Fiji's ethnic Indians live in fear

July 19, 2000

Ever since the May 19th coup against democratically elected government of Mahendra Chaudhry, there has been growing uncertainty and fear for the Indian community in Fiji. Recent events have further exacerbated the situation with George Speight the coup leader overtly spreading hatred against Indians. He rejected the new cabinet even though there is only one ethnic Indian in it. Media reports indicate that other Indian leaders did not accept offers to be included in the cabinet fearing safety of their families. During the past week, around 100 ethnic Indians have been forced to flee from a village near the Fijian capital Suva. The Fiji Times reports that nationalist supporters of George Speight have torched Indian properties, stolen cars, slaughtered livestock, and robbed Indians at knifepoint.

Even though there has been universal condemnation from all countries against the coup there has been little done to restore democracy or instill confidence in the Indian community. Australia and New Zealand, Fiji's closest neighbours have been most vocal in their condemnation. New Zealand announced it was withdrawing its high commissioner from Fiji immediately because rebels had been included in the government. Australia followed New Zealand in reducing aid to Fiji and is also curtailing military cooperation.

However the victims in this crisis are Indo-Fijians, and they are being victimized because of their Indian origin? Does India not have any responsibility to this Indian community in Fiji? Is the Indian government doing the best it can? True the Indian government has condemned events in Fiji, but then so has every country around the globe. Can overseas Indians not expect more then these pious statements? To cite a recent example, the British have been a lot more strident in their condemnation of Robert Mugabe when white farmers were threatened in Zimbabwe. Had the United States been in India's position, we might have even seen an armed intervention to restore democracy. After all the US did it in Grenada and Panama not too long ago. Can India not lead efforts in isolating Fiji economically and perhaps even create a global consensus for military intervention. The Indian government might have worked behind the scenes, but its efforts appear too little and too timid. India's actions so far are nowhere near reassuring for this vulnerable community in Fiji.

Indian communities worldwide look up to India, not just out of nostalgia, but also for support during times of crisis. If recent actions are any indication, New Zealand, Australia and of late even England have done more for the Indo-Fijians than has India. India is a military power in Asia and it should play the role of a leader. India cannot remain indifferent, particularly not when its diaspora is in distress.

- Anil Chinniah, Philadelphia, USA

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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