From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Fijian Indian diaspora)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Fiji India
Total population
37.6% of the population of Fiji (2007)
Regions with significant populations
 Fiji313,798 (2007 census)
 Australia61,748 (2016 census)
 New Zealand38,310 (2013 census)
 United States30,890 (2000 figure)
 Canada24,665 (2016 census)
 United Kingdom5,000
Fiji HindiEnglishFijian Bau • Others
Majority: Hindu (76.7%)
Minority: Muslim (15.9%), Sikh (0.9%), Christian (6.1%), other (0.4%)
Related ethnic groups
Indo-Caribbeans, Indians in South Africa, Indo-Mauritians, Indo-Guyanese, Indo-Surinamese, Indo-Jamaicans, Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian

Indo-Fijians or Indian-Fijians (also known as Fiji Indians) are Fijian people of Asiatic Indian descent and include people who trace their ancestry to various regions of the Indian subcontinent. Although Indo-Fijians constituted a majority of Fiji's population from 1956 through the late 1980s, discrimination and the resulting brain drain resulted in them numbering 313,798 (37.6%) (2007 census) out of a total of 827,900 people living in Fiji as of 2007.

Although they hailed from various regions in the Indian subcontinent, the vast majority of Indo-Fijians trace their origins to the Awadh and Bhojpur regions of the Hindi Belt in northern India. Indians in Fiji speak Fiji Hindi which is based on the Awadhi dialect with major influence from Bhojpuri. It is distinct to the Modern Standard Hindi spoken in India. The major home districts of Fiji's North Indian labourers were Basti, Gonda, Faizabad, Sultanpur and Azamgarh, in the present-day Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh and the present-day Bhojpur region of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Others (in a smaller quantity) originated in the Tamil and Telugu regions and other immigrants came from Gujarat and Punjab. Many of the Muslim Indo-Fijians also came from Sindh and Balochistan and various other parts of South Asia and speak the Urdu language. Fiji's British colonial rulers brought Indian people to the Colony of Fiji as indentured labourers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji's sugar-cane plantations.

Mahendra Chaudhry became Fiji's first Indian-Fijian Prime Minister on 19 May 1999.

Early ancestors of Indo-Fijians

First South Asians in Fiji

Indians had been employed for a long time on the European ships trading in India and the East Indies. Many of the early voyages to the Pacific either started or terminated in India and many of these ships were wrecked in the uncharted waters of the South Pacific. The first recorded presence of an Indian in Fiji was by Peter Dillon, a sandalwood trader in Fiji, of a lascar (Indian seaman) who survived a ship wreck and lived and settled there amongst the natives of Fiji in 1813.

First attempt to procure Indian labourers

Before Fiji was colonized by Great Britain, some planters had tried to obtain Indian labour and had approached the British Consul in Levuka, Fiji but were met with a negative response. In 1870 a direct request by a planter to the Government of India was also turned down and in 1872, an official request by the Cakobau Government was informed that British rule in Fiji was a pre-condition for Indian emigration to Fiji. The early ancestors of Fiji Indians came from different regions and backgrounds from India and other neighbouring countries. However, most came from rural villages in northern and southern India.

In January 1879, thirty-one Indians, who had originally been indentured labourers in Réunion, were brought from New Caledonia to Fiji under contract to work on a plantation in Taveuni. These labourers demonstrated knowledge of the terms of the indenture agreement and were aware of their rights and refused to do the heavy work assigned to them. Their contract was terminated by mutual agreement between the labourers and their employers. In 1881, thirty-eight more Indians arrived from New Caledonia and again most of them left but some stayed taking Indian wives or island women.

Arrival under the indentured system

The colonial authorities promoted the sugar cane industry, recognising the need to establish a stable economic base for the colony, but were unwilling to exploit indigenous labour and threaten the Fijian way of life.[citation needed] The use of imported labour from the Solomon Islands and what is now Vanuatu generated protests in the United Kingdom, and the Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon decided to implement the indentured labour scheme, which had existed in the British Empire since 1837. A recruiting office was set up especially around Calcutta and the South, West and North later, especially a lot in rural village areas in different farming regions, land and areas.[citation needed]

The Leonidas, a labour transport vessel, disembarked at Levuka from Calcutta on 14 May 1879. The 498 indentured workers who disembarked were the first of over 61,000 to arrive from South and East Asia in the following 37 years. The majority were from the districts of eastern and southern provinces, followed by labourers from northern and western regions, then later south eastern countries, they originated from different regions, villages, backgrounds and castes that later mingled or intermarried hence the "Fijian Indian" identity was created. The indentured workers originated mostly from rural village backgrounds. .

