Review: “Tears In
By Dr Gideon Polya
04 March, 2015
04 March, 2015
Rajendra Prasad was the town clerk of the
Before reviewing this important book  in detail, it is useful to briefly outline the chronology of the history of Fiji: 3000BC, first settlement, Lapita pottery people; 1500BC, Melanesian settlement; 1643, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman reached Fiji; 1774, British explorer Cook reached the eastern Lau Islands; 1789, British Captain William Bligh reached Fiji in an open boat; 1808, Kasavu village massacre by musket-armed, ship-wrecked British sailor Charlie Savage; 1806, epidemic from shipwrecked “Argo” sailors; 1830, first Christian missionaries; 1840, US Commodore Wilkes visited but was subsequently tried and acquitted over abuses; 1871, chiefly federation based on Levuka, the island of Ovalau off Viti Levu; 1874, cession to Britain by Fijians concerned over US naval threats in response to arson of the property of an American on Nukulau Island; the 19th century Fiji and other Pacific Islands were targeted by Australian and other “blackbirders” seeking to capture slaves or trick indentured labour for sugar plantations in Fiji, Samoa and Queensland, Australia; 1875, party of important chief Ratu Cakobau returned from Sydney with measles; 40,000 Fijians died out of a 150,000 population; 1879, first Indian indentured labour (“5 year slaves”) on the ship “Leonidas”; male to female ratio about 3:1; 1916, after strong criticism of the indentured labour system, recruitment from India ceased; 1920, “Girmit” indentured labour system finally ceased with the release of the last “5 year slaves”; flu epidemic killed about 5,000; 1970, independence under Fijian-dominated Alliance Party led by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara; 1982, Alliance rule continued; 1987, multi-racial Fijian-Indian Fiji Labor Party government under Fijian Dr Bavadra followed by 2 military coups by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka and republic status (the US opposed Dr Bavadra's nuclear-free policy and is asserted to have been involved , possibly with the complicity of US lackey Australia ) – but the so-called “bloodless coup” led to a subsequent increased excess mortality of about 4,500; about 100,000 Indo-Fijians migrated (mainly to North America, New Zealand and Australia); 1998, new constitution; 1999, first Indian Prime Minister (PM) Chaudhry heading the multiracial Fiji Labor Party; 2000, Fijian anti-Indian coup led by Anglo-Fijian Australian resident George Speight with major Fijian political complicity and followed by military rule and military-installed ethnically indigenous Fijian interim government under PM Laisenia Qarase that discriminated against Indians and advanced the interests of the I'Taukei (indigenous) political elite as well as I'Taukei Chiefs; 2001, new elections won by Fijian United Party (SDL, ethnically indigenous Fijian); 2003, Supreme Court ruled exclusion of Indians from government illegal; 2005, major tourist resort expansion on track, major income from soldiers serving overseas, devastating EU sugar price decrease foreshadowed; threat of military coup if 2000 Coup participants were released from prison; 2006, military coup by the Indigenous Fijian-dominated army under Commodore Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama to protect Indians (vital for the mainly sugar- , tourism-, sweatshop textile industry-, and repatriated money-based economy) and to stop corruption; hostility from Australia and New Zealand was countered by increasing Chinese investment in Fiji; 2014, restoration of democratic elections under a new constitution with Frank Bainimarama as elected PM .
In his Introduction to “Tears in Paradise”, Rajendra Prasad quotes High Tinker who in his book “A New System of Slavery” describes the British Empire indentured labour system thus: “It was their labour, along with British capital and expertise , which created the overseas wealth of
Part 1 of the book is entitled “Indenture period 1879-1919. Struggles of a forgotten generation”.
