behind the school community to serve them with extreme care and dedication. Mrs Lila Prasad was the best grand-mother that my children could adopt and her own children Rakesh, Sushma, Awindra became the most loving aunts and uncles of our four children while we were there. This was one of the reasons we did not have to worry about the health, welfare and care of our own children and were free to serve the community and the students.
Within a few weeks we clicked with the youth and the elders of the village and began holding regular soccer games for a few teams. Thus we began to organize some fund raising events to help build better facilities at school. We organized regular soccer games among the six local teams under the banner of Nakaulevu Soccer Association.
Time began to move fast and the year came to an end but by this time we had established a lot of social and community events in the area. These became our yardstick for the coming year because the people had come to understand the reason and rationale for our active participation. We began to trust our hopes and left our fears, short comings and hesitations far behind.
After similar endeavours to assist the community and the school for 1966 and having enjoyed our participation in the education and development of the children with our team, I was awarded an in-service training programme at the newly opened University of the South Pacific to be trained as an English Teaching Specialist.
While my wife remained as a teacher at Nakaulevu I began travelling daily to USP to complete my four months’ stint. However, the evenings and the weekends still enabled us to continue with our pending projects and we were indeed blessed with other colleagues who managed the events in my short absence.
Mr S N Hari Prasad was the Head Teacher then who served the school community with special attention. Mr Prasad passed away a few years ago while serving the NSW community as an Arya Samaj Pundit.
I am sure many of the students in this photo would now be adults with their respective families ready to send their own children to the kindergarten, the primary or the secondary schools and thank their teacher Mrs Saroj Prasad for enlightening their lives somewhat during those early days. Just as information to her students let me tell them that she is Resting in Peace in Heaven. She passed away on 14th March, 2013 at the age of 73.
It was during these early morning trips of the weekdays, Mr Shankar Nar Singh, the school manager and Mr Mahesh Prasad, a shop-keeper would accompany me to travel to Suva for their own respective businesses. Our understanding of each other became more intense and our relationships grew congenial. As a result of these positive interactions we began to work even better to serve the community.
Mr Mahesh Prasad either through our good relationship or his kindness sold me his freehold land in Delainavesi in Lami without any initial deposit. We managed to build our first home there with a loan from Home Finance Company but I paid him in instalments over the next two and half years after the home was completed. Such were the overwhelming generosities of the people we were destined to serve.
After my re-training I was transferred to Suva to teach at another school but kept my contacts with the people of Nakaulevu visiting them regularly during week-ends. Thus we kept generating a special place in the hearts and minds of the school management and the community. The people and the students had unequivocal respect for hard work and that was the reason for their continued success and progress.
When I was appointed the Head Teacher of Rishikul, the Nakaulevu Management requested my transfer to their school in 1970. Then began our real and renewed effort to serve the community even with greater better determination because a firm foundation to go forth and serve them well was already carefully established. We knew that the school needed an electrical generator; some needed library books and the provision of water supply as well as a few more buildings for the accommodation of teachers and for more classrooms. Hence, our next project to raise money for these essential facilities began with determination.
In collaboration with the school management I organized annual Rice Festival and the Nakaulevu Soccer Association continued to organize weekly bazaars with the help of the newly established Women’s Club. Then a grand lottery ticket selling campaign was undertaken and Mr Shankar Nar Singh and I visited our friends, colleagues and family members round Vitilevu to sell the lottery tickets using our personal funds and transport.
All these fund-raising events collected enough funds to buy a diesel power generator and build a staff quarters. Even some funds were left to be used in the construction of a new classroom with more government grants.
I vividly remember the first day we turned on the diesel power generator and it illuminated the whole school compound like a satellite city. This innovation encouraged us to conduct night classes for the senior students.
One specific natural event that has left an indelible mark on our minds was the 1972 hurricane Bebe and the subsequent disastrous flooding of the entire Navua area.
By this time our new house was complete and we had just shifted into it with four of our children but when the flood water began touching our window seals we had to take our children to the highest point in the school compound that was one of the larger classrooms.
We took out the partition and spread these planks on the desks to make a platform for the people to spend their time somewhat safer than their respective homes. After putting my family there I together with a few courageous youth of the village went out in small dingy or a dugout canoe to rescue people who were stuck in their homes. Had the hurricane lasted another hour it would have caused a lot more damages to the lives of people and their properties.
