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By Tavenisa Diri Wolfromm

According to Fijilive, Brij Lal, author of the article titled "Democracy: Pure and simple", (see: published in Fijilive dated Saturday October 26, 2002, was the official representative of the Indian people to the three persons committee that wrote the 1997 constitution. Lal's article is therefore a very important document for all the people of Fiji as well as the international community. It contains the essence of the Indian plans for Fiji and the Fijian people.

At first glance, the Lal article appears to be an article about Lal's version of "democracy". However, a closer look at the article reveals that it has little to do with "democracy" and has much to do with the Indian push for the legalized dispossession, marginalization and silencing of the Fijian voice in Fiji, the ancestral land of the Fijian people. Distortions of reality, half truths, concealment of facts and outright lies are used to defend their position.

The tone of Lal's article indicates the sense of urgency, intensity, and desperation of the Indians in their push for the removal of the Fijian people from their constitutional ethnic identity as Fijians and for the removal of the Fijian voice from national decision making bodies in Fiji.

In 46 of the 48 paragraph article, Lal discusses the Fijian people as "problems", in his view, the greatest obstacle to his version of "democracy". Only twice in his long article, in paragraphs 39 and 41, does Lal refer indirectly to the Indians.

A long article about "democracy" in Fiji that does not address the Indians is rather suspicious because Indians make up almost half of the population of Fiji and they were equally responsible for the drafting of all of Fiji's constitution.

I will refer to the Indians as "Indians" because the 1997 constitution defines the Indians as "Indians" and the Fijians as "Fijians". Nowhere in the 1997 constitution can one see the rather misleading and deceptive term "Indo-Fijian". The term "Indo-Fijian" is designed to rid the Fijian people of their exclusive and distinctive constitutional identity as "Fijians" and it pushes the Indian people into that identity. The term "Indo-Fijian" is an act of identity theft because it is not in compliance with the 1997 constitutional definitions of the two ethnic groups.

Let's look at the Indian push for the legalized dispossession, marginalization and silencing of the Fijian voice in Fiji.

In paragraph 6, Lal makes two major propositions with far-reaching social and economic consequences for the entire Fijian race and their country:

First, Lal questions the constitutional recognition of the Great Council of Chiefs in Fiji. The function of Lal's question here is to make the proposition that the Great Council of Chiefs should not be recognized by the constitution of Fiji.

Second, Lal questions the veto power that the nominees of the Great Council of Chiefs enjoy in the Senate. Similarly, the function of this question is to propose that power should be legally removed from the nominees of the Great Council of Chiefs to the Senate.

To follow these Indian recommendations would result in the total and permanent silencing of the Fijian voice in national decision making bodies in Fiji. This would result in the dismantling of the institutions and social fabrics that hold the Fijian people together and keep the Fijian people distinctive as an ethnic group. This would be a direct violation of the United Nations conventions on the rights of indigenous peoples to participate in national decision making bodies that make decisions affecting their lives. Lal and his team need to read the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples published in the United Nations Department of Public Information*DPI/1608?HR-December 1994.

Lal's claim that Fijian people are not entitled to their indigenous rights because they are "not marginalized" is flawed.

Fijians are already marginalized in their own country as evidenced in the wide economic gap between the Fijians and the Indians. All statistics show that Fijians are over-represented at the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder in Fiji. That is marginalization and Lal's argument holds no water.

Since Lal appears to be preoccupied with international opinion (see paragraphs 1,4,9,38)   and since he considers himself very powerful in influencing international opinion and decisions about Fiji and the Fijians, I would like to pose a few questions relating to the international community for Lal and his team at this stage. :

First, Lal might want to explain why a team of Maori delegation, who were in Fiji attending a South Pacific Conference about the United Nations Draft Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples issued a press statement in 1997 condemning the new constitution for eroding indigenous rights. According to the Maori delegation "the constitution compromised the native people under the western term "equality". (See Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, press stament in Maori News, May 30, 2000)

Lal might also want to explain why the 1997 constitution was adopted even though 8 of the 14 Fijian provinces rejected it.

I need not dwell on how easily politicians can be manipulated because Lal did a good job of that in paragraph 44. In recommending common roll elections, Lal writes:

"Politicians adapt rather quickly to any system that will get them elected."

In any society, the economically dominant group can pay the politicians any amount of money to achieve their political goals. Lal does not mention in his article that in Fiji, the economically dominant group is the Indian community.

The next international community questions for Lal are as follows: Why haven't the Indian immigrants in the United Kingdom questioned the constitutional recognition of the indigenous English people's monarchy?   

Second, why haven't the Indian immigrants questioned the constitutional recognition of the indigenous English people's House of Lords?   

Could this be due to the fact that England recognizes the indigenous rights of the natives of England even though they are not marginalized as an ethnic group?

Another interesting observation is that the Indians have lived in England long before the Leonidas left India for Fiji. How many Indian Prime Ministers have ruled the English democracy?

Maybe when Lal migrates to England from Australia, he can successfully push for the first Indian Prime Minister of England and demand for the removal of the English Monarchy and Lal's other symbols of "inequality" like the English House of Lords.

