Remove Ban on the occasion of 100th anniversary of arrival of last ship carrying Indentured Labourers

November 8, 2016

MEDIA RELEASE

Government should use the 100 th anniversary to commemorate the arrival of the last ship carrying indentured labourers to lift the indefinite ban on entering Fiji placed on former Fiji citizens Professor Brij Vilash Lal and Dr Padma Lal.

These two eminent former Fiji citizens were banished from the land of their birth seven years ago for defending democracy, justice and human rights.

It will be a symbolic gesture on the part of Government if the Head of State, President Jioji Konrote, while launching commemorative events in Suva tomorrow (Wednesday), makes an announcement to this effect.

The Indenture system commonly known as Girmit was another form of slavery. The arrival of the last ship Sutlej V on 11 th November 1916 signalled the beginning of the end of indenture or slavery. Banishment from the land of one’s birth for 7 years is similar to Girmit. It is a denial of fundamental rights.

After repeated attempts to seek the truth from Government, the former Immigration Minister Timoci Natuva admitted last July that the decision to put Professor Brij and Dr Padma Lal’s names on the list of people prohibited from entering Fiji came from the Prime Minister’s Office.

This is simply against the Immigration Act 2003 where recommendations are made by the Immigration Director in consultation with the line Minister. And email correspondence between Professor Lal, Mr Natuva and the Deputy Director of Immigration confirm that the Immigration Department and the former Minister had no issues with both Professor Brij and Dr Padma Lal but were powerless to remove their names from the list despite empowered to do so under the Immigration Act.

This ban is an insult not only to Professor Lal and his wife, but also to all right-thinking and law-abiding citizens and to the Indo-Fijian community whose historical background right from the days of indenture has been well researched and documented by Professor Lal.

Professor Lal was honoured by Fiji for his contribution to the country especially his work on the Constitution Review Commission, is perceived to be a threat to Fiji’s safety and security. For his work on the Reeves Commission, he was awarded the Order of Fiji. In June last year he was honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to education, through the preservation and teaching of Pacific history, as a scholar, author and commentator.

Both have been hounded or treated like common criminals. This must stop.

Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal have much to contribute towards the development of Fiji. Government must recognise and accept the fact that Professor Lal is the pre-eminent historian and authority whose work in documenting the struggles and history of the Girmitiya and their descendants is unparalleled. Anyone around the world interested in the history of Fiji and indentured labourers cannot escape the eminent contribution of Professor Lal.

This is the perfect opportunity for Government to show it is a collective institution and not run on the whims of a few individuals.

Authorised by: Professor Biman Prasad, NFP Leader