The hurricane lasted a few days and the flood kept us in the classroom for four days before it receded but the real hard work of cleaning up had to begin after the flood went down. The unsurmountable debris and dirt had to be cleaned without any water around but we managed somehow.
Walking with our bare feet was just so painful and difficult that we sometimes felt unbearable but courage and determination kept us going to clean the yard, home and school. The whole community gathered to do the needful. The Navua Bridge and the one before it were swept away so no assistance could come to us from our friends and relatives in Suva. All telephone connections were damaged. We were left on our own to endure and do the best in the circumstances.
My wife’s parents managed to come to our assistance from Suva to take our children away to the safety of their home while we were busy recovering from the disaster left behind by the furious flood and horrible hurricane. We suffered heavily but did not give hope because the people of Nakaulevu were our great inspiration and support.
Our car was swept away and was stuck in the nearby bushes. The mechanics from PDC were kind enough to come and pull the car to safety and repair it to work well again. They also repaired and serviced our electric power generator.
After this natural disaster was over we conducted our prayers and thanked the Almighty God who saved us from any greater losses. Life soon became normal all because of the courage, co-operation and stamina of the community. We survived one of the worst natural disasters and were fortunate that no life was lost despite the gravity of the flood and hurricane.
For the rest of the year the teachers, the management, the community and the students worked diligently and produced one of the best social, cultural and academic results for the village and everyone seemed very proud of the achievements. We soon learnt the sweet and sour, the hot and cold and the merry and monstrous dichotomy that we kept finding so conspicuously around us. In fact discretion quickly became the better part of our valour.
By December of 1972 the government of Fiji recognized the hard work and good effort that my team had generated in the area and I was rewarded with an in-service award to complete my studies at the University of the South Pacific from 1973 and my wife was transferred to teach at Suva Grammar School.
Thus ended our many fruitful years of service, contribution, participation and endeavour at Nakaulevu and we were proud of the various achievements that the people had helped us make. The people gave a very fitting farewell to us and we went to settle in our home in Delainavesi on the land that Mr Mahesh Prasad had so kindly given us at the cost that we could afford at that time.
We thank the people of Nakaulevu for all their generosity and co-operation for without their willing assistance we would not have achieved what little we were able to do. A small regret that I personally have is that I was a disciplinarian of a special order and demanded a lot more from my students by motivating them thoroughly with positive thinking to bring out the best in them.
Our special appreciation must go to our four children’s dedicated maid Daya Wati who nursed our children with special love and affection for over a decade. Daya never gave us any cause for complains and performed her motherly duties with utmost skill and tender loving care. We do not know what we would have done with her selfless services.
Sometimes my motivation was through fear, sometimes by rewards but many times it was based on self- motivation and determination of the individuals. All this ingrained in me and emerged in time of need because I was trained as a cadet and an NCO at Natabua High School where our maxims were based on ‘I CAN’ which translated into my Imagination, my Confirmation, my Affirmation and my belief in Never Giving Up. I always told my followers to drop the T from the word CAN’T to meet success in life. I am glad that many found merit in my way and found the highway when I transplanted my beliefs into them.
Today we are extremely proud to see the community taking a giant leap into the educational field and establish such memorable institutions as Rampur Primary, Rampur High School and Rampur College under the banner of Rampur Education Society.
Let me strengthen this presentation with the words that Mr Shankar Nar Singh MBE, the school manager used to farewell us from Nakaulevu in December 1972. What he said in Hindi could be translated thus: “that we had such dedicated team of teachers that it was very difficult to clip their wings of sincere service and deep determination and keep them in a cage because they were always ready, eager, motivated and fully initiated to go forth and serve the community that needed their assistance.”
We were indeed moved with the kind conduct and warm wishes of the people and the students of Nakaulevu who had gathered at the annual prize giving ceremony of the school to part with us and farewell us. We had always carried their sincere and deep blessings all our life and have met many successes. We thank them sincerely from the bottom of our hearts.
May God Bless you all and we know that a lot more success, prosperity and opportunities would dwell and knock at the doors and windows of Rampur Education Society all because the people have the will to get up and go to do the right things. Once the community is adequately inspired and have a definite objectives there is nothing in their way as obstacle that can stop them.
