April 11, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: Kerosene and water, mixing slowly: the internal racisms (a personal view) -- Part III.


“You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
This is the third part of an article which began with the MIDA incident, premised on the allegation that Vesikula’s “kerosene and water don’t mix” statement was an expression of racism or “hate speech” against Indo-Fijians.
[Part I of the article pointed out that raising concerns about indigenous people lagging behind systematically, such as in education and commerce, and calling for Affirmative Action was not racism.  Part II of the earlier article focused on the mutual prejudices or racism of Indo-Fijians and Fijians.]
This article, drawing on my own personal experience over the years, focuses on the many internal racisms, which might equally be described by Vesikula’s metaphor “kerosene does not mix with water” and his statement “race is a fact of life”.
I suggest, that on the contrary, both are being eroded as Fiji moves towards a multi-racial society, pushed along by the young folk especially, and the forces of globalization.
I conclude by suggesting that Fiji’s political leaders can either destructively perceive our multicultural diversity as “forces that divide us” (as our political dinosaurs have in the past), or they can constructively use the diversity as a wonderful asset that can enrich our lives, both spiritually and materially (as in the tourism industry).
I first cast stones in my own family glass house, which not only illustrates the racism of Gujarati against Hindustani (i.e. “non-Gujarati Indo-Fijians”), but also the great progress made within just one generation, of  racial barriers breaking down, holding much hope for Fiji’s future.

Gujarati racism: a personal journey

Gujarati are the descendants of an exclusive group of Indians from Gujarat, who migrated freely to Fiji, in contrast to most other Indians who came as indentured laborers for the colonial sugar industry.
Parental attitudes to inter-ethnic marriages are an interesting barometer of racial prejudices and how they have changed in just thirty years.
Gujarati children, especially girls, were discouraged from marrying Hindustani, with the occasional elopements scandalizing the Gujarati society.
My dhobi community (originally laundry people) are but one of the many  “castes” within Gujarati who previously did not intermarry – i.e. not even with other Gujarati groups like the sonars, kshatriyas, darjis, patels, mochis, etc.
Forty years ago, my parents were very happy when one of my sisters (No.2 out of 4) married another Gujarati boy from our own dhobi community.
But my Hindu parents expressed strong opposition to my marrying a Chinese girl.  While they may have had the usual Indian prejudices (“don’t Chinese eat beef, cats, and dogs”?) their plea to me was: “Who will marry your sisters if you marry a Chinese girl?”  So this marriage was postponed, eventually for a decade.
Then Sister No. 1 caused great parental alarm by insisting on marrying a Hindustani boy from a Labasa cane farming family, a bright USP graduate, who would later achieve academic and constitutional fame.
My parents reluctantly agreed, but the marriage conveniently took place in Vancouver where the groom was studying for his Masters Degree (and my older brother was available to fill in on my parents behalf).
But very soon after, when Sister No.3 decided to marry a Canadian Punjabi, my parents’ attitudes had changed enough to host this wedding in Fiji, with the full Gujarati rituals and celebrations, stoically putting up with the expected snide remarks from their community.
Yet another barrier was broken when my parents did not object to Sister No. 4 marrying a British/Australian kaivalagi fellow student at Cambridge, with the wedding taking place in Canada.
My two brothers obligingly married two Gujarati girls from India, the weddings occurring in Fiji with the usual grand expensive Gujarati celebrations.
Eventually, with my sisters “out of the way”, my parents also agreed to my marrying my Chinese lady, conveniently and very cheaply for them, occurring in a British registry office (thereby also denying my dhobi community an early taste of the Chinese feasts they appreciate so much today). My parents got along fine with their Chinese daughter-in-law, and my mother began adding soya sauce to some of her recipes.
But an indicator of the positive future of multiracialism in my own family, was that my parents adored all the grandchildren and great grandchildren who came along, whatever their Gujarati, Hindustani, Punjabi, Chinese,  white Australian, Jewish, German components.  The extended mataqali of all the families associated with my wife and I are even more international in character, all happening in one generation.
My children have had the good fortune to grown up in a lovely rich environment of doting Chinese and Gujarati grandmothers, uncles and aunts. With double-barreled Indian and Chinese names, they are ready for the new world order, dominated by China and/or India.
I am comfortable with multiculturalism because I grew up in multi-racial Toorak, attended the then multi-racial schools like Marist Primary and Marist Secondary, had many multiracial friends  amongst USP colleagues and students, YWCA and Fiji Civil service, my university studies in NZ, Jamaica, and UK, and my extended mataqali coming with the families of my wife,  and hers and my siblings.
I point out that similar multicultural environments are being replicated through most schools and workplaces in Fiji which are now becoming racially integrated, despite lingering pockets of racial concentration (Indian College is now 80% Fijian).
There are dozens of Gujarati families in Fiji who have made the same transition as mine, over the last few decades. More and more Gujarati families are accepting non-Gujarati marriage partners for their children.  Some of these marriages work, and some don’t, just like any other marriage.
Of course, Gujarati racism against Hindustani has not disappeared: Gujarati still privately look down on the Hindustani and call them “kakka” (not to be confused with kaaka or uncle).

