REVIEW – BBC Video – Coolies – How British Re-invented Slavery

Watch a BBC Video containing archive footage and historical evidence, of the Girmitiyas who were shipped to Fiji between 1879 and 1916. This footage includes speaker such as Mr Brij Lal, a Fiji-Indian who now teaches at the University of Australia and David Dabydeen, an Indo-Guyanan novelist who teaches in Warwick, United Kingdom. This documentary is focused on the descendants of Indian indentured labourer – like me and the many other present day generation in the Diaspora, nurture a deep urge to know our ancestral roots in India for sentimental reasons. At the same time, many of us are trying to evaluate the implications of our history. This documentary acts as a source to provide an important dimension to debate over whether or not the Indentured Labour system were really a little more than a “new system of slavery”.

“Fiji – the way the world should be” has a very agonising and a distressing history. Our great great grandparents, our grandparents the so many Bachusardars, Sirtajis, Puranwasi’s came from India to serve their Indenture in Fiji – to work in the sugar cane plantations, in harsh and unrelenting conditions. This video also shows a surviving Girmitiya’s account of the conditions that they were subject to. (I was fortunate enough to meet this person in 1997 in Sigatoka Fiji.) The slave trade was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807, but contrary to this, Britian continued such practice under the system of Indenture – a proper name for slavery, and continued sending shiploads of Indians to, South America, Mauritius, Malaya, South Africa and Fiji.

This video is the story of the Girmitiyas, the Coolies, the Indentured Labourers, who we descendant from, and who were lured by the British agents of a better future than in India, promised of wealth and freedom and to board those ships to a 3 month long journey to Fiji. They must have left India with a vision to build a better future and they did despite the atrocities, the hardship and the struggles by the hands of the British overseers and landlords. Indenture system was new system of slavery by the British Empire. It basically meant that a person was signing away their freedom for certain duration of time, 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years. Our people believed what they were told, They had no idea what they were signing or putting their thumbprint on. They literately were signing their lives away. Watching the BBC documentary made me realize the sacrifices, the difficulties our people faced at that time. Their stories have been forgotten, lost in history.

These immigration passes is what remain as the documented evidence that they existed.

Should we forget them? Can we forget them – No I can’t …. Can you???

This 60 minute documentary was shown by the BBC Four program in August 2005.