Of course, I know that the management of the Rampur Education Society is in very capable and efficient hands of many young enthusiasts who had been our dedicated students and one of my best students Kamal Narayan is leading them. Our best wishes and blessings are with Kamal Narayan and the diligent team of motivated enthusiasts. May they prosper and bring a lot more progress for this wonderful community because they all deserve the best.
OUR CONCLUDING REMARKS
We used to promote these ideas among our students during the religious classes on Sundays and our students began to accept the fruits of our teachings in their normal academic results. We were proud that we were promoting ‘total education’ amongst our students emphasising academic, social, cultural, ethical and physical skills.
We all are ignorant and perhaps illiterate in some fields and the sooner we fix this personal deficiency the better our chances of success become in all aspects of our life and that is one of the reasons we have institutions like a healthy home, well versed parents, and good schools, colleges and universities. The more we respect and promote these institutions the greater will be our chances of maintaining our personal welfare, world peace, internal prosperity, our prestige and our way of life.
On a personal note let me state that of all the men I have met in my life my father was the one for whom I had the greatest admiration because he has shown me that “To be fair, and just and honest is the way of a true being”. So I ask every individual to honour and respect their parents in most godly and sacred way.
On many occasions our imagination may look to be more powerful than the actual truth but what prevails in reality is nothing but the truth. This was why we preached the essence of truth, beauty and goodness for the children we taught. We told them that we should WATCH our words, actions, thoughts, character and heart to maintain order, control and glory in our life.
Greed, I used to say, was the most important pseudo motivation for all sentient human beings but it remains the greatest obstacle for the progress of the human race. To get rid of our greed we had to look for ways and means to adequately discipline ourselves. One way to do this well was through our prayers. We had the best time while teaching at Nakaulevu and we know for sure that our students loved our ways and our presentations.
If anyone from Rampur Education Society wishes to communicate with us we would feel very honoured and privileged indeed. This will give us pleasure to continue with our relationship with the so many good people and their wonderful families.
We salute you all for your efforts to keep progressing in life. The sky should be the limit for your successes if you can learn from your mistakes and try again. I know of an imminent Indian leader who once gave us the best prescription for advancement. It was and still is the best formula for all of us wanting to move ahead with vigour and right feelings. His golden teaching can be summarized thus:
‘If you fail, always remember never to give up because F A I L just means, “First Attempt In Learning”.
End of anything is never the END. In fact E N D means that, “Effort Never Dies”.
If you have faced NO as an answer in life then always remember that N O means, “Next Opportunity”. ‘
Seek and Ye Shall Find…
My Roots - From Basti to Brisbane
My Roots-From Basti to Brisbane
Progress of An Indentured Family
By Dr Ram Lakhan Prasad
The Fijian Chiefs ceded Fiji to the British Government in 1874 because of various difficulties but the natives were not socially, economically and culturally ready to participate in the total economic development of the country. So the British Government in conjunction with some multinational enterprises went to other British Colonies to bring people who could be manipulated and harnessed to help them achieve their economic goals.
The Colonial Sugar Refining Company with the help and support of the British Government was willing to exploit the situation and enter the scene of the so-called economic development of the country. The Company hired cunning recruiters (Arkathis) to visit various villages and cities of India to recruit young and healthy Indians who could work on the sugarcane plantations and orchards belonging to them. They in turn recruited Indian Priests and Village Heads to do the initial ground work for them because the people there could trust these men. Thus began the Indenture System for the Colony of Fiji in 1879. It is known as Girmit.
Our grandparents and great grandparents were brought to Fiji with many false promises and were made to work on the plantations belonging to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company of Fiji. The recruitment process of these Indians had a lot of shortfalls and was done very dubiously by the various scrupulous agents.
Gangadei was my grandmother. She was a pretty girl and was as calm as her name sounds. She was born in Sitapur in the district of Basti in Uttar Pradesh (North India). She was the last of the four children of the farming family. Very little else is known about her childhood but she was an intelligent and a strong woman. She did not like talking about the hardship and stress she suffered during the days of indenture because a lot of bad and sad memories began to haunt her and she would cry more than talk about the difficult days.
She was a twelve-year-old girl when she accompanied a group from her village to go to the annual Ayodhya Festival, a religious gathering of villagers. This festival used to be so crowded with people that once one is lost it would be impossible to locate them easily. It was in that massive crowd of people that my grandmother got separated from the village group. She felt alone and frantically began searching her group but alas there was no hope. Tired and hungry she decided to sit down in a corner completely disappointed. At that time her condition was like a fish detached from water.
