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Ban the term Indo-Fijian: Minister

Stating that he is not a racist, the minister says that the rights of indigenous Fijians were first and foremost and should be respected.

india Updated: Aug 05, 2006 11:45 IST

A Fijian minister has called for a ban on the term Indo-Fijian to describe ethnic Indians in this country.

The call by Minister of State for National Planning Jone Navakamocea came in Fiji's parliament when a motion to introduce legislation covering the poor, handicapped and under-privileged was being rejected.

"We should use the word Indian to describe an Indian of Indian origin or ethnicity and Fijian for an indigenous Fijian," a report in the Fiji Times newspaper quoted Navakamocea as saying.

He added that the term Indo-Fijian was illegal and unacceptable.

Stating that he was not a racist, the minister said that the rights of indigenous Fijians were first and foremost and should be respected by minority races.

He alleged that the Indo-Fijian term was coined by Indian academics in Fiji to "Fijianise" their Indian ethnicity, according to the report.

Fiji has been witness to tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians for a long time now.

In 2000, a coup led to the ouster of then Indo-Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry after he had served just a year in office.

The Constitution of this Pacific island nation describes 'Indian' as anybody who can trace, through either the male or the female line, his or her ancestry back to anywhere on the Indian subcontinent.

Indo-Fijians are descendants of Indians who were brought to Fiji by British colonial workers between 1879 and 1916 to work as indentured labourers in the country's sugarcane plantations.

Later, the number of Indo-Fijians increased with the arrival of more Gujarati and Punjabi immigrants.

Today, Indo-Fijians comprise 44 per cent of the country's population of around 900,000 and politically active.

Coming to the legislation, Navakamocea said that eradicating poverty was a misconception that needed a miracle and that disadvantaged groups - an obvious reference to Indo-Fijians - would continue to exist in varying magnitudes.

"The government can do everything and anything to alleviate poverty but the decision to walk out of poverty rests with the individual," he was quoted as saying.