Life during the indenture period

The contracts of the indentured labourers, which they called girmit (agreements), required them to work in Fiji for a period of five years. Living conditions on the sugar cane plantations, on which most of the girmityas (indentured labourers) worked, had poor standards which resembled that of slavery. Hovels known as "coolie lines" dotted the landscape.

End of indenture

Public outrage in the United Kingdom at such abuses was a factor in the decision to halt the scheme in 1916. With the intervention of Banarsidas Chaturvedi and Reverend C.F. Andrews all existing indenture was cancelled on 1 January 1920.

Emergence of the Fiji Indian identity

After a further five years of work as an indentured labourer or as a khula (free labourer), they were given the choice of returning to India at their own expense, or remain in Fiji. The great majority opted to stay because they could not afford to return under the low pay (even in many instances they were denied paid wages) of the British government, or were refused to be sent back. After the expiry of their girmits, many leased small plots of land from Fijians and developed their own sugarcane fields or cattle farmlets. Others went into business in the towns that were beginning to spring up.

The indenture system had two positive effects on subsequent generations. Firstly the need for people of different castes to live, work and eat together led to an end of the caste system. Furthermore, shortage of females resulted in many marrying outside their caste. Another positive was the development of a new koiné language, known as Fiji Hindi that was formed from different languages and dialects of India. The speakers of these languages originated from different regions in India that supplied a lot of labourers. Music too, was important, with a distinct Fiji Hindi culture that some commentators have described as a forerunner to both bangla and jazz. For the most part, these people came from in certain rural or village areas. The language was further heavily enriched by the inclusion of many Fijian and English words. The language is now the mother tongue of majority Fiji Indians and is the lingua franca of not only all the Fiji Indians but also of all Fijian communities where ethnic Indians are in a majority.

Free immigrants

From the early 1900s, Indians started arriving in Fiji as free agents. Many of these paid their own way and had previously served in Fiji or other British colonies or had been born in Fiji. Amongst the early free migrants, there were religious teachers, missionaries and at least one lawyer. The government and other employers brought clerks, policemen, artisans, gardeners, experienced agricultural workers, a doctor and a school teacher. Punjabi farmers and Gujarati craftsmen also paid their own way to Fiji and in later years formed an influential minority amongst the Fiji Indians.

Indian Platoon during the Second World War

In 1916, Manilal Doctor, the de facto leader of the Indo-Fijian community, persuaded the colonial government of Fiji to form an Indian platoon for the Allied war effort during the First World War. He sent the names of 32 volunteers to the colonial government but his requests were ignored. As a result, a number of Fiji Indians volunteered for the New Zealand Army while one served in Europe during the First World War.[citation needed]

In 1934, Governor Fletcher enacted a policy which warranted an Indian Platoon within the Fiji Defence Force consisting entirely of enlisted-ranked Indians. Governor Fletcher encouraged Indo-Fijians to regard Fiji as their permanent home. One could say this was Fletcher's insurance policy against an anticipated anti-European revolt at the hands of the Native population, which subsequently took place in 1959.[citation needed]

While the Fiji Indian troops had the Europeans as their commanding and non-commissioned officers, the Native Fijians had Ratu Edward Cakobau, a Native Fijian, as their commanding officer. Prior to the Second World War, soldiers served voluntarily and were paid "capitation grants" according to efficiency ratings without regard to race. In 1939, during the mobilisation of the Fiji Defence Force, the colonial government changed its payment system to four shillings per day for enlisted men of European descent while enlisted men of non-European descent were paid only two shillings per day; the Indian Platoon quickly disputed this disparity in pay. The colonial government, fearing this dissidence would eventually be shared by the Native Fijians, decided to disband the Indian platoon in 1940 citing lack of available equipment, such as military armour, as their reason.

Name debate

Indians are defined by the constitution of Fiji as anybody who can trace, through either the male or the female line, their ancestry back to anywhere on the Indian subcontinent and all government documents use this name. However, popular referrals are Fijian Indian and Indo-Fijian. These labels have proved culturally and politically controversial, and finding a label of identification for the Indian community in Fiji has fuelled a debate that has continued for many decades.

The name is debatable also due to the fact that many Muslims are descendants of peoples from modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh, not modern day India.

