Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry says South Indians have made a great contribution to Fiji’s development as well as to the promotion of Indian culture in Fiji.
However, Mr. Chaudhry said while the great diversity of culture within the Indian community was something to be proud of and to be nurtured, it should not serve as a means of disuniting the community.
“We must make our diversity our strength and pride. We must use the strong bonds of our common origin, traditions and culture to bind us together into a cohesive society,” he said.
Mr. Chaudhry emphasised the fact that in a multicultural society like Fiji, we must all learn to understand, appreciate and tolerate each other’s cultures and traditions.
He said one of the Indians greatest contribution to nation building was through their schools which have always been open to all ethnic groups.
“This gesture reflects our commitment to a multiracial society and our belief that through children growing up and learning together, we sow the greatest seeds of multi-ethnic understanding, harmony and tolerance,” Mr. Chaudhry said speaking at the opening of the annual convention of the Dakshina India Andhra Sangam of Fiji in Sigatoka Easter Friday.
The DIAS convention commemorates the 100th anniversary of the arrival of South Indians in Fiji. The full text of Mr. Chaudhry’s address is given below:
“It is indeed an honour for me to be here with you today as you celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the South Indian community in Fiji.
It is a real pleasure to see the enthusiasm, especially that of our younger people, and the array of floats lined up at the park here today to commemorate the event.
The year 1903 is taken as the official date to mark this event because the first large batch of South Indians arrived on the ship ELBE 111 on May 22, 1903. We are sure, however, that a few people of South Indian origin must have been present in Fiji well before this date, brought in along with other batches of indentured labourers.
here in Fiji
The ship may have brought in 593 labourers from Madras. Today our people of South Indian origin, however, represent a sizeable proportion of the population of Fiji-Indians and have made a very significant contribution to the social, political, economic and cultural advancement of Fiji as a nation.
Look at any sphere of public life in Fiji and you will find the name of a well respected, ardent South Indian cropping up whether it be in the field of politics, education, sports or in the many forms of professional activities.
Our people of South Indian origin have also contributed significantly to the promotion and preservation of the Indian culture in Fiji. We owe many of our temples to their religious zeal – and I note in particular the Subramanium Temple in Nadi which has become an interesting landmark in Nadi town as well as a major attraction for locals and tourists alike .
There is no doubt that Sangam organisations be they TISI or DIAS have made a tremendous contribution in the field of education and the preservation of the Telegu language. The DIA Sangam of Fiji which is a much smaller organisation, still has five primary and two secondary schools in the Western Division to its credit.
On this historic occasion of your anniversary, I wish to pay a special tribute to the pioneering spirit of our forefathers. What we are today, is largely a result of their vision and foresight for our people.
Among the luminaries of our pioneering history, the names of several South Indians stand out. I refer in particular to Alpati Tetaiya who helped form the TISI Sangam and, later became one of the founding fathers of the Dakshina India Andhra Sangam of Fiji. I also remember with some reverence Sadhu Kuppuswamy. Both these men are renowned for their pioneering work in the field of education.
They saw education not only as a way to preserve our language and cultures but also as a means of getting the Indian people out of the servitude of Indenture and a future as labourers engaged in menial duties. For this we are eternally grateful to our pioneering forefathers no matter what part of India they came from.
That brings me to my second message to you today. While we carefully preserve and nurture the great diversity of culture within our society, we must ensure that this diversity is not used to drive a wedge between our people. We must make our diversity our strength and pride. We must use the strong bonds of our common origin, traditions and culture to bind us together into a cohesive society.
By all means we must preserve our different languages and way of life because that gives us our separate identities but let us think and dream as one people, savouring our greater Indian identity.
Having said that, I must also emphasise that here in Fiji we live in a multicultural society alonside people whose cultures are very distinct from ours. Our first duty and loyalty must then be to the country of our birth, the country we have chosen as our place of abode.
It is a beautiful country. Its attractiveness further enhanced by the cultural variety prevalent within it. Our duty is to contribute to nation building through an understanding, appreciation and tolerance of other cultures that exist alongside ours.
One of our greatest contribution towards nation-building has of course been through our schools. We have opened the doors of our educational institutes to all the children of Fiji, regardless of their ethnic origin. This gesture reflects our commitment to a multiracial society and our belief that through children growing up and learning together, we sow the greatest seeds of multi-ethnic understanding, harmony and tolerance.
And for this, I today thank the Dakshina India Andhra Sangam of Fiji for the contribution it has made to our multiracial dreams through its schools.
Finally, I wish to say a few words to our youth and sporting teams assembled here before me.
The future of Fiji lies with the young people of your generation. Sports is a great avenue for bringing our different peoples together through interaction. It nurtures in us a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of competitiveness and a respect for rules and discipline.
It is a great way of preparing you for your future. To excel in sports you need to train regularly and consistently, keep a watch on your lifestyle so that you eat the right foods and keep away from excessiveness so as to stay strong and healthy.
Modern life, with its emphasis on desk jobs and a more sedentary lifestyle created by television and all other electrical gadgets that make life so easy and convenient, is taking a great toll on our health and lives. Lifestyle diseases such as coronary problems, diabetes, cancer to mention the more common ones, are our biggest killers today, even here in Fiji.
To combat these diseases, you must lead an active outdoor life playing sports, working in the garden or farm, going for walks. Sports of course is the most interesting way of staying healthy and enjoying oneself at the same time.
So don’t let anyone tell you that you must give up sports to concentrate on your studies. A person who leads an active outdoor life, also makes a better worker and a better student because sports invigorates both the mind and the body.
Sports is the elixir of life and it gives me real pleasure to see so many young people assembled here from all parts of Fiji to participate in various sporting competitions organised for the week-end.
Age of course is no barrier to leading an active outdoor life and I call on the older people here today to also start some kind of sporting activity, even it is going for daily walks, if you are not already doing so.
Having said that, I have much pleasure in opening your sporting festivities for the week-end. I wish you all a good competition. May the best team win.
And may I wish all of you, of all ages, a very successful and enjoyable convention this commemorative year.”