Hindustani racism against Gujarati

But there is also reverse Hindustani racism against Gujarati, once again rearing its ugly head on anonymous blogs.
Fiji Hindustani have contemptuously referred to Gujarati as “Bombaiya khitchdri“, a soft rice and dhal dish that is a favorite of the allegedly cowardly (“soft”) Gujaratis.
To growth up in Toorak, a Gujararati “Bombaiya Khitchdri) boy had to be prepared to fight back against bullying by Hindustani (and other) boys not just in the protection of one’s dignity, but the more valuable footballs, kites, tops, marbles, and pocket money which used to be easy targets for the bullies of the time. A Gujarati mother used to be quite fed up with her son frequently coming home with blood on his face.
Fiji’s Hindustani politicians have long played the “race card” against Gujarati, usually alleging that the Fijian political parties were being supported by prominent Gujarati business houses (Punjas, Patels, Tappoos, etc.) and who allegedly also made their fortunes by commercially exploiting the descendants of the girmitiya (the original indentured laborers) in the cane belt.
These allegations conveniently ignored that the majority of Gujarati immigrants, including the current business giants, originally came to Fiji as poor service people who were laborers in all but name: small traders, barbers, tailors, shoe makers, and laundry people (like my parent’s dhobi community).
The descendants of the original Gujarati (and certainly the children of the dhobi)  have grown up with the same kinds of opportunities and tough times, as have the descendants of the girmitiya and they also diversified from their original “caste” work, as have the descendants of the girmitiya.
The Gujarati have done extremely well in Fiji as a group, not because of any affirmative action by the colonial government or banks, but due to their work ethic, commercial acumen, and frugality (which latter trait, so useful for capitalist accumulation is contemptuously labeled by the Hindustani askanjoosai (being miserly with money or mamaaqi).
Some of the Hindustani racism against Gujarati is no doubt a reverse reaction against the exclusivity of the Gujarati community, while some is probably driven by sheer envy of a successful minority group, who are successful everywhere in the world (like the Jews).
But urban Fiji stands out among the other Pacific Island countries because of the quality products, services, corporations and business complexes built by many Gujarati families- such as Punjas, Motibhais, Kasabias, the numerous Patels, Jacks, Tappoos, Damodars, Narseys (no relation) and many others.  But the majority of Gujarati today are NOT businessmen.
Of course, a few Gujarati tycoons have exercised significant political influence (some very unethically indeed for their own business interests) on ALL Prime Ministers, whether Ratu Mara, Rabuka, Chaudhry, Qarase or Bainimarama.
But so also have the business tycoons of all other races- North Indians, South Indians, white, kailoma, Chinese or even a few indigenous Fijians, as indicated by prominent business names in Fiji: Hedstroms, Stinson, Cupit, Lee, Seeto, Maharaj, Prasad, Narayan, Reddy, Weleilakeba, to mention just a few.
While racism against Gujarati business interests is obvious today from the anonymous posts on blogs, not so the Hindustani racism against Gujarati that has crept into academia and affected me personally.

Making Gujarati economists invisible

It amazes me that so many Hindustani academics, writers and historians have succeeded in making prominent Gujarati economists invisible in their writings on Fiji and Fiji’s Indo-Fijians.  The problem may have started with my brief three year stint in politics.
From 1996 to 1999, I was a National Federation Party (NFP) representative and Shadow Finance Minister in the Fiji Parliament, where on common issues, I used to co-operate with all parties, including the Fiji Labour Party and SVT.  So it was a total shock to me in the 1999 Elections,  when a few FLP candidates (including some former USP colleagues, friends and even my former students), merely to obtain Hindustani votes, callously labeled me as a “Gujarati anti-worker economist in the pockets of Gujarati businessmen”. Many Indo-Fijian voters believed these spurious allegations and not only lost me votes, but also many golfing friends throughout Fiji.
This labeling was grossly unfair.  I had been a founding member of the Fiji Labour Party in 1985. I had consistently supported workers and farmers interests in my academic work over the decades, continuing through to current times with my support of Father Kevin Barr’s efforts in the Wages Councils through my Just Wages study. Ironically, many Gujarati employers even saw me as a “traitor” to “the Gujarati community” (of which I have never been exclusively part of).
The 2004 celebration of the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first girmitiyas saw the creation of a special website focused on the indenture/girmitiya experience, launched with the hope that it would be, according to the Chief Guest, a “useful source of information on the history of Indo-Fijians in Fiji”. 
The website did have many useful more recent writings about the girmitiya experience and the  sugar industry. But it totally omitted any reference to one of the earliest articles commemorating the centenary of the arrival of indentured laborers in Fiji (Wadan Narsey “Monopoly Capital, White Racism and Super‑profits in Fiji: a Case Study of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company”,  Journal of Pacific Studies­, Vol.5, 1979. pp. 66‑146).
I initially thought that exclusion of references to my writing was due to my brief political role as an NFP parliamentarian, but the Fiji Girmit website also excluded the writings of another prominent Gujarati economist (Dr Padma Narsey Lal my sister), who has been a prolific and solid analyst of the sugar industry in recent years, with major publications.  She has also been a senior research colleague to many of Fiji’s Indo-Fijian economists, including those who set up the girmitiya website.  She is a pioneering graduate of USP, and through marriage, solidly integrated into her husband’s Hindustani family.  But evidently all these were  not good enough to get her extensive works on the sugar industry mentioned.
Similar exclusions were obvious in a book launched for the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the girmitiya in Fiji: “Children of the Indus, 1879-2004: a history of Indians in Fiji portraying the struggles of an immigrant community for justice, equality and acceptance“.  This book, like the several others that have been published since, also make no references to the writings of the two Gujarati economists.
[I thank another website (and editor Ms Vanita Nair) on the girmitiya) which readily published my writings on the girmitiya and the sugar industry when they were made aware.]
It is sad that the quite legitimate acknowledgement of the great girmitiya contribution to the development of Fiji, is also used to deliberately exclude, for political or other reasons,  the valuable contributions to Fiji by the Gujarati and their descendants, whether academics, professionals, businessmen or ordinary responsible citizens.
It will be interesting to see whether some former FLP stalwarts who are currently in the Bainimarama camp, will continue their anti-Gujarati speeches in their campaigns, given not just Bainimarama’s friendship with prominent Gujarati business interests, but also the public statements by the MIDA Chairman against “hate speech” of any kind against any ethnic community. The irony is that we continue our friendships and our developmental work  in Fiji, regardless of our ideological or ethnic differences.