Where could she go? Who would help her? What should she do? She was confused and did not know what to do. She had lost her thinking power altogether in this confusion. Since she was from a religious family she prayed, ‘Into thy hands Lord, I commend my Spirit.’ Nothing remained in her own hands, everything was in His. What else can a twelve year old do when she is lost and frightened?
A yellow robed dubious pundit of middle age saw my grandmother’s condition and expressed his wish to assist her. Such people were respected in the village and she felt at ease to talk to him. He spoke kindly, “Beti, why are you crying? Have you lost your way? Have you lost your family members? You don’t worry because as a holy man I am here to help you.”
My grandmother felt that this help was god sent and she greeted the cheat in the robe of a pundit with respect and told him her sad story. Punditji realized that my grandmother was in real need for his assistance and this made him very happy. The dubious pundit however, hid his real eager feelings and expressed his concerns and pseudo sadness as if his own daughter or sister was in trouble needing his assistance. At this time the arkarthi only cared about his reward that he would get if he was successful in convincing my grandmother to accompany him to the depot to be finally enlisted as an indentured labourer.
He pacified my grandmother and expressed his sorrow. “Well, whatever were to happen have happened but now you do not have to worry any more. I am here for you. I am calling a rickshaw to take you home.”
Whatever my grandmother longed for, this middle-aged selfish Brahman was prepared to deliver so she fully trusted him and agreed to return home with him. The selfish pundit made a signal to a nearby rickshaw operator who was pre-arranged and so eagerly waiting for him. They sat in it and left the busy festival ground to a destination unknown.
My grandmother was eager to reach home but instead she arrived at a Coolie Depot and then she realised that this fake pundit was an agent (Arkathi) to recruit workers for the Indenture System. She cursed herself for trusting him but it was too late now. She was a prisoner in this Coolie Depot from where it was impossible to escape. There were various other unfortunate souls sitting and cursing their fates there and were unsure of their future. She too began to cry but no amount of tears was to give her freedom from this bondage.
The next day all the recruits appeared before the resident magistrate to register themselves as slaves to work in a foreign land. After the registration for the indenture system or girmit they were put on a cargo train bound for the port of Calcutta. When my grandmother reached the Depot in Calcutta she could not believe her eyes when she witnessed the dilapidated nature of the place. Her worry and sadness multiplied manifolds but she could not do anything else but cry even louder.
The late Sir Henry Cotton in his report to the British Parliament wrote this on Girmit Recruitment Procedure:
In too many instances the subordinate recruiting agents resort to criminal means inducing these victims by misrepresentation or by threats to accompany them to a contractor’s depot or railway station where they are spirited away before their absence has been noticed by their friends and relatives. The records of the criminal courts teem with instances of fraud, abduction of married women and young persons, wrongful confinement, intimidation and actual violence- in fact a tale of crime and outrage which would arouse a storm of public indignation in any civilized country. In India the facts are left to be recorded without notice by a few officials and missionaries.
The new recruits suffered great injustice at the hands of the clerks and agents at the depot. Men and women were forced into small rooms like animals. Men and women were compelled and forced to get into pairs and then they were declared wife and husband. Those that did not agree were locked together and the men were instructed to make the women agree. Those who failed to come out as pairs were punished severely. Later I am going to explain how my grandparents met and became wife and husband.
This pairing that turned into illegitimate marriage gave the agents publicity that the girmit was conducted with the consent and willingness of wife and husband. This was far from the truth. In most cases the forced pairing led to social disaster and in some, it turned out to be a blessing for the recruits because they could share their sorrows and grief.
It was in this Calcutta Coolie Depot that my grandmother met my grandfather. My grandma’s case was a sad one. She worried a lot about her future and the forced pairing so she decided to choose my grandfather as her husband because he was from the same district (Basti) and he was strong and handsome. That was the beginning of their family life and the authorities registered their marriage.
Whether it was love at first sight or a matter of convenience the fact remained that my grandmother developed an intense liking for my grandfather. They began talking about their family and the relatives and friends that were left behind. Consequently a lot of good feelings developed when the sadness, grief and sorrows were overcome. Sarju and Gangadei agreed to stick together for life and had no second thoughts about their future relationship. They conducted a silent ceremony to unite their souls to become wife and husband and thus their marriage was registered by the authorities.
