Indo-Fijian Counter Hegemony in Fiji: A historical structural approach

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Journal Article
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Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies
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Ramesh, Sanjay

Indo-Fijians make up about 37 per cent of Fiji’s current population and have a unique language and culture, which evolved since Indians fist arrived into Fiji as indentured labourers on board the ship Leonidas in 1879. Since their arrival in the British colony as sugar plantation labourers, Indo-Fijian activists led counter hegemonic movements against the colonial government during and after indenture in 1920-21, 1943 and 1960. Indo-Fijian activists demanded political equality with Europeans and constantly agitated for better wages and living conditions through disruptive strikes and boycotts. After independence, the focus of Indo-Fijians shifted to political equality with indigenous Fijians and access to land leases from indigenous landowners on reasonable terms; and these were ongoing themes in the 1972, 1977 and 1982 elections. However, Indo-Fijian counter hegemony took a new form in 1987 with the formation of the multiracial Fiji Labour Party and National Federation Party coalition government but indigenous Fijian nationalists and the military deposed the government and established discriminatory policies against Indo-Fijians which were dismantled by the Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government in 1999. However, indigenous nationalists regrouped and deposed the government in 2000, prompting another round of protests and resistance from Indo-Fijians. Using Gramscian conceptualisation of counter hegemony as disruptive protest, resistance and dissent, I argue that political mobilisation of indentured labourers and their descendants was aimed at restoring political rights, honour, self-respect and dignity lost during colonial and post-colonial periods in Fiji. In this article, I argue that Indo-Fijian counter hegemony was in the form of mobilisation, based on assembling alternative ideas to create a culture of disruptive protests and rebellion against hegemonic social forces. Indo-Fijian dissent aimed at elevating the voices of the exploited, marginalised, discriminated against and disenfranchised in a society preoccupied with ethnicity and race. In this regard, the history of Indo-Fijian counter hegemony in Fiji is narrated within the historical structure of protests, boycotts and strikes and constant political agitation.

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