North Indians and South Indians

Another largely ignored internal Indo-Fijian racism is that by North Indians against South Indians (called “Madraasis” in Fiji), also exhibited in discouragement of marriages across this divide.
I very belatedly noticed the resurgence of South Indian identity when I became part of the “Tata Golf Club” with their greetings of  “namaskaaram” (not the usual “Ram Ram“) and in which a Gujarati golfer was renamed “Wardana Narsaiya”.
Some of my South Indian friends engaged in heated discourses about North Indian cultural imperialism against South Indians in India and Fiji, one dear departed friend even going back to India to trace his South Indian roots.
I also became aware that some inverted the famous Rama and Sita mythology in Hinduism, in which the “good” northern Hindu God, Rama battles the evil rakshas king Ravan from southern India (Lanka).  In the inverted South Indian version, Ravan becomes the “Good Guy” battling the northern Aryan invaders.
The resurgence of  the South Indian identity also took root amongst USP South Indian academics, some of whom took prominent roles in South Indian organizations, such as the various Sangams which ran schools and cultural events.
While the North Indians at USP joked about the USP “Madraasi mafia” and “khatta paani” (the sour tamarind taste loved by South Indians), the South Indian gatherings made equally contemptuous references to the North Indian “kurvi“.
For the older generations, the North Indian prejudices against South Indians continue in full force, despite the respect for South Indian fire walking, and their unique curries.
Thankfully, the young North Indians and  South Indians, could not care less about this divide.

Castes, Color, Muslims, and Hindu Sects

Then there are the historical complexities and continuing pervasive racism by the Indo-Fijian upper castes (Brahmins) against the lower castes, expressing itself in all kinds of exclusiveness, including marriage and religious barriers (all too complex to treat here).
Thankfully, these “caste” distinctions are also becoming less important to the younger Indo-Fijians, although they prevail in many families.
Also continuing strongly today is the pervasive racism by light skinned Indo-Fijians against dark-skinned Indo-Fijians, very visible in the dominance of Bollywood images by fair Indians who could be virtually Caucasians.  I addressed this topic in a 2002 article.
At a religious level, there is a huge gulf between the supporters of Sanatan Dharam and the Arya Samaj (the main Hindu sects) who have done great service to Fiji and students of all racese through the quality schools they manage.  Ironically, the leading lights of both sects have been prominent Bainimarama supporters.
A sad development since 2006 is the worsening of the gulf between Muslims and Hindus (and indigenous Fijians), largely contributed by extraordinary “in-your-face” media presence of one  Bainimarama supporter.  Of course, there are Muslims beating a path to the Regime’s door with money-making schemes, just as businessmen of all other races are also doing.  Of course, there are a number of prominent Muslim appointments being made to high places, some good, some weak.
Yet for every prominent Muslim being appointed, there are three times as many Hindus or ten times as many Christian Fijians, also being appointed by the Bainimarama Regime without any comment from the diehard Regime critics.  Just as there always were appointments of “friends and colleagues”, some good and some weak, in the days of other Prime Ministers like Ratu Mara, Rabuka, Chaudhry and Qarase.
It is a tragedy that many anonymous cowardly bloggers are inciting anti-Muslim sentiments with outrageous claims that the “Taliban are taking over Fiji” when the ordinary Muslims have no particular role in the Bainimarama coup as Muslims.  I remind that there will be no winners from strife caused by religious bigotry.
It is unfortunate also that all our coups have encouraged other religious divides. The Methodists supported the coups in 1987 and 2000, while the Catholics, Sanatan Dharam, Arya Pratinidhi, and the Islamic organizations, by association of their leaders, are perceived to have supported Bainimarama’s coup.
In the last few years, the Bainimarama Regime has come down quite unfairly on the Methodists, while the other religious organizations have looked on with indifference (and some with vengeful delight).  But two “wrongs” will never make a right.   The failure of our religious organizations to take the opportunities to end the cycles of religious intolerance is quite sad.
There are many PhDs waiting to be written about the changing nature of the religious divides in Fiji.

What of the kaivalagi and kailoma?

