Figure 3: Map of the Republic of the Fiji Islands.
Area: 18,270 sq km
Population: 905,949 (July 2006 est.)
Languages: English (official), Fijian, Hindi
Location: Oceania, island group in the South Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand[xlvi]
Fiji consists of over 300 islands, 100 of which are inhabited. Most of the population is concentrated on the main island of Viti Levu. According to the CIA fact book[xlvii], Fiji became an independent nation in 1970, after nearly a century of British rule. Today’s ethnic Fijians are descendants of people who arrived in the 17th century from Southeast Asia. The first European visitor was the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who arrived in 1643. Not until the 19th Century did the Europeans permanently settle on the islands. Indo-Fijians are descendants of contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century. The islands came under British control as a colony in 1874 and became independent in 1970.
Fijians have experienced turbulent governance with democratic rule interrupted by two military coups in 1987. A primary causative factor for the coups in both cases was demagogic manipulation of the fears of the Christian majority Melanesian-Polynesian population that the government was dominated by the Indian community. The military coup leader Maj. Gen. Sitiveni Rabuka formally declared Fiji a republic on October 6, 1987. A 1990 constitution favored native Melanesian control of Fiji, but led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. Amendments enacted in 1997 made the constitution more equitable. Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian, but a coup in May 2000 that again appealed to anti-Hindu ethno-religious insecurities ushered in a prolonged period of political turmoil. Parliamentary elections held in August 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government and gave a mandate to the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
Among the three major religions in Fiji, there are 471,093 Christians, 344,260 Hindus, and 47,475 Muslims. The largest Christian denomination is the Methodists with 174,304 members[xlviii]. The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations also have significant followings. The Methodist Church is supported by the majority of the country’s chiefs and remains influential in the ethnic Fijian community, particularly in rural areas.
Religion runs largely along ethnic lines. The population is split largely between two main ethnic groups: Indigenous Fijians constitute approximately 51%, and Indo-Fijians constitute 44%. Most Indo-Fijians practice Hinduism; most indigenous Fijians follow Christianity. The European community is predominantly Christian. Other ethnic communities include Chinese and European persons.
Hindus are the second largest religious community in Fiji constituting approximately 38% of the total population, and approximately 85% of the Indian community[xlix]. Hindus were initially brought to Fiji in 1879 by the British colonists, as part of the indentured labor system to work on the sugar cane plantations. This brutal practice, akin to slavery, was finally abolished in 1916, but discrimination against Hindus has continued, abetted by the state.
During British rule, socio-economic preeminence and advantages were accorded mostly to those Indians who had converted to Christianity, and after independence in 1970, ministerial positions in the cabinet were only offered to the Fijian Christian members of parliament. The progressive Prime Minister Dr. Timoci Bavadra temporarily abrogated this practice in 1987, but after military coups in May and October of the same year, Fiji reverted to old discriminatory practices.[l]
The 1990 Constitution under Sitiveni Rabuka effectively barred any Hindu from holding the office of the Prime Minister. However, continued international pressure and domestic unrest resulted in the revision of the Constitution in 1997. The Constitution review, led by Sir Paul Reeves, removed the discriminatory practices embedded in the Constitution thereby paving the way for a new era in Fijian political history.