Fiji Indians versus indigenous Fijians

In the late 1960s the leader of the National Federation Party, A. D. Patel, who used the slogan, "One Country, One People, One Destiny", suggested that all Fiji's citizens should be called Fijians and to distinguish the original inhabitants from the rest, the name Taukei should be used for native Fijians. There was widespread opposition to this from the native Fijians who feared that any such move would deprive them of the special privileges they had enjoyed since cession in 1874. The Fiji Times started using Fiji Islander to describe all Fiji's citizens but this name did not catch on.

The United States Department of State gives the nationality of Fiji citizens as "Fiji Islander" and states that "the term "Fijian" has exclusively ethnic connotations and should not be used to describe any thing or person not of indigenous Fijian descent."

As the labels carry emotional and (according to some) politically loaded connotations, they are listed below in alphabetical order.

Fiji Indian

For a long time Fiji Indian was used to distinguish between Fiji citizens of Indian origin and Indians from India. The term was used by writers like K.L. Gillion and by the academic and politician, Ahmed Ali. The late President of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, also used this term in his speeches and writings. The term was also used by the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, Fiji's largest Christian denomination, which had a Fiji-Indian division.


This term has been used by such writers as Adrian Mayer and Brij Lal. Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, Fiji's Vice-President from 2004 to 2006, also used it in his speeches.

In 2006, Jone Navakamocea, Minister of State for National Planning in the Qarase government, called for the use of the term "Indo-Fijian" to be officially banned. He declared that the term was "unacceptable", and that Indo-Fijians should be referred to only as "Indians". The Hindustan Times reported Navakamocea had "alleged that the Indo-Fijian term was coined by Indian academics in Fiji to 'Fijianise' their Indian ethnicity", which, in Navakamocea's view, undermined the paramountcy of indigenous rights. Navakamocea lost office in the 2006 military coup when the army accused the Qarase government of anti-Fijian Indian racism and overthrew it.

Political participation: early 20th century

The colonial rulers attempted to assuage Indian discontent by providing for one of their number to be nominated to the Legislative Council from 1916 onwards. Badri Maharaj, a strong supporter of the British Empire but with little support among his own people, was appointed by the Governor in 1916. His appointment did little to redress the grievances of the Indian community.[citation needed] Buttressed by the Indian Imperial Association founded by Manilal Maganlal, a lawyer who had arrived in Fiji in 1912, the Indians continued to campaign for better work and living conditions, and for an extension of the municipal franchise; literacy tests disqualified most Indians from participation. A strike by Indian municipal workers and Public Works Department employees, which began on 15 January 1920, ended in a riot which was forcibly quelled on 12 February; Manilal, widely blamed for the unrest, was deported.[citation needed] Another strike, from January to July in 1921, led by Sadhu (priest) Vashist Muni, demanded higher rates of pay for workers of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR), the unconditional return of Manilal, and the release of imprisoned 1920 strikers. The authorities responded by deporting Muni from Fiji.[citation needed]

Demands increased for direct representation in the legislature. In 1929, Indian immigrants and their descendants were authorised to elect three members to the Legislative Council on a communal roll. Vishnu Deo, James Ramchandar Rao and Parmanand Singh were duly elected. Agitation continued for a common roll, which the colonial administrators rejected, citing the fears of European settlers and Fijian chiefs that a common electoral roll would lead to political domination by Indians, whose numbers were rapidly increasing. The fear of Indo-Fijian domination also led to the abolition of the elected membership of Suva Municipal Council in 1934, with the council becoming a wholly appointed body.

Religious and social divisions: 1920–1945

The Sri Siva Subramaniya temple, a South-Indian type temple in the Indo-Fijian town of Nadi.

Two major Hindu movements attracted widespread support in the 1920s, and relationships between Hindus and Muslims also became increasingly strained.

The Arya Samaj in Fiji advocated purging Hinduism of what it saw as its superstitious elements and expensive rituals, opposed child marriage, and advocated the remarriage of widows, which orthodox Hinduism didn't promote at that time. The Arya Samaj also encouraged education for girls, which wasn't the norm at the time. The Arya Samaj began by establishing schools and by using a newspaper of one of its supporters, the Fiji Samachar founded in 1923, to expound their views.

The traditional Sanatan Dharma was more orthodox than the Hindu-reformist Arya Samaj. It affirmed traditional Hindu rituals and prayers. However, Fijian Indians who practice Sanatana Dharma also do not have child marriages, as it is unheard of until the youths reach maturity age or level.