There has been more than enough written about the historical racism against both Fijians and Indo-Fijians by Fiji’s kaivalagi  and kailoma, many of whom for decades after independence in 1970, were still hankering for the “good old days when the natives knew their place in the world”.
One only has to read The Fiji Times in the Len Usher era when the colonial whites under the guise of “noble defenders of Fijian paramountcy”, used to freely rant against Indo-Fijians, effectively dividing and ruling both.
But the kailoma, often derogatively referred to as “half-castes”, also faced discrimination from kaivalagi and Indo-Fijians. Even the Fijian term vasu, while used by kailoma as implying a complimentary “special” relationship with the indigenous Fijians, can also be seen as derogatory (according to one doubtful interpretation of the word in Vesikula’s statement).
So what explains the quite widespread support of Bainimarama by prominent kaivalagi and kailoma (the Thompsons are not unique)?
I suspect that one factor is that many old colonial kaivalagi and kailoma have been quite resentful of being marginalized during the Rabuka and Qarase eras by the Fijian ethno-nationalists, with their services not being called upon as they were for the previous decades.
Many kaivalagi and kailoma, like many Indo-Fijians, support Bainimarama precisely because they feel that the Bainimarama Regime willingly accepts their services which they offer Fiji, although part of his strategy may well be to have some white faces (citizens or non-citizens) fronting up to the world media.

Internal Fijian “isms”?

With all the above discussions of internal Indo-Fijian racisms, it is natural to ask: what about the internal Fijian racisms? I offer the following brief comments on a subject deserving a real expert.
We all know that there is the yawning gap between Fijian chiefs and commoners, and the strong limitations that the commoners feel in the presence of chiefs, even if they are being materially disadvantaged by chiefly decisions (cf the Monosavu landowners’ claims).
Fijian commoners of merit have long silently faced discrimination with the appointment of chiefs (men and women) over them, whether in the Fiji Military Forces or civil service.
We are all aware of the social pressures that children of chiefs face in their marriage choices, some ending in much pain for individuals.
It is generally perceived that fairer Eastern Fijians (with their traces of Tongan blood) have looked down on the generally darker hill tribes, who were the last fiercely independent Fijians to be conquered by the British colonials with the assistance of Eastern Fijians- hence the contemptuous term “kai colo” (uncivilized).
Another aspect of this “racism” is that the written history of early Fiji and Fijians is largely a history written from the point of view of Eastern Fijians, not of the western Fijians or the hill tribes, while historical icons of the Fijians in the interior (like the Nacule fort) are largely ignored by successive governments dominated by Eastern Fijians, while the first government headed by a western Fijian (Dr Bavadra) was quickly removed in the 1987 coup.
One of Fiji’s historians used to claim that the current history of Fijian politics is exactly the same as pre-Cession, as if the British colonial era had never been. Some have even claimed that once the Indo-Fijians are gone, the Fijians will be “at each other again” as they were in pre-Cession Fiji.
But I suggest to serious researchers that this can be serious challenged by solid totally original data from the 2007 Census, which sadly have still not been fully published and pertinent results fully discussed. One of the very new datasets (resulting from questions not asked in previous Censuses) is not just the current location of Fijians, but their origins elsewhere in Fiji.  This will indicate the extent to which different Fijian tribes have inter-married and relocated within Fiji, I believe, significantly diluting the old tribal tensions which in my opinion, are not going to be as strong as before.
An external expression of Fijian racism (or “prejudices”, according to one of my critics) could be seen in regional politics with most Fijian leaders post Independence, having a proclivity towards the Eastern Polynesian countries, while having a clear sense of superiority to the less-developed Melanesian countries and people.
It is only recently that the Melanesian Spearhead grouping has assumed greater political importance to Fiji bringing Fijians closer to Melanesians, partly because of the MSG countries’ unqualified support for the Bainimarama Regime, but also because of the solid material incentives emanating from the new-found minerals and LNG wealth in PNG, and PNG’s central role in today’s Super Power Rivalry in the