My grandfather was Sarju Murau who was born in Dumariaganj in Basti District of Uttar Pradesh of India. His father Shankar had a farm where he grew mangoes and other fruits but since there were four other brothers in the family my grandfather at the age of fourteen was asked to work for a landlord in the next village of Senduri at almost no pay but only keeps.
One day my grandfather was caught putting a few ripe mangoes that were fallen from the trees and lying on the ground in his bag to take home so he was branded a thief. This stigma became unbearable for a growing and honest young man of fourteen. He knew he would be ridiculed if he went home so he left this landlord in search of other jobs elsewhere. He walked a long distance in search of work, which was not that easy to find. He reached Kashipur but he had not even reached the town when he was spotted by a cunning recruiting agent (arkathi).
After noticing the predicament my grandfather was in, the recruiting agent took advantage of the situation. He started a friendly conversation with my grandfather, which went somewhat like this:
“How are you my friend? Are you looking for work?” asked the agent.
“What kind of work sir, and what would I get as wages?” my grandfather wanted to know.
“Well, my friend, this is not work at all,” the cunning agent said in order to trap my grandfather.
“In fact, you are indeed lucky and certainly you are destined to becoming very rich and famous soon. There is a beautiful island off the coast of Calcutta known as the Ramneek Dweep (Paradise). A very rich landlord resides there and he needs the services of a security guard to look after his home and the farm. You will get full uniform, food ration and a farmhouse to live in. You will only work for twelve hours a day with a gun hanging across your shoulder marching up and down the entire property. You cannot find such a lucrative job anywhere here because you will just enjoy your daily tasks and even earn money. What else do you want?”
My grandfather felt very good and began imagining himself as a security guard with a gun hanging across his shoulder marching up and down the property in the day and enjoying life in his farmhouse at night. This sounded like heaven to him. He began to dream about his future life full of fun. He was not prepared to hear any more but to sincerely thank the agent and agreed to travel immediately. The agent felt good to trap another recruit.
Seeing that my grandfather was tired and hungry the agent took him to a nearby eating-house and fed to his hearts content. Then they got into a rickshaw to start their journey to the dreamland. But when they reached the coolie depot my grandfather’s hopes were shattered and he felt disappointed with himself for believing such stories of the agent and falling into his trap.
When my grandfather saw the crowd of people he regretted his every move. He too joined the other unfortunate victims in the depot to hang his head down and cry. He too felt like an animal in a strong cage unable to find its way out. He began thinking that his village was much better place to live a free life than this dungeon. He was told by some recruits that he will be in Fiji where he would work long hours on sugarcane farms owned by white men. He will have to sweat from head to tail twenty-four hours a day and tolerate the harsh treatments of the field officers. He was not able to imagine the reality of the situation then but when in Fiji he told me all.
There was nothing he could do to get out of this depot because of very tight security there. At last one day he too was presented to the office of the magistrate who asked him only one question, “Do you agree to go to this island to work as a labourer?”
“Yes sir!” answered my grandfather as the recruiting agent instructed him.
Thus his five-year contract (girmit) was signed and sealed. He became a slave even though slavery was abolish long before in the British Empire in 1833 by William Wilberforce. .Similar fate awaited thousands of others who were waiting to get on board a cargo ship Sangola Number 1 in 1907. There were women, children and men. Everyone’s heart was filled with pain and sorrow and the eyes were wet with tears. Some were sobbing for their relatives and family members, others missed their parents, and yet there were others who lamented the loss of their motherland. My grandfather described that inhumane coolie depot as the hell on this earth.
The Clerk of the Court in a communication admitted that it was perfectly true that terms of the contract did not explain to the coolie the fact that if he or she did not carry out his or her contract or for other offences, like refusing to go to hospital when ill or breach of discipline, he or she was to incur imprisonment or fine.
According to Richard Piper, Indians in India believed in very strict caste system but all caste restrictions were ignored as soon as an immigrant entered the depot. For the poor unfortunate who happened to have some pride of birth, there was a bitter but unavailing struggle to retain their self-respect, which generally ended in a fatalistic acquiescence to all the immorality and obscenity of the coolie lines. The immigrants were allowed to herd together with no privacy or isolation for married people.
