Opening of the 2016 Sangam Convention
May 27, 2016 Prince Charles Park, Nadi
The National President of the TISI Sangam, Mr. Sada Siwan Naicker
The Secretary General of the TISI Sangam Fiji, Mr. Damend Gounder
The Chairman of the 2016 Convention Committee, Mr. Tarunesh Reddy
The Past President, Mr. D.S. Naidu
Mr. Y.P. Reddy
Special Administrator, Robin Ali
Members of TISI Sangam
Ladies, Gentleman and Friends
Ni sa bula, namaskaram and good evening to you all.
I am deeply honoured to be here tonight to open the Then India Sanmarga Ikya (TISI) Sangam Annual Convention 2016.
This is an annual event for the Sangam, which as an institution, has a very rich and colourful history. Sangam was established 90 years ago on 24 May, 1926. It has made very significant contributions to Fiji in the form of education, the promotion of your cultural beliefs, practices and language, and towards Fiji’s socio-economic growth, among others.
This year’s Convention is therefore special for Sangam in recognising 90 years of existence and profound achievements. And, like all successful organisations, we must pay our respects to the founders. On this occasion, I wish to pay homage to the visionary Mr. Sadhu Kuppuswamy, known to you all as the founding father of Sangam.
I am advised that during the indenture period from 1879 to 1916, the first group of Girmitiyas of South Indian origin arrived in Fiji in 1903. Mr. Sadhu Kuppuswamy arrived nine years later on 27 April, 1912 at the age of 22.
He served his Girmit in Yalado, Tavua for about five years. After completing his contract, he acquired a piece of land in Tavua and commenced farming, which he gave up shortly and moved to Rakiraki.
As a Girmitiya under the Colonial masters, Mr. Kuppuswamy witnessed firsthand the sufferings of the indentured labourers who were overworked, underpaid and poorly housed. He also noticed that since the Colonial masters only understood English and a bit of Hindi, the South Indians were highly disadvantaged because they neither spoke nor understood any of these languages. Therefore, after completing his contract, he settled in Rakiraki a free person and started liberating his people through education and religious awareness.
It was in Rakiraki that the first South Indian Organisation was formed. An inspired Mr. Kuppuswamy then called for a national meeting in 1926 which led to the formation of the national body with the motto of “Love,
Light and Faith”. He then, became the Sangam’s first national president.
Mr. Kuppuswamy continued to make his contribution for the advancement of Sangam until his death on 2 August, 1956 at the age of 66.
Mr. Kuppuswamy has been described as “an exceptional man of vision and high moral and spiritual discipline, imbued with a spirit of service”. He demonstrated these attributes through his lifetime work in Fiji, and left behind memories that continue to inspire generations. The late A.D. Patel described him as “the greatest Indian to have come to Fiji.”
Looking back at the history of Sangam, the compelling reasons for the formation of Sangam was to preserve the culture and traditions of the people of South Indian origin who came under the indenture system. The formation of Sangam was consistent with what the world-renowned leader Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”.
The establishment of the Sangam was also the beginning of its immense contribution to this Nation. The Sangam started with the establishment of schools to educate not only the children of the indentured South Indian laborers, but also the children of all communities.
Today Sangam owns and manages 21 primary schools, 5 secondary schools, one tertiary Institution - the Sangam College of Nursing in Labasa - and numerous Temples around the nation with the Sri Subramanya Swami Temple being an important landmark. Sangam schools are open to all Fijians and have enriched our nation in many ways through meaningful contribution in education.
The theme of this convention is “Perseverance and Endeavours for Dignity from 1916 to 2016”, and it is in my humble opinion, most apt and timely. This takes us back in time to remind all Fijians of the colonial rule of the British Empire and the Girmit era.
On 14 May 1879, the Leonidas landed the first shipload of 498 labourers from India, under the Indenture system. Altogether over 60,965 indentured labourers arrived in Fiji between 1879 and 1916, of which 15,132 were people of South Indian origin arriving between 1903 and 1916.
The Girmitiyas as they were known were housed in rows of barracks containing 16 rooms, each three metres by three and half meters. The rooms were naturally overcrowded.
The facilities lacked proper sanitation. Work on the farms was very tough with men and women alike toiling the land until dark. They received meager daily wages. Additionally, there was no provision for the education of the children. Overall, the difficult life led to a high death rate within the Girmit community.
After immense pressure condemning the indentured system, the Indian Government abolished the system. Recruiting stopped straight away in 1916, and the remaining contracts were cancelled on 2 January, 1920.
When the indenture system ended, many Girmitiyas chose of their own free will to remain in Fiji. They subsequently formed the backbone of Fiji’s Sugar industry and I believe it prudent and proper that we should all acknowledge with humble gratitude and appreciation the caring and accommodating manner in which the indigenous i-taukei chiefs and the Vanua accepted the Girmitiyans who stayed.
Today after a journey of 90 years, we see the descendants of these Girmitiyas in the mainstream life of this nation, flourishing in virtually all sectors of society.
This year’s convention theme is very appropriate as we remember and celebrate Sangam’s 90 years of post-Girmit journey.
Standing true to its motto of ‘Love, Light and Faith’, Sangam continues to assist the disadvantaged communities throughout Fiji. In the past few months, for instance, in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, the Sangam was at the forefront in carrying out relief and rehabilitation works.
I am given to understand that Sangam committed approximately $300,000 for relief works providing stationery, lunch, school bags, generators, food and other household items to students and persons in the cyclone affected areas. The assistance also included the $25,000.00 donation towards the Prime Minister’s Cyclone Relief Fund.
In summary, one can justifiably say that the Sangam has been a very responsible socio-economic, educational and cultural organization. It has demonstrated the type of example that Fiji needs in order to cultivate a sense of belonging to one nation and to help improve the lives of all Fijians.
As President and Head of State, I pay tribute to both the founding fathers of Sangam and to all you members who have contributed to the growth of the organisation and to Fiji’s growth as a nation. I encourage all the members of the Sangam to continue in the footsteps of your forefathers in helping to build a caring and resilient society, and a nation which we can all be proud of calling home.
I thank you once again for inviting me to join you this evening. I now take great pleasure in declaring your annual convention officially open.
May God continue to bless you all and may He continue to bless our beloved Fiji.
Vinaka vakalevu, bahoot daynavaad and thank you.