Lessons for future leaders:  using diversity to unite rather than divide

Our people, and Fiji’s political and social leaders, continue to face the enormous challenge of breaking down the all pervasive racial compartments, stereotypes, and prejudices, that have plagued us for decades, and build a genuine united nation.
It would help if we did not sweep expressions of our ethnic and cultural difference under the carpet or into shadowy corners.
It would help if the media were not prevented from reporting such dissonance, by a pugnacious MIDA Chairman.
It would help if  there was a cleansing national acknowledgement by our leaders, of ALL the racial prejudices within ALL  our ethnic communities, and not just a targeted few.
It would help if we continued to strengthen the trend towards the greater appreciation of each others’ cultures and religions. This is clearly happening to a greater extent cultures, with national  celebrations of Christmas, Easter, Eid, Ram Naumi, Holi, Deepawali, and other rich cultural events.
One may disagree with Bainimarama’s strategy of trying to create a national identity and unity by decreeing that everyone should be called “Fijians”.
But all indigenous Fijian leaders could learn from the wily Bainimarama that continuously telling Indo-Fijians, kaivalagi and kailomas that the State is going to treat them as equal to the indigenous Fijians, is likely to get their votes.
Of course, this does not preclude Fijian political leaders from also calling for affirmative action for indigenous Fijians where they systematically lag behind others, such as in education and commerce, and nothing precludes the State form legitimatly implementing such affirmative actions.
Note also that Bainimarama has not actually ensured even a semblance of racial equality in numbers of Indo-Fijian  Ministers in his Cabinet, or numbers of senior civil servants or the Fiji Military Forces (or gender balance).
It is unfortunate that Fiji has also not explored fully how we can gain economically from our rich cultural diversity.  For instance, our tourism industry still does not project the many Indo-Fijian cultures and cuisines that our tourists might like to pay to be exposed to, as suggested in this 2004 article here.
Most major communities in Fiji do not fully appreciate the wonderful contributions that kailoma have made to the history of Fiji, the music, the food, the bridge between indigenous Fijians and kaivalagi. There are also other interesting cultures in Fiji such as  Rotuman, Banaban, and increasingly, Tuvaluan, Kiribati and Nauruan, which could all be given greater national prominence, just as the minority Chinese are quite prominent now.
One of these days, some Fiji government will put their money behind their frequent but generally empty rhetoric of wanting to preserve and strengthen Fijian culture, by ensuring that there are national venues and events which bring out the great diversity of indigenous Fijian cultures - such as mekes, songs, and dialects. (Note that the foremost authority on Fijian language and culture continues to be a non-indigenous Fijian, Dr Paul Geraghty, who occasionally suffers resentment from some Fijians, precisely because of that fact).
Political leaders have a choice.  They can keep emphasizing our multi-cultural diversity as a divisive force with “kerosene won’t mix with water” speeches; or they can build a rich nation on our multi-cultural diversity as an asset.
Politicians could do worse than emulate one of Fiji’s foremost Fijian musicians, Saimone Vuatalevu, who not only has popularized Indian songs among Fijians, but also composed wonderful music that tries to unite our people, such as the lead song in his newly released album “Healthy Multicultural Fiji”.

April 07, 2014

Pacific Media Centre: AUDIO: Electoral decree provision for phone, internet monitoring 'open to abuse'

Monday, April 7, 2014
Item: 8545

SUVA (Radio NZ International / Dateline Pacific / Pacific Media Watch): The Fiji Law Society says a decree provision allowing phone and internet monitoring in the days before the general election in September is open to abuse and could allow the government to access people's telephone and internet records, reports Radio NZ International.
Transcript:The Fiji Law Society says a decree provision allowing phone and internet monitoring in the days before the election is open to abuse.

Section 63 says any person is prohibited from communicating political messages by telephone, internet, email, social media or other electronic means 48 hours before polling opens.

Violating the decree can result in a US$27,000 fine, or 10 years in jail.

Mary Baines reports:

The Law Society president, Dorsami Naidu, says the provision, worded to include all people in Fiji, is not a result of poor drafting but was intended to try to control the public. Mr Naidu says restrictions on what the media and political parties can say in the days before an election are not uncommon internationally. But he says a provision restricting all citizens is very unusual, and is a breach of freedom of speech, expression and privacy.

DORSAMI NAIDU: It's not poor drafting. I think it was done very intentionally, they must have something in mind. It seems as though they want to control our thoughts and minds prior and during the election process, when we're supposed to be going back to democracy.

Mr Naidu says the provision suggests surveillance by government on citizens is a possibility.

DORSAMI NAIDU: Though we won't be privy to what our own secret surveillance people do, or what the government does, it's open to abuse. Political parties and individuals can be targeted in the name of this Decree, and that may affect the elections.

A Fiji academic, Dr Wadan Narsey, says the provision is intended to strike fear into people. Dr Narsey says the Bainimarama government has been successful in controlling the media in Fiji, but cannot control people expressing opinions on social media.

WADAN NARSEY: My goodness, how are they going to monitor it? This is electronic surveillance - are they being authorised by this Decree to conduct electronic surveillance on our citizens and to influence what they do and say to other people, their friends, their relatives or anybody? I mean the whole thing is quite frightening in this sense.

A media expert, Pat Craddock of the journalism programme at the University of the South Pacific, says such a provision is unworkable.

PAT CRADDOCK: Surely I can talk on my cellphone, on my computer, on Facebook, and there are those things the government can't control. There are blogs all over Fiji, and many of them are very scurrilous, and the government has wanted to control them in the past and they haven't managed to date.

Communications companies Vodafone Fiji and Telecom Fiji Limited could not be reached for comment. The Elections Commission chair, Chen Bunn Young, or the elections supervisor, Mohammed Saneem, could not be reached for comment on how it planned to enforce the provision.

