<> Political Editor
The call by the Minister of State for National Planning, Jone Vakamocea, for the Speaker, Pita Nacuva, to rule on the use of the term “Indo Fijians” in the House of Representatives borders on racism. The call comes at a time when the nation wants to move forward under the multi-party Cabinet policy.
“I would like to raise my concern and if you could make a ruling in this august House to discourage the use of ‘Indo Fijians’ in the House or in any report or document or correspondence to be tabled in this House since it is not legally prescribed under the Constitution,” said Mr Vakamocea. “The use of Indo Fijians is not defined in the Constitution but has been propagated by Indian academics at the University of the South Pacific to Fijianise their Indian identity.”
The constitution is silent on this issue.
It clearly states that all citizens of Fiji are known as Fiji Islanders and the indigenous people are called Fijians. Mr Vakamocea prefers the use of Indian to describe an Indian of Indian origin or ethnicity and Fijians to be described as indigenous Fijian. Should we continue to call Fiji Indians, Indo Fijians? Why is it that Mr Vakamocea calls for a ruling from the Speaker? Indians are all over the world and something that needs to be mentioned is that their contribution to the economic welfare of the nations they dwell in is enormous.
A non-resident Indian (NRI) is an Indian citizen who has migrated to another country. For tax and other official purposes the Government of India considers any Indian national away from India for more than 180 days in a year an NRI. In common usage, this often includes Indian-born individuals who have taken the citizenship of other countries. A Person of Indian Origin (PIO) is literally, simply a person of Indian origin who is not a citizen of India. For the purposes of issuing a PIO Card, the Indian Government considers anyone of Indian origin up to four generations removed, to be a PIO.
There is a huge NRI and PIO population across the world, estimated at about 25 million. Here in Fiji, Indo-Fijians are people born in Fiji, but who are ethnically Indian. The constitution of Fiji defines “Indian” as anybody who can trace, through either the male or the female line, their ancestry back to anywhere on the Indian subcontinent. They are mostly descended from indentured labourers brought to the islands by Fiji’s British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji’s sugar plantations. These were complemented by the later arrival of Gujarati and Punjabi immigrants.
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 Indo-Fijians are Hindi speakers, with large minorities speaking Bhojpuri, Urdu, Tamil, Bihari, Gujarati, and Punjabi, among others. Almost all Indo-Fijians are also fluent in English, and in the younger generation, English appears to be gradually replacing Indian languages.
The Indian communities in other countries identify themselves as Indo and the name of the country follows to identify their citizenship like: Indo-Caribbean, Indo-Fijian, Indo-Guyanese, Indo-Mauritian, Indo-Canadian, Indo-Trinidadian Indians in Trinidad call themselves Indo-Trinidadians. They are people of South Asian descent who are citizens or nationals of Trinidad and Tobago. They are also referred to simply as Indians or East Indians.
Like many Indo-Caribbeans, many are also descended from all over the Indian subcontinent. Indo-Caribbean people or Indo Caribbeans are people of South Asian origin who live in the Caribbean, or the descendants of such people. Today, Indo-Caribbeans form a large part of the population in Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad. Smaller groups of Indo-Caribbeans live elsewhere in the Caribbean, especially Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Many Indo-Caribbean people have migrated to the United States of America, Canada, The Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.
Indo-Canadians are Canadians whose origin traces back to the nation of India. The term Indian is not commonly used to describe people of ancestral origin from India since it has been used in the past and present to refer to the Aboriginals of Canada. The term East Indian is also used to distinguish people of ancestral origin from India from people from the Caribbean, since they are sometimes referred to as West Indian. Most Indo-Canadians prefer, and many times will refer to themselves, as Indians more than East Indians.
This is partially because many of them are immigrants who are used to being referred to as the internationally used term. However, because the term East Indian is not pejorative and is in widespread use in Canada, this term is accepted by Indo-Canadians. Another term, NRI (non-resident Indian), is used by Indians in India to refer to Indians abroad, including Canada. According to Statistics Canada in 2001, there were 713,330 people who considered themselves as being Indo-Canadians.
The main concentration of the Indo-Canadian population is centred in the Greater Vancouver Area and the Greater Toronto Area, however there are growing communities in Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal. Below is an approximation of the NRI population in various territories in the world. Middle East: Saudi Arabia 1,400,000; United Arab Emirates 1,200,000; Kuwait 500,000; Oman 350,000; Qatar 175,000; Bahrain 140,000; Yemen 100,000; and Jordan 4,100 South East Asia: Malaysia 2,300,000; Singapore 400,000; and Philippines 125,000. South America and the Caribbean: Guyana 326,782; Suriname 162,113; Trinidad 473,735; as well as nominal communities in Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Africa: South Africa 1,200,000; Mauritius 800,000; Reunion 250,000; Kenya 70,000; Uganda 60,000; Tanzania 50,000; Madagascar 30,000; Mozambique 21,000; Zambia 20,000; and Zimbabwe 20,000. Europe: United Kingdom 1,500,000; Netherlands 300,000; and France 70,000. North America: United States 2,500,000; and Canada 713,330 (2001). Oceania: Fiji 350,000; Australia 150,000; and New Zealand 70,000.
Indians in the USA are one of the largest among the groups of Indian diaspora, numbering about 1.7 million, and probably the one of the most well off - their median income is 1.5 times that of the host country. They are well represented in all walks of life, but particularly so in academia, information technology and medicine. There were over 4,000 PIO professors and 33,000 Indian-born students in American universities in 1997-98. The American Association of the Physicians of Indian Origin boasts a membership of 35,000. In 2000, Fortune magazine estimated the wealth generated by Indian Silicon Valley entrepreneurs at about $250 billion.
Here in Fiji the Indo Fijian community controls the business sector and contributes massively to the economic development of the nation. By using the name Indo Fijian, it clearly differentiates them from the Fijian race. The Constitution does stop the use of the name Indo Fijian. Under the constitution we are all Fiji Islanders and the indigenous people are called the Fijians. This not the first time that this call had been made in parliament as in 2004 Senator Adi Litia Cakobau raised the matter.
In her contribution to the Senate in the form of an adjournment motion the Bau chief said the use of the expression ‘Indo-Fijian’ should be criminalised because it was diluting the word “Fijian”. She said Indians who were born in Fiji had their registered ethnicity at birth as Indian. “They are identified as Indians in all census counts,” she said. “They are Indians in the Electoral Act. They have social, economic, political and ideological contact with India. Their political party receives cash and other forms of help from India.
“They listen, speak, read, write and worship in Hindi. They eat Indian food, watch Indian movies and listen to Hindi music” This was part of Adi Litia’s speech as part of her adjournment motion in 2004. Adi Litia said “the constant usage of this ‘Indo-Fijian’ coinage, bullies the mind of the unsuspecting and unwary Fijian into accepting it without question. Thus a blatant lie is being subtly injected into the collective Fijian, national and international consciousness”. She said her motives in making the statement were not racial or political.”
One thing that should be clarified is the fact that the name Indo Fijian does not include the Fiji Indians as Fijians. It is clear that a Fijian is registered in the Vola ni Kawa Bula (VKB). Why should we bother about the name? Surely the name Indo Fijian identifies Fiji born Indians. The name is not going to cause division and I believe it should remain. Mr Vakamocea is expressing his right but the constitution is silent on the matter. We are all Fiji Islanders but an Indo Fijian is a Fiji born Indian and is also a citizen.