The Fiji Times – Sikhs make Fiji their home

Shayal Devi

Fiji, 14 May 2017. A group of people who arrived in Fiji from Punjab, India, during the colonial period have today culminated into a small but vibrant community focused on nation building.

Sikhs were among the earliest groups of people who arrived in Fiji from India and as such, have continually made strides in the education and farming sector among others.

According to the first historical magazine published by the Sikh Association of Fiji in 2013, prominent community member Jogindar Singh Kanwal writes: “It is believed that some Sikhs came to Fiji in the 1890s.

In 1904, a few groups of Sikhs came and settled as sugarcane farmers and later, some Sikh policemen who served in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Police Force were brought by the Colonial administration to work in the Fiji Police Force.

Mr Kanwal also wrote that between 1910 and 1920, young Sikh migrants arrived in Fiji from the Jalandhar District in Punjab.

The majority of Sikhs are said to have arrived between 1920 and 1930.

Despite the adversities faced since arriving in Fiji, the Sikh community has thrived and helped in nation building.

Although the number of Sikhs has dwindled over the years because of migration, some elderly members of the Sikh community remain in the country they have come to call home.

In Lautoka, one of the oldest monuments in the Sugar City remains the Lautoka Gurdwara, a revered symbol for Sikhs in the West.

Founded in 1933, the gurdwara has a rich history that has also been marred by tragic events, especially the 1987 coup.

Testimonies of former gurdwara executives

Dharam Singh was a second generation traveller from Punjab, India. Born in 1936, he travelled to Fiji with his father, the late Mal Singh, and other members of the Sikh community in 1939 when he was three.

It wasn’t long before the family moved to Nadi, where his father engaged in sugarcane farming.

Mr Singh married Gyan Kaur from Votualevu and moved to Carreras in Votualevu with his family in 1959.

“I’ve been living in Nadi for as long as I can remember and my family were all farmers,” the 81-year-old said.

“I used to come to the Lautoka gurdwara with my parents and when I grew up I became a part of the committee.”

It was after this move that Mr Singh and his fellow administration members faced the brunt of the difficulties of running the Lautoka gurdwara.

The most significant incident the committee had to deal with was the 1987 coup, when the gurdwara was burnt by arsonists.

“I was here when the gurdwara was burnt by arsonists at night. All of the things inside the gurdwara were destroyed.

“We then called for a meeting on what was to be done and we decided to collect money and rebuild the gurdwara, making it a two-storey structure.”

He says members of the committee travelled around Viti Levu at their own expense to collect money for this cause.

“We also made a four-flat building from the funds, which is still running to date and funds from there are used to financially support the gurdwara,” he said.

Mr Singh was part of the committee for almost 40 years beginning as a committee member, secretary and is now a trustee and lifetime member.

Another senior member of the Sikh community is Nadi resident Gyan Singh, 83.

“I was born at Votualevu in August, 1934, and since then I was there, I had five brothers and three sisters,” he said.

“Our father came from India and my mother was from Fiji.”

It was at this time that the family bought some land in Sigatoka and the family stayed there about 20 years. After this, they moved back to Nadi.

“After mother passed away my father returned to Punjab and he passed away there. My eldest brother was tasked with dividing land among all brothers.

“When my wife passed on, the Votualevu committee told me to go to the gurudwara and it took me one year to make a decision but I also joined the gurdwara in Lautoka then.”

Future plans

The Lautoka gurdwara caters for almost 900 people in the Western Division, spanning from Sigatoka to Raviravi, Ba.

Lautoka Sikh Temple president Bayant Singh says his service in an admininstrative role began as a treasurer in 2010.

“For the last two years, I have been president and we have 11 admin presently,” he said.

Mr Singh says because of a lack of training institutes and theological colleges to teach Sikhism, youths were not as interested in studying the religion.

“No one is showing real interest because a lot of those who were influential members have migrated or they have passed away and their children have gotten educated and migrated elsewhere.

“We are trying to get them (youths) attached to the gurudwara. At least they need to know the religion and this is the drive we are carrying.

“We aren’t sitting here as (adminstrative officers). We have to look after the faith and welfare of the people and how to maintain the respect and the beliefs bestowed on us.”

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=400583

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