My grandfather and grandmother both admitted that no one who survived at the end of the journey could distantly have faith in the caste system. They were all simple human beings and to call himself or herself Brahmans, Chatriyas, Vaishyas or Sudras or even Hindu or Musalman was foolish to say the least. My grandparents abandoned all religious obligations and ceremonies and became just simple human beings.
Sarju and Gangadei were two of those unfortunate souls who fell victim to the Indenture System of 1879 onwards. Indians lived in poverty but they were subsistence farmers enjoying their lives with their respective families and so were Sarju and Gangadei who were just healthy adolescents. They would have been fortunate in many ways to remain back in their respective villages and continue their lives but the uprooting had to happen either for better or worse.
The late Sir Henry Cotton explains that the recruiter or arkathi lay in wait for wives who had quarrelled with their husbands, young people who had left their homes in search of adventure and insolvent peasants escaping from their creditors.
So when one form of slavery was abolished in the western world then another kind of deeper and cruel slavery began from the Indian Continent. This was called Girmit or the Indenture System.
Rev Andrews mentioned in his book that before they had been out at sea for two days in the stormy weather a few of the poor coolies were missing. They either committed suicide or hid themselves in the hold. They were dragged by the officers and kept alive but they too lost their battle with life.
Upon entering the depot my grandfather was issued with two thin blankets and a few tin eating utensils. At dinnertime all the recruits were made to sit on the ground in a line and served dhal and rice. Some hungry recruits were frantically eating but there were others who were submerged in deep thoughts about their losses of religion, family members and national and cultural pride.
My grandfather sat there quietly for a while because he could not collect enough courage to eat such food in such a situation. The clerks advised him that it was no use worrying about petty religious, social and family matters any more. Life for him had changed and he had to accept it.
He prayed hard. ‘O Lord I give you my heart and soul; assist me in my agony; may I handover all my future into your safe and powerful hands.’
Well, time and days keep moving. They do not stop for anyone or any event. The recruits were loaded on the cargo ships and were allocated a small place on the deck that was dirty and wet. The mood, condition and situation on the ship were so drastic that the recruits began to feel ill. Some kept vomiting for a long time and those that could not tolerate the unhealthy and un socialised circumstances jumped into the sea to end their ordeal.
The recruits suffered for days and could not eat the poorly cooked khichdhi that was dished to them daily. If the weather became bad and the food could not be cooked they were given dog biscuits. The recruits had to suffer the heat, rain and cold on the deck. The journey was long and dangerous. Many of the human cargo lost their lives through hunger, torture and suicide because they could not bear the cruelty and suffering onboard the ships. However, both Sarju and Gangadei survived the atrocities and were united as a family unit to work on the sugarcane farms in Matutu in Sigatoka.
Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya said that the condition under which the labourers lived on board the cargo ships were not good at all. There was not enough care for the modesty of the women, and all castes and religious rules were being broken and it was no wonder that many committed suicide or else threw them into the sea.
The sea journey of the coolies lasted a few months and at last the boat anchored near a small island in the Fiji Group in November 1907. This was Nukulau, a quarantine station.
It was here that the recruits were washed with phenyl and examined to give them certificate of fitness so that they could be auctioned. My grandpa and grandma were bought by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company based in Sigatoka and were transported to Matutu where they were given eight feet by eight feet grass huts that were not fit for human inhabitation. Wet and hard floor and a few blankets were allocated to them. Their first ration of rice, dhal, sharps, salt and oil was also handed to them. If they completed their daily tasks well for a month then they were paid ten shillings for that month.
My grandpa recalled that the white men Kulumber or Sirdar allocated daily tasks to the girmitiyas and if any weaker person was not able to complete the tasks satisfactorily they were beaten with whips, fists, kicks and sticks. They had to tolerate all the injustice because there was no place or institution to register their complaints.
Despite the fact that my grandparents were both strong and good farmers and managed to complete their daily tasks well, they too suffered a lot of beating and injustice at the hands of the white men. However, one day towards the second month when the Sirdar was abusing my grandma, my grandpa could not tolerate it any more. He was using a long handled hoe to complete his task and used this to beat the white man.
This kind of self-defence happened a few times and then both my grandparents were free from any violent attacks. But verbal abuse never ended.