Chapter 1, “Pilgrimage to my ancestral roots”, outlines the author's family background. His paternal grandfather (Daadaji) and maternal grandfather (Naanaji) arrived in
Chapter 2, “Indian culture and recruitment”, describes how the British agents chose labour from impoverished Indian provinces in North, South and Eastern Indian. Rajendra Prasad comments: “Brahmins, Kshatriyas and the Punjabis were excluded” (p47, ) to minimize future political problems from Indian groups much less likely to tolerate enslavement and maltreatment. High caste Hindus would also have had a fear of crossing the “kaala paani” (black water). The recruiters deliberately deceived most of their targets, and by the time they were coralled in pre-embarkation sub-depots the girmityas were quite compromised, and especially so the women. Rajendra Prasad comments: “Once on the mainland [in
Chapter 3, “Violence in the fields”, tells shocking stories of violence by overseers and violence among girmityas. Rajendra Prasad comments: “Cases of grievous physical assaults, torture and torment by the employers against the girmityas abounded during the periods of girmit. These contributed to a general air of anxiety , anger, anguish and fear. They sometimes led to extreme retaliatory measures . These occurred when the kulambars [white overseers ] and sardars [sirdars; girmitya heads appointed by kulambars ] breached the limits of tolerance” (p59, ). My favourite girmitya story: a group of women girmityas, utterly fed up with the violence and sexual overtures of a sirdar, got him alone in a cane field, held him down and urinated on him. A dear elderly friend of mine recalls seeing the whip-marks on her mother's back. The sex ratio of 3 men to each woman created tensions, and contributed to violence and suicide. Thus another dear friend recounted to me how her grandfather, upset about attention being paid to his wife, chopped another man's hand off with a cane knife and avoided legal consequences by agreeing to look after the crippled man.
Chapter 4, “
Chapter 5, “Tolerance of violence and violations” describes the “meekness “ of the Indian girmityas. Rajendra Prasad comments: “The Japanese, Chinese and other Pacific nations turned down subsequent requests for Labor from the
Chapter 6, “Indenture – resistance, abolition and its aftermath”, recounts how international pressure, spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi who had witnessed indentured labour abuses in South Africa, led to the end of indentured labour in the British Empire (notably in South Africa, the West Indies, Malaya, Australia and the South Pacific) and the end of the girmit system in Fiji. Rajendra Prasad comments: “Mahatma Gandhi played a key role in alleviating the suffering of the girmityas in
Part 2 of the book is entitled “Post-indenture period 1920-2004. Uncertain future”.
Chapter 7, “Cultural and political renaissance”, recounts social and political developments in post-indenture
Chapter 8, “CSR Company and the Indo-Fijian farmers”, recounts how many Indo-Fijians leased land from the Australian CSR Company and were thence trapped economically in the post-indenture period. A farmers' strike in 1921 was defeated by the CSR company's strength and farmers' poverty and its leader Sadhu Bashist Muni was deported. Rajendra Prasad summarizes the Indo-Fijian lot: “The majority of Indo-Fijians had settled on land leased from the CSR Company for sugar can cultivation, or from Fijians, on which they cultivated sugar cane, rice, maize, leguminous crops or raised cattle. Many found employment in the sugar mills, and lived close to the mills… for two decade, following the end of girmit, the CSR Company had a free reign over the Indo-Fijian farmers and was able to manipulate, dominate, intimidate and exploit them at will” ” (pp158-159, ). However in 1937 Pundit Ajodhya Prasad set up the Kisan Sangh (Farmers' Association) that successfully combatted CSR Company exploitation. In 1969 Lord Denning from the
Chapter 9, “Village life 1940s-1960s”, provides a loving description of the village life of Indo-Fijians. It concludes with a summary of the transition to modernity: “By the end of the1960s a massive transformation could be seen in the lives of the Indo-Fijians. Even the village landscape changed considerably. The household income increased as educated children sought employment in offices or in the commercial and industrial sectors.
Chapter 10, “Post-independence era”, describes the politics of the Indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijians. Initially the National Federation Party (NFP) represented Indo-Fijians and the Alliance Party represented Indigenous Fijians and European interests ( my father-in-law, barrister Abdul Lateef MBE, strongly believed in a multiracial approach, was responsible for various education, community and sporting innovations, and became an Alliance Party MP for a cross-voting seat in the otherwise race-based bicameral electoral system bequeathed by the British). The 22-member Senate was composed of 8 nominees of the Great Council of Chiefs, 7 nominees of the PM, 6 nominees of the Leader of the Opposition and 1 nominee of the Council of Rotuma. An Indo-Fijian quip about the distorted electoral system: “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”. Fundamental tensions related to the desire of Indo-Fijian farmers and others for more certainty over leased land and for untrammelled equality. Indigenous Fijian concerns were over land preservation, cultural integrity, respect for the Chiefs, the need for affirmative action for Fijians in view of the disproportionately greater wealth of the entrepreneurial Indo-Fijians, and a fundamental desire to retain Indigenous Fijian political control. Indo-Fijians had fears deriving from the expulsion of Indians from
Chapter 11, “The coup era”, describes the tragedy of the 14 May 1987 Coup by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka that deposed the democratically-elected multi-racial Fiji Labor Party Government of Dr Timoci Bavadra and was preceded by public demonstrations by the anti-Indian
Chapter 12, “The Fiji malady – causes , conflicts and casualties”, considers the complex tensions between the Indo-Fijians and the Indigenous Fijians briefly outlined above, and the serious economic and social consequences of post-1987 mass emigration of Indo-Fijians from Fiji.
