Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An historic view of the charter

An historic view of the charter

10/22/2008

The Peoples Charter for change, peace and progress is in a draft form only. There are many things which are of benefit to us and well-intentioned in the Charter. They are very useful and good for all races to come together and move forward for the betterment of all.
People should not start jumping up and down now because the Charter is still in draft form.

When you go through the Charter you will find that our leaders over the years have raised some of the valid issues because being minority views have not been implemented.

Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel, Barrister at Law (AD Patel) fought for equality for all races in Fiji and for one man one vote. He advocated the principal of one country, one people and one destiny.

Let me start with how Fiji was named. I quote from "The Fiji of To-day" by J. W. Burton(Page 24): "The Fijians themselves called their islands Viti and the inhabitants Kai Viti. The commonly accepted spelling and pronunciation of Fiji is due to fact that the Lauan, or eastern, dialect - with which the Tongans had most intercourse - sounds it V like an F and makes its T almost a J. This forms an interesting fact for philologists to explain. The two forms, therefore, of Fiji and Viti are correct.”

In early Indians (Hindu in particular only) who were brought to Fiji by the British people according to their religious belief called this country "Ramananik Dweep".

According to their belief about more than 5000 years back Lord Krishna, the most important of incarnation of God, appeared on this planet and performed wonderful deeds.

It is during that time in India with in the Yamuna River there was a big lake in which there lived a big serpent known as "Kalia Naag" who use to make water dirty and poisonous. Who ever drank from the river water died instantly.

It is believed by the early Hindus that Lord Krishna, the most important of incarnation god, brought that "Kalia Naag" and left it in the Nakauvandra Range in Ra, in Fiji.

In 1946 when I was a first year student at the Teachers Training Institution at Davuilevu I attended the official opening of the Fiji Teachers Union conference held at Lilac Theatre, Suva on April 30, 1946.

While officially opening the FTU conference the then the Governor of Fiji Sir Alexander William George Herder Grantham KCMG while addressing the teachers said that the people of Fiji be called "Fijian".

The long time member of then Legislative Council Vishnu Deo said a few times in the Legislative Council that he was born in Fiji and “I am a Fijian”.

In 1875 Lord Salisbury (Secretary of State for India) the Minister of Queen Victoria when approaching the Indian Government to obtain indentured Indian labour made the solemn promise that Indians who emigrated to Fiji as soon as they were free from indenture should have rights and privileges there "in no whit inferior to those of her Majesty's other subjects resident in the colony".

Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel arrived in Fiji on 11th October, 1928 and was admitted to the Fiji bar.

On his arrival he fought for equality of all the races in Fiji, and one man one vote. He advocated the principle of one country and one people, one destiny till he breathed his last on October 1, 1969.

For the first time in 1929 franchise was awarded to the Indian community. Messrs. Vishnu Deo, Parmanand Singh and Ramchandar were elected to the Legislative Council.

While addressing the "common franchise" Mr Deo moved that the Council recommends to His Excellency the Acting Governor that he be pleased to convey by telegraphic message to His Majesty's Government the view of this council:

a) that political rights and status granted to Indian settlers in this colony on racial lines are not acceptable to them;

b) that Indians in Fiji should be granted common franchise along with other British subjects resident in the colony.

Mr Deo's motion was seconded by Mr. Parmanand Singh.

The above motion was rejected on 5th November 1929. The three elected members later namely Messrs. Vishnu Deo, Parmanand Singh and Ramchandar resigned from the Legislative Council.

When no nomination for a fresh election was filed by 16th of December, 1929 the communal system of franchise was thus totally rejected in favour of a common franchise.

Governor Sir Arthur George Murchison Fletcher K.C.M.G., C. B. F. invited Mr A D Patel and others at Government House on 27th of December, 1929 for the purpose of discussing the franchise and other matters affecting the Indian community.

A D Patel with others traveled by the Government boat "Adi Beti" with others and attended the conference.

I quote from "Fiji Samachar of December, 1929 Number 12 issue: In response to His Excellency's invitation Mr A D Patel expressed his views saying that "communal franchise was wrong in principle and harmful in practice; the time has come in Fiji for all races to get out of thin water tight compartments and start thinking in terms of the residents of Fiji. The last election has clearly shown the mutual antagonisms of different races in this colony. Acceptance of the present franchise would accentuate those differences instead of alleviating them unless and until the present constitution in changed we cannot see our way to co-operative with the Government through the council.

The question of common franchise was an Imperial question which would have to be solved presently by the Imperial Parliament. Meanwhile we are quite prepared to co-operative with the Government if and when they require our co-operation but not through the acceptance of the present franchise.

Mr John Grant concurred with Mr A D Patel and further said that the Indian community would be against the acceptance of the present franchise.

Mr S B Patel said that "equal political status is the one essential condition for co-operation with the Government.

Under a communal franchise we are granted second class citizenship. If the Government accepts the principle of common franchise some arrangement can be made by which one race would not dominate another."

His Excellency said that no Crown colony has Common franchise. The question affects only self governing dominions and not colonies like this.

Mr Vishnu Deo said the Crown colony of British Guiana enjoys Common franchise. The fact that the Indian electors did not nominate any one when the second writ of election was issued, was sufficient to show that Indians were not prepared to work the communal franchise.

His Excellency then turned to Mr Abdul Karim who said that equality of status was the only thing acceptable to Indians in this colony.

His Excellency then told him that the Moslems in Ceylon ask for separate electoral roll and protest against common, and asked him to say whether he was right in asking for common rights or the Ceylon Moslems.

Mr Karim replied that he knew not the condition of Ceylon but for Fiji he preferred common electoral roll.

Thereupon His Excellency thanked all and the Conference came to an end without discussing "Others matters" whatever they might have been.”

The People’s charter is not new to Fiji. We had a Royal Charter in 1875 drawn by Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon, GCMG, first resident Governor of Fiji.

The square of Government House was dressed with flags. The day was fine and the concourse large.

Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon there on September 1st, 1875 read the Royal Charter and took the oath and made a little speech on the whole a success.

Immediately after these performances Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon held the first meeting of the Legislative Council.

For the betterment of our beloved nation to move the country forward there is one option. That is for the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party, National Federation Party, United People's Party and the Methodist Church with other groups to come up with suggestions and amendments with good intention and together drawn up in the Charter. It will make Fiji a better place to live for all the races in Fiji.

I further quote from Page 20 "Fiji Samachar" : Indian in Fiji - Mahatma Gandhi Writes: In "Young India" 21st November, 1929 as follows:

A cablegram from Suva says: "Indian members motion common franchise rejected Council today all three resigned."

This means that the Fijian Legislative Council would not have Indians on a common franchise.

That would be too much for the white exploiters of Indian labour. The Indian members elected by Indian electors only have really no influence in the Legislative Council.

I congratulate the three members on their patriotic spirit in having resigned from the Council by way of protest. I hope that they will on no account reconsider their decision unless a common franchise is obtained.

Having resigned however they must not sit idle but continue their agitation for the simple justice to which they are entitled. If the Indian colonist in Fiji is well organised, the citadel of anti-Indian prejudice is bound to break down through united effort."


l Bal Govinda is a retired head teacher of Nasarwaqa Indian School, Seaqaqa Indian School, Tabucula Valiba Sangam School, Uciwai Sangam and Nadroga Sangam. He has 30 years of experience as a head teacher and 11 years of experience as an assistant teacher. The views expressed are his and not that of FijiSun

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