If Lal's notion of "equality" is not applicable to the indigenous peoples of England, what makes it applicable to the indigenous peoples of Fiji?

Maybe if England takes the lead at legally marginalizing and dis-empowering its own indigenous peoples then Fiji will follow suit because, after all, it was the indigenous English people living in Australia who brought the Indians to Fiji in the first place.

When it comes to Mother England and her political customs and traditions, Lal and his team take a wide berth for obvious reasons.

Lal's push for "equality" should be seen in the light of the "equality" in the Indian caste system, because India, by the way, is the world's greatest democracy.

Lal's point of view is the official Indian point of view and it has its origins in India.

The next idea I wish to explore is the Indian people's claim that the Fijian people are not entitled to their indigenous rights in Fiji.

Lal spent 40 of his 48 paragraph article discussing this subject.

In paragraph 18, Lal states that the Fijian people's wish to have a Fijian head of government in their own country is "flawed". Lal claims the Fijian people's collective wish is "flawed" because, in his words, "Fijians are not peas in the same pod."

Can Lal name an ethnic group in this world whose members are "peas in the same pod"?

The Indians, for example, are made up of Hindu Arya Samaj, Hindu Sanatan Dharm, Hindu Sai Baba, Muslims, Sikhs, Gugeratis, Mandrajees, and numerous other sub-groups.

These are peoples with completely different religions, languages, class, castes, world views and so on and so forth.

Why use the differences among the Fijian people, who, unlike the Indians, worship the same God, speak the same language and share a common culture, as an excuse to ignore their indigenous rights and their aspirations for the governance of their native country?

Lal and his team appear to be painfully disappointed by the fact that Fijian people are capable of thinking for themselves and are capable of running their country as exemplified by the Mara administration from 1970 until 1987.

Most disturbing for the Lal team is the mounting evidences of Fijian people's ability to achieve whatever goals they set for themselves as exemplified by the international respect and admiration and countless public praises publicly made by leaders of the international community for the Qarase administration.

These international respect and public praises for Fijian political leadership in Fiji is not new. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's praises from leaders throughout the world could fill volumes of books.

In paragraph 19, Lal writes:

"They (Fijians) are as divided as the other communities by ancient prejudices and modern greeds, by class, regional and personal interests."

Lal's   statement brings to mind images of the state of India's mandrajees also known as the "Sudras" or untouchables. It is probable that Lal is mistaking Fiji for India. Has Lal forgotten the state of the Indians when they arrived in Fiji and how Fijian people's world renowned hospitality, acceptance, accomodation, goodwill and support and preferential treatment for all their guests led the Indians to thrive economically until they acquired economic supremacy in Fiji?

Fijians do not need to tell the world about their hospitable and tolerant nature, because the world community is busy doing it for them.

Lal mentions the names of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Major General Rabuka, Commodore Frank Bainimarama and Mr. Qarase to prove that "Fijians are not pease in the same pod" and therefore, Lal argues, it is unreasonable to have a Fijian head of government.

Perhaps Lal chooses to forget what the international community cannot forget about the ending of Mahatma Ghandi, Indira Ghandi and Rajiv Ghandi in the world's greatest "democracy".

On the Fijian aspirations for a Fijian head of government, Lal demands that Fijians "take this line of thought to its logical conclusion". Then he goes on to ask:

"If Fijian people can trust only an indigenous Fijian as their political leader, I wonder if they will demand to see only a Fijian doctor or nurse…How many will demand to travel in a bus or taxi driven only by an indigenous Fijian? Or have their children taught only by Fijian teachers?"

Lal then adds "I'm not being facetious here", meaning he is not trying to be funny.

What about the Indians who cast their votes exclusively for Indian politicians ?   Why won't Lal ask the Indians the same set of questions? Is it not laughable that this champion of Indian "rights" will not ask the same questions to his own people and his English masters? I too, am not being facetious here !

In paragraphs 32 to 38, Lal questions the rights of the Fijian landowners, who own 90% of Fiji, to make decisions about their country.

Lal argues that people should be privileged for anything such as "gender or the tax people pay or age" except landownership.

Lal is projecting Fiji as a land that belongs to nobody. He does not want the Fijian landowners to be recognized as landowners and Lal does not want them to have a say in the governance of their country.

In Lal's long article explaining why Fijian people's indigenous rights should not be recognized and why a Fijian political head of government is impossible, he carefully conceals the peace, progress and prosperity during Fijian political leadership from 1970 to 1987.

Lal carefully conceals that it was Fijian political leadership and goodwill which created conditions that propelled the Indian community, who arrived in Fiji with nothing but the rags on their backs, into economic supremacy in Fiji.

Sitting at the pinnacle of economic supremacy, and watching the Fijians at the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder, the Indians now push for the removal of Fijians from political control over their country.

In his discussion of "equality" Lal carefully conceals that true equality is economic equality.

Lal never mentions that the Indians enjoy economic supremacy in Fiji. Economic power   is true power. Lal wants Indian political takeover of Fiji to provide icing on the large size of the economic cake that the Indians own.

I agree with Lal that democracy means equality. However, unlike Lal's opinions, it is important to note that equality means equality of access to resources for social and economic empowerment.