In Chapter 13, “Indo-Fijian trauma and tears”, Rajendra Prasad concludes with a plea from Martin Luther King in his famous letter of April 1963 from a
Rajendra Prasad concluded his book in 2004 but the last decade saw a further Indigenous Fijian military Coup in 2006, this time by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, ostensibly to counter corruption, to protect Indians - vital for the Fijian economy and professions - and to prevent possible release of the 2000 Coup plotters from imprisonment on Nukulau Island off Suva.
Indigenous Fijians should now be reassured that they have an Indigenous Fijian PM Frank Bainimarama and an Indigenous Fijian President, the very impressive Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (the former Commander of the Royal Fiji Military Forces who was deposed from this position in 1987 while visiting Australia by the third-ranked officer, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka). Indo-Fijians can be somewhat reassured that they now have a government committed to protecting the equal human rights and legitimate interests of the Indo-Fijians, albeit led by a person who had abrogated basic human rights and democracy for a decade. Indeed Rajendra Prasad writing from
Professor Wadan Narsey (who expertly estimated that one third of Fijians lived in poverty in 2008-9  and who has been critical of some expatriate Indo-Fijians, including Rajendra Prasad, for praising Frank Bainimarama) cogently commented in 2014 just prior to the Fiji elections on the current ambivalent and pragmatic political position of Indo-Fijians who through continuing emigration are now a minority in Fiji (38% of the population in 2014 versus about 50% in 2000): “For more than a century Indo-Fijian political leaders (AD Patel, Sid Koya, Jai Ram Reddy and Mahendra Chaudhry) and communities behaved with total political integrity towards the indigenous Fijians and Fijian institutions, in fighting for the legitimate rights of Indo-Fijians. They operated within the law, despite being periodic victims of violence from the military, police, and politically organized gangs of thugs, such as in the coups of 1987 and 2000, which had the undeniable support of the Great Council of Chiefs, the
Fiji actually provides a good example for the world of de facto inter-racial harmony – the succession of coups in 1987 and 2000 were ugly and racially-motivated but essentially “bloodless”, and the 2006 Coup by the Indigenous Fijian military under Commodore Frank Bainimarama was in part to protect the economically vital Indian minority (can you imagine the Apartheid Israeli military staging a coup to protect the human rights of Palestinians?)
The horrendous conditions of the indentured Indian labourers under the girmit system, as powerfully set out by Rajendra Prasad in “Tears in Paradise”, occurred despite the abolition of slavery in the
. Rajendra Prasad, “Tears in
 William Blum, “
. Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, this including an avoidable mortality-related history of every country since Neolithic times and now available for free perusal on the web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/body-count-global-avoidable-mortality_05.html .
. Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability”, now available for free perusal on the web: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/2008/09/jane-austen-and-black-hole-of-british.html .
. “Terminological inexactitude”, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminological_inexactitude .
. Gideon Polya, “Australia And Britain Killed 6-7 Million Indians In WW2 Bengal Famine”, Countercurrents, 29 September, 2011: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya290911.htm .
. Madhusree Muckerjee, “Churchill's Secret War. The British Empire and the ravaging of
. Colin Mason, “A Short History of
. Bengal Famine, BBC radio broadcast series “The things we forgot to remember”, 2008: http://www.open2.net/thingsweforgot/bengalfamine_programme.html .
. Paul Greenough's “Prosperity and Misery in Modern
. Thomas Keneally, “Three Famines” (Vintage
. Cormac O Grada. “Famine a short history” (
. J. Dreze and Amartya Sen “Hunger and Public Action” (Clarendon, Oxford, 1989).
. N.G. Jog, “Churchill's Blind Spot:
. Rajendra Prasad, “New constitution: new era for
. Wadan Narsey ‘Poverty in
. “Australian AID launches critical report tracking poverty changes in
. Wadan Narsey, “Part II, “Leading Indo-Fijians into a political cul-de-sac” or “The Indo-Fijian Betrayal of Political Integrity”, 21 August 2014: https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/part-ii-leading-indo-fijians-into-a-political-cul-de-sac-or-the-indo-fijian-betrayal-of-political-integrity-21-august-2014/ .
Dr Gideon Polya has been teaching science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis,
) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan,
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