When I first had the idea for this specific blog, information about Girmit and Indo-Fijian history was scarce. Honestly, it still is. However since starting both the blog and Instagram account, I’ve found several valuable resources, who have a wealth of research on specifics about Girmit. I was happy to see that our story was being told, I was also happy that I didn’t have to reference just one book that seemed to be my only source (Tears of Paradise).
What is even better about going through this journey of discovery is that many of my new resources are women. The idea that women are telling our story and showcasing our history would’ve been frowned upon in our culture at one point in time. Historically in Indian culture, women are silenced, unable to share thoughts or opinions. Here we are living our ancestors’ truths, learning and sharing together.
March is Women’s History Month, and I couldn’t let this month go by without acknowledging my own ancestors. The textbook stories tell the tales of Girmitiya women in a shameful and demeaning perspective. Take into account that historical documentation of this era came from the British colonizers themselves which are completely biased. If it wasn’t from them then it was from culturally chauvinistic men. The stories would label women that defended themselves from rape and abuse, as animals or bit**es.
In a 52 page essay ‘Undoing History’s Spell on Bad Women,’ Esha Pillay and Quishile Charan dive into the lack of a mainstream narrative for women in indo-fijian/girmitya history.
“We as female descendants standing here today find ourselves unsatisfied; we are not satisfied with the narratives that have prevailed of us: of how Indo-Fijian women are not chaste enough, clean enough, capable enough, smart enough or pure enough.”
While there is a written stigma around Girmitiya women, whenever I do read the stories (however poorly written), I think to myself…my ancestors were badasses.
These women left their homes searching for a better opportunity. Once trapped, they served their time during Girmit. They united and resisted, they fought back against their abusers, against indenture and led the largest labour strike/riot in 1920. They persevered.
“Women were forced to work on farms just days after birth and they had to leave their crying babies at the fringes of farms, not allowed to feed them… most suicides were by hanging, committed in early mornings. When the feet touched the ground because the rope was too long, the victims folded their feet – so great was the desire to die and escape from a barbarous and inhumane system of Girmit – the indenture.”
As a mom now, I cannot imagine being put to work days after labor whilst watching my child cry/scream for me or for nutrition on the outskirts of the farm. I cannot imagine the pain these women endured. Throughout writing this post, I continued to be reminded of a poem I recently came across, ‘‘An Ode to Fearless Women’ by Nikita Gill and it really resonated with me, so I will leave you with this.
I think your bones
were made in an elsewhere place
How else does anyone explain
this inconceivable strength that makes you.
The way you look into danger’s mouth
and see no cemetery or death.
Instead, carve your name into
it’s teeth with a switchblade,
defeat it so effortlessly
and throw your head back and laugh.
Paradox girl, mighty woman,
you are the thing that terrifies them.
Both monster and maiden, both cure and poison,
all of these things and at the same time human.
Defined by no man, you are your own story,
blazing through the world, turning history into herstory.
And when they dare to tell you about
all the things you cannot be,
you smile and tell them:
“I am both war and woman and you cannot stop me.
– Nikita Gill
Keep talking about the powerful women that came before you to those that stand with you and one day, they will share the same.
I strongly encourage you to read the essay by Esha and Quishile, it will leave a pit in your stomach but it will empower you to LIVE. Women before us have sacrificed so much. Don’t let their fight go to waste.
Rajendra Prasad, author of “Tears in Paradise -Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004