Prof Wadan Narsey: MIDA, kerosene and water: and other racisms

[The MIDA incident and the national discussion of “hate speech”, ethno-nationalism  and the implied racism against Indo-Fijians, needs to be balanced by discussion of Indo-Fijian racism, which has been rarely discussed in public, yet is pertinent.
This post has two parts:
Part I: Raising indigenous concerns is not necessarily racism
Part II: What of Indo-Fijian racism against Fijians?
The third part follows in another post:
Part III: Internal Indo-Fijian racisms are also “a fact of life”.]
The Chairman (Mr Ashwin Raj) of the Fiji Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) has opened a veritable Pandora’s Box of questions, with his reaction over the alleged “hate speech” by a Fijian leader, Ratu Timoci Vesikula, who was apparently giving advice to Rear Admiral Bainimarama on his campaign trail in his own province, Tailevu.
Was the Chairman of MIDA (Mr Ashwin Raj) making his judgment from some English translation of Vesikula’s speech?  If so, how accurate was the translation as there are different versions circulating?
It is still not clear to the public what exactly were Ratu Vesikula’s words that could be reasonably construed to be “hate speech”, even after Mr Raj’s explanations on the FBC TV program “4 The Record”.
How reasonable in law is it that the MIDA Chairman can be prosecutor, judge and jury of third parties like Fiji TV (the “reporter” of the speech) even BEFORE the speaker and alleged culprit has been charged and found guilty of “hate speech” under current Fiji laws?
Could a mere 3 minute airing by Fiji TV of what Ratu Vesikula said, be accurately called “unfettered coverage” as Mr Raj claimed?
Could the fact that Bainimarama’s response to Vesikula was not immediately  aired by Fiji TV, be reasonably called “unbalanced coverage” by Fiji TV, when most of Bainimarama’s speech at that Tailevu meeting was reported?
Could Fiji TV be accused of unbalance media coverage over just this 3 minute news item, when it is abundantly clear that in any one week or month, Fiji TV gives probably thirty times more coverage to Bainimarama, Khaiyum and other Ministers, than they do to the views of opposing politicians or traditional leaders like Ratu Vesikula?
Is MIDA going to ensure that every time Bainimarama, Khaiyum or other Government Minister gets media exposure, that the media will be required to immediately give similar exposure to the opposition?
Is MIDA’s demand that all political speeches in the vernaculars be translated into English consistent with the human right of citizens, and politicians and voters, to communicate with each other in their own languages, without being forced to translate into English?
Is Mr Ashwin Raj exhibiting some preconceived attitudes of his own when he defensively admonished the media:
“my decision this morning cannot be misconstrued as an impingement of freedom of expression or dismissed as yet another instance of gagging media freedom by MIDA as has been insinuated by some who are posturing as the praetorian guard of human rights but sadly very quiet over the issue of hate speech”. (my emphasis).
[Those who search for the meaning of “praetorian guard” may reach  the interesting conclusion that for the last eight years in Fiji, there has been only one set of praetorian guards, paid for by taxpayers, protecting a political emperor, for all of whom protecting human rights may be of little importance].
It would be wrong for critics to humorously brush off this MIDA incident as an example of yet another Don Quixote tilting at windmills in a Fiji which seems to provide a fertile ground for the unfettered (nice word, that) flexing of powers.
 BUT, there are three other important ongoing issues that this MIDA/Vesikula incident raises, which will continue to surface in the run-up to the September election and beyond, and need to be discussed by the public to put this MIDA incident in its proper perspective.
1.  Was Ratu Vesikula legitimately raising indigenous Fijian concerns about indigenous Fijians systematically lagging behind in education and commerce, as allowed under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which concerns cannot be classified as “racism”  (Part I of this article).
2.  It would seem that racism against Indo-Fijians was exercising the mind of the MIDA Chairman when he quite extraneously compared Ratu Vesikula’s statement to that by Asenaca Caucau, a former SDL Minister, who had derogatively referred to Indo-Fijians as “weeds”.  To balance this picture, we also need to acknowledge the racism by Indo-Fijians against indigenous Fijians (Part II of this article).
3.  We also need to acknowledge the pervasive INTERNAL racisms amongst Indo-Fijian groups such as Gujarati/Hindustani, North Indian/South Indian, upper caste/lower castes, Hindus/Muslims, fair-skinned/dark-skinned and religious bigotry for whom also, “race is a fact of life”, not dissimilar to Ratu Vesikula’s view of Fijian and Indo-Fijian relations (however inaccurate). (Part III of this article).
If Fiji is to build a genuinely multi-racial society then we need to recognize ALL racisms, and not just target indigenous Fijians, as is the current vogue for a small coterie of powerful individuals in the Bainimarama Regime. 

Part I: Concern for indigenous rights is not necessarily “hate speech”

Having read the media releases by MIDA and also viewed the FBC program “4 the Record” on Sunday night (6 April 2014) in which Mr Ashwin Raj was interviewed and allowed to explain his decision for half an hour, I was no wiser as to what actually Ratu Vesikula had said that might be construed as “hate speech” against Indo-Fijians.
Going by the various translations circulating, Ratu Vesikula is supposed to have warned Bainimarama (with my personal views in parenthesis) that
  • Bainimarama needs indigenous Fijian votes to be elected Prime Minister (correct)
  • most indigenous Fijians would like to support Bainimarama (debatable)
  • other communities will not support Bainimarama (quite wrong)
  • Indo-Fijians cared only about the Constitution (quite wrong)
  • Indo-Fijians cared only about their investments (valid only for the business classes, but for all races, including Fijians)
  • Indo-Fijians will want to “pacify and assuage” Bainimarama to get whatever they want (valid for all races)
  • that Fijians had lost their special FAB scholarships and were disadvantaged in the Toppers scholarship program (quite valid)
  • that Fijians were concerned about their rights to marine qoliqoli resources (quite valid)
  • that “race is a fact of life” (generally valid in Fiji) (Part II of this article)
  • that “kerosene and water do not mix” (Vesikula is entitled to his views, but Part II and III of this article suggests that significant progress is being made, especially by our younger people).