My grandfather encouraged other girmitiyas to stand up for their self-defence but only a few could do this to protect their self-respect. One of them was Tularam who converted to Islam and became Rahamtulla. He was my grandfather’s jahaji bhai (ship brother) and established himself as a farmer in Botini later.
There they were made to work hard, for long hours and suffered cruelty and abuses of the sector officials if they made the slightest of mistakes. Like many other Girmitiyas they too were whipped, kicked and beaten by the Sector Officers. There was no one to hear their complaints and thus they could only blame and curse their ill fate and they could do nothing to escape these hardships.
Whilst in Matutu my grandparents had many good friends and one of them was Rambadan Maharaj who after his girmit became a shopkeeper. The two families interacted with each other long after my grandparents moved from Matutu to Botini. The families despite their difficulties met regularly to continue with their cultural activities. My grandfather with the assistance of Rambadan Maharaj had developed a great love for the Hindu Epic Ramayana.
My grandparents completed two difficult and deceitful contracts of five years each and gained their freedom from bondage in 1916. This freedom from slavery was a lot sweeter than the sugarcane. Their happiness was so great that it outweighed the sorrows and sufferings of their indenture.
By 1916 the Indenture System had stopped but my grandparents continued to grow sugarcane and other crops in Matutu until 1928 and then moved to Botini in 1929.
As a result of their loyalty and hard work they were rewarded by the CSR Company with a lease for a large piece of land in Matutu and in Botini in Sabeto to continue sugarcane farming. They had to cater for their family of three sons and five daughters by then and despite the option to return to India they chose to sign further contracts to supply their own sugarcane from their farms to the company.
However, my grandfather went back to India to pay respect to his birth place in 1952 but had to return to Fiji to continue his family life because very few of his family members could be located in Basti by then. Frequent hurricanes, floods and internal infrastructure developments in India had dismantled and disintegrated the family. This was another price that the girmitiyas had to pay and the loss of their root was unbearable.
My grandfather then put his eldest son Hiralal on one of the three farms in Botini and managed the other two farms himself with his other children. His second son Bhagauti Prasad managed the farm in Matutu until the farm was sold to Rambadan Maharaj when the world war two started.
His son Bhagauti Prasad,my father, got married to Ram Kumari daughter of Bali Hari from a nearby village called Nabila. Bhagauti Prasad, my father, joined his father Sarju, who by now had worked hard and established himself as a big landlord acquiring a few more blocks of farming land. His hard work paid off and his affluence dictated the village people to call him Sarju Mahajan, or Sarju the rich man. He helped his village people with funds to buy their properties and conduct other businesses. When the borrowers returned the his money they willingly game him extra cash as interest.
World War two had just begun. Soldiers from various countries began to arrive in the country. Camps soon got established in strategic places in the main island and the army personnel began patrolling the areas on foot and on various types of vehicles. They were there to keep peace but they were definitely disturbing the peace of the village people.
Inhabitants of the small village were all cane farmers who were brought from India as indentured labourers by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. After completing their hard earned indentured contract of five or ten years they were free to settle as cane farmers or return to their motherland India. Many chose to settle in this village on land allocated by the CSR Company. They had to enter into another one-sided contract to supply sugarcane at stipulated price to the mills owned by the Company.
On many occasions upon supplying tons of sugarcane to the Mills the farmers were told that they cannot be paid because their product was dirty and it would cost the Company more to clean the mills than to pay the farmers their share. The farmers had no alternative but to accept this sinful decision. There were no organizations of farmers to give them legal assistance until early 1950s. In order to subsist they had to do some mixed cropping.
CRS Company believed that they were doing the farmers a lot of favours because they had used recruiters to enrol them from various cities and villages of India, which in those days, like Fiji, was also a British Colony. They emancipated the labourers from stark poverty in India and resettled them in Fiji. This notion was a false belief because had the Indian remained in India they would have worked harder to overcome their difficulties and poverty as many have done so for years.
The village of Botini in Sabeto valley was the salad bowl of the country where farmers boasted growing best vegetables and other crops. Surrounded by the mountain range known as the Sleeping Giant or Mount Evans and the winding Sabeto river the villagers had great prosperity at their feet at all times. Naturally they lived in good homes and had all the conveniences. The farmers worked very hard and lived in a united community that soon had their own educational and religious institutions for the development of their children.