Developments since 1945

Saris on sale in Lautoka, Viti Levu.

A post-war effort by European members of the Legislative Council to repatriate ethnic Indians to India, starting with sixteen-year-old males and fourteen-year-old females, was not successful, but reflected the tensions between Fiji's ethnic communities.

Differences between ethnic Fijians and Indians complicated preparations for Fiji independence, which the United Kingdom granted in 1970, and have continued to define Fiji politics since.[citation needed] Prior to independence, Indians sought a common electoral roll, based on the principle of "one man, one vote." Ethnic Fijian leaders opposed this, believing that it would favour urban voters who were mostly Indian; they sought a communal franchise instead, with different ethnic groups voting on separate electoral rolls. At a specially convened conference in London in April 1970, a compromise was worked out, under which parliamentary seats would be allocated by ethnicity, with ethnic Fijians and Indians represented equally.[citation needed] In the House of Representatives, each ethnic group was allocated 22 seats, with 12 representing Communal constituencies (elected by voters registered as members of their particular ethnic group) and a further 10 representing National constituencies (distributed by ethnicity but elected by universal suffrage. A further 8 seats were reserved for ethnic minorities, 3 from "communal" and 5 from "national" constituencies.

In 1987, shortly after a coalition government was formed that represented both communities, two military coups were staged by low-ranking Fijian officers that aimed at sidelining the Indian community in politics.

Ethnic South Asians outnumbered indigenous Fijians from 1956 through the late 1980s. This was due to the death of 1/3 of the indigenous population, mainly male and children, that died from smallpox contracted when King Cakobau and other chief leaders returned from a trip from Australia during which they caught smallpox. The percentage of Indigenous female population increased as a result, and the native male population was scarce at one stage,[better source needed] but by 2000 their share of the population had declined to 43.7%, because of a higher ethnic-Fijian birthrate and particularly because of the greater tendency of Fijian Indians to emigrate. Emigration accelerated following the coups of 1987 (which removed an Indian-supported government from power and, for a time, ushered in a constitution that discriminated against them in numerous ways) and of 2000 (which removed an Indian Prime Minister from office).

Political differences between the two communities, rather than ideological differences, have characterised Fijian politics since independence, with the two communities generally voting for different political parties.[citation needed] The National Federation Party founded by A.D. Patel, was the party favoured overwhelmingly by the Indian community throughout most of the nation's history, but its support collapsed in the parliamentary election of 1999, when it lost all of its seats in the House of Representatives; its support fell further still in the 2001 election, when it received only 22% of the Indian vote, and in the 2006 election, when it dropped to an all-time low of 14%. The party formerly favoured by Indians was the Fiji Labour Party, led by Mahendra Chaudhry, which received about 75% of the Indian vote in 2001, and won all 19 seats reserved for Indians. Founded as a multi-racial party in the 1980s, it was supported mostly by Indians, but has seen no representation in parliament since the coup of 2006.

Impact of the Church and religious/ethnic politics

The Church plays a major role in Fiji politics. Often some leaders appeal to Fijians addressing them as "Christians", even though Hindus are 33% of the population in Fiji, compared with 52% Christians. The 2000 Fijian coup d'état that removed the elected PM Mahendra Chaudhry, was supported by the Methodist Church.

Some Methodist Church authorities have continued to advocate the establishment of a Christian state. In a letter of support from the then head of the Methodist Church, Reverend Tomasi Kanilagi, to George Speight, the leader of 19 May 2000 armed takeover of Parliament, Reverend Kanilagi publicly expressed his intention to use the Methodist Church as a forum under which to unite all ethnic Fiji political parties. The Methodist church also supported forgiveness to those who plotted the coup in form of so-called "Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Unity Bill".

In 2005, Methodist Church general secretary Reverend Ame Tugaue argued that the practice of Hinduism and other religions should not be guaranteed in law:

"Sodom and Gomorrah were only destroyed after the Lord removed the faithful from there and not because of a few would we allow God's wrath to befall the whole of Fiji. It was clearly stated in the 10 Commandments that God gave to Moses that Christians were not allowed to worship any other gods and not to worship idols. One thing other religions should be thankful for is that they are tolerated in Fiji as it's naturally a peaceful place but their right of worship should never be made into law."

Following the military coup in Fiji, which deposed the government of Laisenia Qarase (which Indians claimed as unsympathetic to Indian interests), Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu of the Fiji Council of Churches and Assembly of Christian Churches has stated that the coup is "un-Christian" and is "manifestation of darkness and evil". He claimed that "52% of Fijians are Christian and the country's Christian values are being undermined."