Raising indigenous concerns is not racism
Indo-Fijians need to look at Fiji through the eyes of indigenous Fijian leaders like Vesikula and understand their genuine deep fears: that they may lose control over their land and marine resources, lose political leadership, lose their cultural identity, and in the only country in the world where they can realistically hope to preserve these for posterity.
Such fears of indigenous peoples were internationally recognized as legitimate by the UN General Assembly in 2007
While accepting the fundamental equality of all peoples the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • recognizes the historical marginalization of indigenous peoples the world over
  • recognizes the need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples affirmed in historical treaties and constructive agreements with the state.
  • recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to organize themselves as a group for political, economic, social and cultural enhancements.
  • encourages states to enhance indigenous peoples rights through consultation (not through force)

Article 5 states clearly that  indigenous people “have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions”.
Indeed, many of the actions taken by the Bainimarama Regime in forcing changes on Fijian people and institutions without their agreement,  contradicts the above UN Declaration.
Of current relevance is that much of Ratu Timoci Vesikula’s concerns above, would be accepted as legitimate concerns of marginalized indigenous Fijians, as recognized by the United Nations.
Of course, none of the above would ever justify the physical violence against Indo-Fijians in the coups of 1987 or 2000, or periodic “hate speech” or the threatening of violence by racist politicians over the years, such as Butadroka.
Kerosene and water don’t mix?
Does Ratu Vesikula’s statement that “kerosene and water do not mix” amount to “hate speech”?
It is not stated which ethnic group was intended by Ratu Vesikula to be the “kerosene” and which “water”: both seem to be essential to the lives of indigenous Fijians, especially in the rural areas.
Of course, it is historically correct that Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians have not inter-married much in Fiji, partly discouraged by the British colonial policies of “divide and rule”, and surely also partly because of cultural and dietary differences.
But they certainly has been considerable “mixing” in both urban and rural areas, and even more inter-marriages are taking place today, especially among the young.
The public waits for Mr Ashwin Raj to clarify what exactly he saw as the “hate speech” by Ratu Timoci Vesikula (in Fijian and in the translation) and whether Fiji’s courts would make the same conclusion as the MIDA Chairman.
But we Indo-Fijians should also acknowledge first, that while we have faced the overt racism of 1987 and 2000, we also have our own covert historical racism towards indigenous Fijians (Part II here), and second, we are also plagued by all-pervasive internal racisms which are seldom aired publicly (Part III).
Both these expressions of racism could easily be included in the “hate speech” category, that the Chairman of MIDA talked about on the FBC program, “4 The Record”. 

Part II: Indo-Fijian racism against Fijians

The Chairman of MIDA justified his reactions with reference to a Bainimarama Decree which is part of his justification for his 2006 coup- to eliminate the racism by Fijian ethno-nationalists against Indo-Fijians. Most Indo-Fijians are in support of this.
The Real Overt Fijian racism against Indo-Fijians
For the record, most indigenous Fijian political leaders have never appreciated the deep sense of vulnerability amongst Indo-Fijians, who have been told for a century that they are “vulagi” (visitors) despite a lifetime of work and service to Fiji, and which explains their support of Bainimarama.
In the coups of 1987 and 2000, Indo-Fijian houses were burnt and innocent people, including the lawfully elected governments and ministers, assaulted and terrorized.
Indo-Fijians felt discrimination in civil service jobs and scholarships.  They suffered social trauma as emigration tore apart thousands of families (even if many benefited materially).
Even after the 2000 coups, Indo-Fijians were hurt when no SDL Leader rebuked one  lady Minister in their government who scoffed that Indians were “weeds” (she never expressed any unhappiness when taught by this Indian “weed” at USP).
It is largely for this message and their suffering in the coups of 1987 and 2000 that the majority of Indo-Fijians support Bainimarama.
It is telling that most Indo-Fijian leaders have supported Bainimarama: Fiji Labor Party (initially), heads of religious and social organizations, senior judges, university vice chancellors, senior civil servants, business and professionals, and a raft of former international bureaucrats.
Also influential on Indo-Fijians has been a whole army of Indo-Fijian writers-  Satendra Nandan, Subramani, Thakur Ranjit Singh and Rajendra Prasad - who keep publicizing the racism against Indo-Fijians, and idolizing Bainimarama.
But none of these writers ever recognized the magnanimity of the Fijian people in leasing their land to Indo-Fijian tenant farmers for more than a generation.
None of these writers ever recognized the magnanimity of Rabuka and his SVT Government in freely  revising the racist 1990 Constitution which gave them total control, into the 1997 Constitution which included the Multi-Party Government provision- an incredible political gift, totally unappreciated by the political leaders (except for Mr Jai Ram Reddy) of the ever-declining Indo-Fijian minority in Fiji.
Few, if any, of these Indo-Fijian leaders or writers have ever criticized  the Indo-Fijian racism against Fijians, or the internal Indo-Fijian racisms, which are far more pervasive than the overt racism by Fijians against Indo-Fijians, even if they do  not give rise to physical violence.
Indo-Fijian racism against Fijians
Ignored in the political discourse today is the historical Indo-Fijian racism against indigenous Fijians.
Indo-Fijians love to contrast their alleged three thousands of “civilization” in India, to the mere one hundred years for indigenous Fijians.  [Indo-Fijians conveniently forget the barbaric mutual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims, after partition into India and Pakistan, a mere sixty years ago].
At Indo-Fijian gatherings one can still hear the terms “junglee” (of the jungle) or “rakshas” (demons) used to describe indigenous Fijians.
Or there is a joking reference to their “terda baal” (implying “Fijians will never learn anything until their hair straightens out”).
While a few Indo-Fijian males are now marrying Fijian women, it is still extremely rare to find Indo-Fijian women marrying Fijian males.
Of course, indigenous Fijians can be racist towards Indo-Fijians as well, in ways more subtle than coups, house burning or physical assaults of ordinary citizens.
Most Indo-Fijians would be shocked to discover that Fijians often insult other Fijians by calling them “kaidia“ - implying “a person without respect for protocol, politeness, or vanua”, or who allegedly possesses all the undesirable traits that Fijians supposedly do not have- such as being selfish and mamaagi (miserly).
[But I note that while “generosity” may seem obvious in the Fijian practice of “giving and sharing”, the rigid expectation of reciprocity, can also be a beautiful disguise for selfishness].
Ultimately, Fiji’s historians will find it difficult to support allegations of Fijian political inferiority, when it is abundantly clear that most Fijian political leaders (including Bainimarama) have run rings around Indo-Fijian politicians.
Sociologists and anthropologists would also find it difficult to argue that that the incredibly rich indigenous Fijian culture is in any way inferior to local Indo-Fijian culture or that of kaivalagi or Kailua.
The frequent blog allegations that a prominent Bainimarama supporter is planning to implement the “Sunset Clause” on indigenous Fijians and their culture, has very little substance. The increasingly globalized Fijian people are more likely to erode their own culture of their free will.
[Although, I note an interesting trend for globalized Fijians to use the Internet, Facebook and various sites, to strengthen their culture and language, where previously the isolation in a far off land would have implied an inevitable erosion. What a great topic for scholarly research].
[Part III (The internal Indo-Fijian racisms) follows in a separate post].

