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MIDA, kerosene and water: what of other racisms. Part I and II. 7 April 2014


MIDA, kerosene and water: and other racisms

Professor Wadan Narsey

6 April 2014

 [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 kailoma.

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].

[added 10/4/14:   Indo-Fijians who have emigrated know only too well that they are totally different from Indians from India, and it is not just in their love of kava or the Fiji Hindi-language they they use or the occasional lovo they make.  Their whole attitude to life, to friends, to socializing and entertainment, to mingling with the local communities , has become “Fijianised”.   Indo-Fijians are poles apart from Indians from India, even if in the NZ census and population statistics, Indo-Fijians are apparently not classified as Pacific Islanders but “Asians” (another story)].


  [Part III (The internal Indo-Fijian racisms) follows in a separate post].



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