Demographic factors

Indo Fijians are concentrated in the so-called Sugar Belt and in cities and towns on the northern and western coasts of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu; their numbers are much scarcer in the south and inland areas. The majority of Fijian Indians came from northern and southeastern part of India and converse in what is known as the Fiji Hindi language that has been coined from the eastern Hindi dialects mixed with some native Fijian and small numbers of English words, with some minorities speaking Gujarati, and Punjabi, and many who speak Tamil as their mother tongue with less fluency. Almost all Indians are also fluent in English.

According to the 1996 census (the latest available), 76.7% of Indians are Hindus and a further 15.9% are Muslims. Christians comprise 6.1% of the Indian population, while about 0.9% are members of the Sikh faith. The remaining 0.4% are mostly nonreligious.

Hindus in Fiji belong mostly to the Sanātana Dharma sect (74.3% of all Hindus); a minority (3.7%) follow Arya Samaj. Smaller groups, including The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and numerous unspecified Hindu sects, comprise 22% of the Hindu population. Muslims are mostly Sunni (59.7%) or unspecified (36.7%); there is an Ahmadiya minority (3.6%). Indian Christians are a diverse body, with Methodists forming the largest group (26.2%), followed by the Assemblies of God (22.3%), Roman Catholics (17%), and Anglicans (5.8%). The remaining 28.7% belong to a medley of denominations. There is an Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji. About 5000 Indians are Methodist. They are part of the Methodist Church in Fiji and support the position of the Methodist Church in Fiji, rather than the rights of Indians.


The Fiji Indian diaspora developed with people of Indian origin leaving Fiji, mainly following the racially inspired coups of 1987 and 2000, to settle primarily in Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada. Smaller numbers have settled in other Pacific islands, the United Kingdom and other European countries.

Indians from all over India were initially brought to Fiji as indentured laborers to work on sugar cane plantations. Between 1879 and 1916, a total of 60,000 Indians arrived in Fiji. Approximately 25,000 of these returned to India. From 1900 onwards, some Indians arrived as free immigrants, who were mostly from the provinces of Gujarat, Sindh and Punjab and Baluchistan.

Fiji Indians have been emigrating to United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom since the early 1960s. These were mainly economic migrants and their number gradually increased in the 1970s and 1980s to reach approximately 4000 per year.

Following the military coup of 1987, many Indians saw little future in staying in Fiji and tried to find any means to leave the country. Professional, middle class and business found it easier to emigrate. It has been estimated that more than 100,000 Fiji Indians have emigrated since 1987. This represents a third of the existing Indian population in Fiji.

Fijian Indians have been indentured slaves for thirty-seven years and faced a lot of human rights violations during the military coups. They were victimized a lot by the military adding to the reasons they moved abroad to Canada, Australian, and the United States. Another reason a lot of skilled Fiji Indians were migrating to other countries was for a better future. This caused Fiji to lose a lot of their skilled workers. Moreover, many Fijian Indians strived for a better education causing a bigger gap between them and the indigenous Fijians.

Former Prime Minister Chaudhry has expressed alarm at the high rate of emigration of educated Fiji-Indians. "If the trend continues, Fiji will be left with a large pool of poorly educated, unskilled work force with disastrous consequences on our social and economic infrastructure and levels of investment," he said on 19 June 2005. He blamed the coups of 1987 for "brain drain" which has, he said, adversely affected the sugar industry, the standard of the education and health services, and the efficiency of the civil service.

Health issues

Similarly to the indigenous Fijian population, Fijian Indians face major obstacles when it comes to health. They are often cited in research articles as a group that has a higher than normal prevalence rate of Type 2 diabetes.

List of notable Indo-Fijians

See also


  • Sen, Sunanda. "Indentured Labour from India in the Age of Empire." Social Scientist 44.1/2 (2016): 35-74. online[dead link]
  • Tinker, H. A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1820-1920, Oxford University Press, London, 1974
  • Lal, B.V. Girmitiyas: The Origins of the Fiji Indians, Fiji Institute of Applied Studies, Lautoka, Fiji, 2004
  • Khal Torabully (with Marina Carter), Coolitude : An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora, Anthem Press (2002) ISBN 1-84331-003-1
  • Gaiutra Bahadur, Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture. The University of Chicago (2014) ISBN 978-0-226-21138-1

External links