Fiji Sun: CCF spreading lies, says Attorney-General

Non-governmental organisation told to withdraw booklet
April 7, 2014 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: 
Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum during the press conference yesterday.   Photo: Paulini RatulailaiThe Attorney- General, Aiyaz Sayed -Khaiyum, yesterday accused the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum of telling lies in its interpretation of the 2013 Constitution contained in a booklet.

And he has called on it to withdraw the booklet and he will also be writing to the donors explaining the situation. When asked whether action would be taken if CCF refused, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said they would wait for CCF’s response before a decision was made. 
CCF executive director Akuila Yabaki could not be reached to comment last night.

A booklet, titled “Citizen’s Constitutional Forum 2013 Fiji Government Constitution,” is believed to have been in circulation.

The Attorney-General said it contains “so many factual inaccuracies with deliberate omission and deliberate addition.”

He has also called on the public not to believe in it.

“It’s a great travesty not only of justice but great travesty of what this booklet is doing and what this organisation is doing being funded by foreign governments,” he said.

“Going down to grassroot people and spreading misinformation. They are spreading them lies. They are telling them untruths under the banners of the supposedly civil society organisations which is waging propaganda.

“And all of us need to be very annoyed by this because we want ordinary Fijians to have the right information, to be informed by facts. Let them make up their mind. It does not mention at a single time the fact there was widespread consultation on the constitution. Not a single time.”

One of the issues highlighted by Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, as outlined in the booklet, was the freedom from compulsory arbitrary acquisition of property where they talk about the rights and protection of the iTaukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands.

The booklet states that “however a written law may authorise compulsory acquisition of property when necessary for the public purposes and on the basis that the owner be promptly paid the agreed compensation.”

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said: “Compulsory acquisition has always been part of Fiji in the British times. Section 9 of the 1990 Constitution had compulsory acquisition. Section 40: 2 of the 1997 constitution had compulsory acquisition and that is for public purposes.

“This has been the case, however, the manner in which CCF has put it seems to have indicated to landowners whether you are customary owners or the freehold title owners that at anytime the State could come in to buy this land and take it away from you.

“What is more damaging about this page is that the CCF fails to mention the new provision in the 2013 new Constitution that if the state no longer requires the land for public purposes that it must therefore give back that land. That is the first time such a provision has been included in any constitution and the CCF has failed to mention that.”

Feedback:  losalinir@fijisun.com.fj


Whose flag is CCF flying?  >P3
Editorial  >P26

Fiji TV: NGO voter education must be sanctioned by Electoral Commission

By: Geoffrey Smith
Posted by: Newsteam in Headlines, News 21 hours ago

The Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has clarified that Government is not stopping civil society from helping with civic voter education.

He says in a recent meeting with NGO’s late last week, section 115 of the Electoral Decree was clearly explained.
Although the section restricts donor funded civil society groups from any electoral related activities, Sayed-Khaiyum says as long as they seek the approval of the Electoral Commission, they can still help.
“Because under the constitution the Electoral Commission is responsible for voter education but I”m sure the Electoral Commission wont mind partnering with NGO’s because a lot of them do get a lot of funding,” he said.
However the Attorney General adds NGO’s cannot be given a free reign on voter education.
“But heaven forbid, if you let them loose and they have a particular agenda they can actually go out in the rural areas and tell people the wrong thing,” said Sayed-Khaiyum.
“So this is why the education must be sanctioned by the Electoral Commission,” he says.