Prior to the Qarase administration, Fijian people did not have equal access to resources for social and economic empowerment in Fiji.

Fijians have been economically discriminated against since the colonial days. The SDL/CAMV parties are the first political parties to fearlessly address this economic discrimination against the Fijian people in Fiji.

The 1997 constitution requires the government of the day to address the economic disparity among the major ethnic groups in Fiji and that is what the Qarase administration is doing. That is the guarantee for political stability in Fiji. That is the guarantee for peace and progress for all, not just a certain section of the community.

Those who are barking "discrimination" at the government are ignoring the constitution in the same way those who are re-defining the Indians as "Indo-Fijians" are ignoring the constitution.

All one can say to Lal is "You cannot have your cake and eat it too." You either recognize the 1997 constitution or you don't. You cannot defend the constitution and violate it in the same breath by ignoring its ethnic group definitions, its recognition of the Great Council of Chiefs   and its provisions for the correction of economic disparity among the major ethnic groups of Fiji.

Lal argues that the constitutional recognition of the Fijian landowners and their rights in Fiji is "out of date". How come the constitutional recognition of the rights of the English indigenous peoples in England is not yet "out of date" in England, which has been a democracy for much longer than Fiji?

"Out of date" is a matter of opinion. Fiji and the Fijians know who they are, what they want, how they will get it, why and when. They are not trying to be "up to date" with other countries like India and its neighboring democracies.

Lal needs to remind himself ot the message of deepawali: Truth will triumph over evil.

The surest way of eroding the indigenous rights of the Fijian people is the imposition of common roll elections upon them even though they reject it. Lal accuses Prime Minister Qarase for the common roll elections we practise as if Fiji's political life began with the Prime Minister. (See paragraph 39).

In paragraph 41, Lal agitates over why the Fijians and Indians are

"apparently so deeply attached to their primordial roots."

Perhaps Lal might want to look in the mirror and ask why he is meddling in Fijian affairs while grazing in greener pastures.

The Indians of Fiji are   full blooded Indians and are proud of it. They use Indian names, wear Indian sarees, salwar kameez, dhotis.They eat Indian food. They watch Indian movies and listen to Indian music. They worship Indian Gods and read Indian books and Holy Books imported from India. They learn Hindi from Kindergarten through to the University of the South Pacific.

Like ousted Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhary, a large number of the Indians in Fiji communicate and visit regularly with their families in India.

This Indian pride in the Indian culture is very visible, audible and is very good. The government protects and respects Indian autonomy and distinctive identity and culture. It shows that Indians know who they are and are comfortable with who they are.

However, the Indian opinion makers, like Lal, with one foot in greener pastures and one foot in the Fiji parliament, are now pushing for the Indianization of Fiji.

The Indian website of the "Indo-Fijian Action Group" aimed at empowering all Indians to unite to claim Fiji for themselves has two Fiji flags flying to the rhythm of Indian music with the Fiji Coat of Arms in the middle. These Indians have split the Fijian Coat of Arms in the middle and inserted an Indian face into it. In the website there are no Indians in Fiji, only "South Asian Fijians " also known as "Fijians of Indian origin", "Indo-Fijians", "Asian Fijians"   and sometimes simply as "Fijians" meaning Indians. Featured in this "Indo-Fijian Action Group" are the East-West Center, the Fiji Women's Crisis Center, Fiji Village, among many other Indian dominated institutions in Fiji and the Pacific.

This Indian push to displace the Fijians in Fiji is so strong one cannot avoid noticing the countless Indians who define themselves as "natives of Fiji" to the international community. They begin this displacement by naturalizing the ideology that Indians are "Fijians" by re-naming themselves as "Indo-Fijians". This is a violation of the UN Conventions on indigenous rights that protects the rights of the Fijian people to a distinctive identity.

In the publications of these Indian opinion makers, the Fijians are redefined as "Melanesians" or "native Melanesians", never as Fijians. For example, if one looks at the FLP website, the late Dr. Bavadra is a "native Melanesian", not a Fijian.

The Indian acts of re-defining of the Fijians as "melanesians" and the Indians as "Indo-Fijians" are acts of identity theft and an ideological and political invasion of a sovereignty and its people.

It is incumbent upon the Great Council of Chiefs to consult and take action on this matter. The best advisers for the Great Council of Chiefs are already in the SDL/CAMV parties and their counterparts among the New Zealand Maoris, the Australian Aborigines and the real Hawaiians.

Fiji should be very grateful to Lal for eloquently explaining the Indian plans for Fiji and the Fijians. The ball is now on the side of the Great Council of Chiefs and the SDL/CAMV team. The international respect and admiration for the Qarase administration that have been publicly expressed   by the governments of New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, and many others should make every Fijian walk tall and continue to be proud of their ancestral land, their language, culture and the essence of who they are. Fijians must keep the message of deepawali in their hearts and minds at all times. "Truth will triumph over evil".

Tavenisa Diri Wolfromm

Presently doing Mass Communications Research, Tavenisa Diri Wolfromm is an educator and a media analyst with a Master of Applied Linguistics from Macquarie University.

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