The plight of Girmitiyas — descendants Indians who were forced to work in sugarcane plantations in Fiji during the colonial era — will soon be brought to life on celluloid. Film producer Dr Satish Rai, a Girmitiya with roots in Uttar Pradesh, is all set to make a movie on the subject.
This first-of-its-kind film, titled ‘Awaaz — the Girmit Conspiracy’, has already received clearance from the UP government.
Rai is a Sydney-based film producer, academician, politician and community development worker who has been holding talks with the UP government on issues concerning Girmitiyas. “It was in 2015, during the first ever ‘Pravasi Diwas’ organised by the state government that the idea to shoot a movie on the subject first came to me,” he said.
A big chunk of the film will be shot in UP, the worst-affected state during the dreadful indenture system (1828 to 1916), under which millions of Indians were herded off to British colonies to work as bonded labourers in cane plantations - the most profitable business of those times.
Rai said the movie will primarily focus on the movements that were launched to abolish the indenture system - a form of slavery. “This film will cover the epic story of the international struggles that were launched to abolish the dreadful system of labour trafficking. It will largely focus on the battle to bring back thousands of stranded indentured Indians in Fiji and the international conspiracy to prevent them from returning to their homes so that they’d continue working as cheap labour in Fiji,” he said.
SLAVERY AS INDENTURE SYSTEM
After the British Slavery Abolition Act came into force, eliminating slavery throughout the empire, a new avatar of the malpractice was introduced in the form of the indenture system. “It was a sort of debt bondage in which around 1.2 million Indians were deported to Fiji to work in cane farms. The majority of these people were from UP - from places like Gonda, Basti, Faizabad, Sultanpur, Azamgarh, Gorakhpur, Rae Bareli and other districts,” said Rai, who is also an active member of the International Girmit Association.
While the movie will be a work of fiction, it will be based on historical research and will features characters of internationally renowned public figures such as Pt Totaram Sanadhya, Kunti, Mahatma Gandhi, Annie Besant, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Sarojini Naidu, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Winston Churchill, Edward Knox and Thomas Hughes. “Pt Totaram Sanadhya and Kunti were two indentured Indians in Fiji who returned in 1914 to join the abolition movement and be at the forefront of the struggle,” said Rai.
“The shooting will start after the UP assembly election. At present, I am shooting another film — ‘Vijaypath - a road to victory’,” he added.
Rai’s grandparents were deported from Faizabad to Fiji with their two young sons in 1911. The film producer said that he struggled for almost a decade before he managed to trace a kin of his in UP in 2004. “I finally found my grandparent’s cousin who lives in Sridutt Ganj in Balrampur district with his four sons,” he said.