My father Bhagauti Prasad was born in Botini Sabeto Nadi in Fiji on 27th June 1918 and my mother Ram Kumari was born in Nabila in Sigatoka Fiji, on 24th July 1924. They got married in 1936 and lived happily in Matutu for a while and then shifted to Botini when the Second World War began.
It is in this background that my father Bhagauti Prasad, the second son of Sarju Mahajan, having worked on the joint farms for several years began to do farm work on his own piece of land that was allocated to him by his father. He too worked hard as his father to develop a good life and became a respected headman of the area.
This new venture began in 1949. He was married and the family lived at this new location with my mother, their two sons and two daughters at that time: Ramlakhan, Vidyawati, Vijendra and Shiumati. The other five daughters were born later.
I am the eldest son of Bhagauti Prasad and Ram Kumari and need to make some concluding remarks. I was educated in Fiji and overseas and worked for the Education Department as an educator from 1960 to 1987 before retiring and joining a business firm as their Director of Training and development.
Basti in UP India to Botini in Nadi of Fiji is a long way to move but my grandparents completed the difficult journey and settled in well. In over a century today we are proud of the definite progress that the family has made socially, culturally, financially, educationally and economically. We owned a few valuable properties in Fiji until 1995 and after selling them at a reasonable price we migrated to Australia where we taught at TAFE and other educational institutions for over a decade before completely retiring to live happily in Queensland in one of the best cities in the world called Brisbane.
Saroj, my wife and I had lived a very happy life in Fiji and in Australia since our marriage in 1964 . We both have taught and trained people for over 50 years in Fiji and Australia and are proud to raise four children of our own. I graduated as a teacher in 1960 and completed my Bachelor of Arts with Diploma in Education in Fiji and UK and then pursued my studies to complete my MBA and DBA in Human Resource Development field in California in USA.
My wife Saroj completed her Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Teaching from two different institutions. Our four children, Praanesh, Praneeta, Harshita and Rohitesh were educated in Fiji, Australia and New Zealand and are all graduates with degrees in Engineering, Psychology, Human Resources and Accounting and are now happily married with two children each. They are successfully employed and serving the community in Brisbane, Malaysia, Manila and Sydney.
Nothing would make us happier than experiencing the greater success and mightier progress of our eight grand children: Jaya, Hamish, Anjali, Meera, Jayden, Sonali, Elliott and Charlotte. They are all doing very well in their respective schools and one day would carry the proud flag of the Prasad Dynasty.
Here we were free from any financial debts and living a happy family life in our own sweet home in Brisbane. We kept thanking our ancestors for giving us the courage and determination to make all the progress that we were able to gather in our life.
We had a lot of faith in God and that had paid us well in our living. We have visited India a few times in search of our roots there but have not been very successful because in a century of living in Basti things have changed a lot due to floods, hurricanes and infrastructural development. We felt sad at not being able to find our roots but we have the history to live with and celebrate.
We have not given up and are continuing with our efforts to find our roots and are confident that one day we will be able to meet members of my grandparents' family in Dumariaganj, in the village of Senduri, in the district of Basti in Uttar Pradesh of India. We all live with hope and may be able to find what we are longing for.
My grandfather, who came from India with nothing but hope and confidence in 1907, progressed well and gave us the motivation to move ahead. With the help of his family he became one of the richest farmers in Botini through sheer hard work and diligence. He was always proud of his progress. He was a religious man of his own nature, very well respected in the village and had a very large family to support. His greatest goal was to help the poor and have a respectable family and I am proud to write that he achieved both these aims very well.
Although we have been living in Australia since 1995 we have had a close relationship with our relatives and friends in Fiji. My wife and I have been visiting the island nation at least once every two years with some things to donate to the children of our relatives and friends to enhance their educational development.
My wife Saroj passed away on 14th March 2013 and I now live alone at our home at 76 Ghost Gum Street in Bellbowrie. This tragedy has torn me apart because my wife Saroj and I lived a very fruitful family life for over half a century. Our own story is narrated in a book entitled Sweet and Sour Reflections and is publish elsewhere.
A detailed story of my wife Saroj is also published in her Reflections and I have developed so many poems, stories and DVDs to celebrate her fond memories. Nothing much matters for me now but to fondly remember all the good things we did from the days of indenture until now. We have nothing but admiration and pride for our grandparents, parents and other members of the family who gave us the needed inspiration and motivation to face the many hardships and come out as successful people. We thank God Almighty for the blessing.