BRISBANE GOPIO Queensland commemorated Fiji Girmit Diwas 2023 on 14th May 2023. GOPIO Queensland had decided that the day’s significance is best observed on the day. This can be challenging as the day varies yearly; the event fell on Mother’s Day this year. As the decision was taken about twelve years back, GOPIO Queensland went ahead with the event on the 14th of May itself. Despite being Mother’s Day, the attendance was reasonable for the occasion.
Pele Ramdhani was well suited for the role of MC for this event; he is well-versed with the Gimit history, and his presentation style got much good feedback from community leaders and other attendees. Aunty Betty McGrady made the acknowledgement to the country, and she spoke on the similarities of the gimitiyas to the stolen generation. She also reflected on her heritage; her ancestry might have links to Afghan/ Indian descent.
Newly elected president Indu Kant Sharma welcomed everyone and acknowledged the dignitaries and guests of honour. After the formal welcome, MC Pele introduced keynote speaker GOPIO International chairperson Dr Thomas Abraham who is a veteran community leader in New York, USA, who has devoted the last fifty years to mobilize the Indian Diaspora community for common causes. He has initiated and built seven community institutions and is currently the Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). By profession, Dr Abraham is a scientist and market analyst specializing in Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.
Dr Thomas Abraham touched on the topic of the British indenture system under which Indians were taken to distant lands; they were the pioneers of the Indian Diaspora. Fiji was one of the last colonies to receive indentured labour from India. Dr Thomas also touched on the Kolkata memorial and mentioned that he and Umesh Chandra OAM had attended the inauguration in 2011. He advised that similar monuments have been inaugurated in diaspora countries like Trinidad, Mauritius and Guadeloupe. He spoke on the role of GOPIO internationally and encouraged everyone present to become members.
Girmit Diwas 2023 coordinator Umesh Chandra OAM and executive vice president of GOPIO International did an AV presentation on the inauguration of the Kolkata memorial and some historical information on the indenture system. After the presentation, the Girmit honour award 2023 was presented to Mrs Ramgatti Darshan, born on 10 Dec 1931 in Samabula, Suva. She was the youngest of six. Grew up in Suva and, after marriage to Shiu Darshan (deceased), moved to Nausori.
Her parents were girmitis from the Calcutta region. Ramgatti had seven children but raised many other children. Her house was always whole. Apart from raising children, she was also the village midwife. She was often consulted for baby massage and fixing infant colic. She became a widow at the age of 48 and raised her children alone. At the time, only two of her daughters were married. She raised her children and paid for their education by sewing, selling ice blocks, making and selling sweets and other home-based enterprises.
She has performed much seva over her life and has travelled to India several times. In 1994 she spent one year in India with her son in the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba. She met him and had interviews with him. She is a strong devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. Today she has 19 grandchildren, 15 great grand-children and three great grand-children. She enjoys listening to Fiji lok geet; her favourite drink is lal-cha and Fiji biscuit. The ultimate favourite is Fiji bhuja! Her two sons, Sunil and Sailesh Chand, accompanied her on the stage.
Other speakers included John Paul Langbroek, MP member for Surfers Paradise and Councillor Jon Raven of Division Five of Logan City Council. They both spoke well and appreciated getting the facts on Girmit; they also mentioned that this solemn commemoration was moving and reflected the true nature of how this should be run. A Girmit song, live recorded by Umesh Chandra OAM about forty-four years back, was played with an accompanying slide, a very touching song of the era. After the Girmit song, a video of how children of FIJI are now living together demonstrates the resilience of our community.
The vote of thanks was Moved by our youth leader Sahil Sinha, following which everyone paid tribute at the replica inscribe of the Kolkata monument. Cornerstone Law Services sponsored, and Dosa Hutt Mount Gravatt prepared dinner for attendees. Rakesh Sharma’s family sponsored the soft drinks and water; the venue and other costs were sponsored by Brisbane Indian Times and Australian Indian Radio.