The subsequent 1999 elections saw the emergence of the first Hindu Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhary, who was overthrown a year later by a Fijian fanatic and U.S.-educated failed businessman, George Speight. Since 2000, violence against Hindus has increased and threatened their fundamental right to practice their faith. As the latest Amnesty International report on Fiji notes, “Discrimination against ethnic minorities was evident in plans for an indigenous Trust Fund and in the appointment of indigenous Fijians to almost all chief executive posts in the public service.”[li]
As in previous years, in 2005 the Hindu community in Fiji continued to face threats against their welfare and well-being. The Hindu community faced a three-fold struggle against their faith. Since the practitioners of Hindu faith are predominantly Indians, racist attacks by the extremist Fijian Nationalists too often culminated into violence against the institutions of Hinduism. According to official reports, attacks on Hindu institutions increased by 14% compared to 2004.[lii] Hindus and Hinduism, being labeled the “outside others,” especially in the aftermath of the May 2000 coup, have been victimized by Fijian fundamentalist and nationalists who wish to create a theocratic Christian state in Fiji. This intolerance of Hindus has found expression in anti-Hindu speeches and destruction of temples, the two most common forms of immediate and direct violence against Hindus. Between 2001 and April 2005, one hundred cases of temple attacks have been registered with the police.[liii] The alarming increase of temple destruction has spread fear and intimidation among the Hindu minorities and has hastened immigration to neighboring Australia and New Zealand.
Secondly, organized religious institutions, such as the Methodist Church of Fiji, have repeatedly called for the creation of a theocratic Christian State and have propagated anti-Hindu sentiment. The Methodist Church of Fiji specifically objects to the constitutional protection of minority religious communities such as Hindus and Muslims.[liv] During Easter celebrations in March 2005, the Christian fundamentalist leader, Reverend Ame Tugaue of the Methodist Church declared, “Because if God does get angry with the heathens, Christians will be punished because they allowed the worship of idols and other lesser gods in Fiji.”[lv] It must be noted that the Fiji Methodist Church supported the 1987 military coup and endorsed the coup leader’s initiative calling for forceful conversion of Hindus to Christianity.
Thirdly, the current government of Fiji, led by the Fijian nationalist SDL party (the Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua or United Fiji Party, launched on May 9, 2001), has granted preferential treatment to the members of the Christian community over Hindus and Muslims. For example, in December 2005, the Prime Minister’s office announced that US$52,000 would be spent to provide security during Benny Hinn’s three-day evangelical crusade in January 2006.[lvi] Unfortunately, no such protection has been offered to Hindu leaders.
The current government presented the “Truth and Reconciliation” (TRC) Bill during the June 2005 parliamentary sitting, which would provide the government with sweeping powers to grant amnesty to the 2000 coup leaders. Progressive Fijians and Hindu leaders vehemently objected to this bill. Hindus were most affected by the attempted 2000 coup because the ravaging violence in the immediate aftermath of the rebel takeover directly targeted Hindus in urban, as well as the remote regions of the country. Hindu priest Moti Chandra Maharaj told the Sector Standing on Justice, Law and Order that the “Government wants more coups and mutinies and the motive of this Bill is to release the coup makers of the year 2000.”[lvii] The Bill itself is opposed by the Fiji Military Forces (FMF) and the police who see this as undermining their authority to successfully prosecute and punish the criminals of the 2000 coup.
For the Hindu minorities, 2005 was a critical year, and the lack of internal Hindu organizational infrastructure and international support added to their continued struggles. State favoritism of Christianity, and systematic attacks on temples, are some of the greatest threats faced by Fijian Hindus. Despite the creation of a human rights commission[lviii], the plight of Hindus in Fiji continues to be precarious.
· January 27, 2005: A Hindu temple located in Newtown Nasinu was vandalized for the fifth time. The thieves broke into the Shri Ram Krishna temple at around midnight and escaped with US$2000 worth of musical instruments and other religious accessories. This event was devastating for the Hindu community in this impoverished area as thieves in 2003 had stolen equipment worth US$1300. The painstaking effort to replace the materials was undermined by the 2005 theft and vandalism.[lix]
· A Hindu temple was attacked in Makoi, resulting in the destruction of Hindu deities and sacred scriptures.[lx]
· Sri Siva Subramaniyam temple in Nadi was vandalized and plundered by thieves.[lxi]
· March 27, 2005: Rev. Ame Tugaue of the Methodist Church declared during Easter celebrations: “Because if God does get angry with the heathens, Christians will be punished because they allowed the worship of idols and other lesser gods in Fiji.”[lxii]
· March 28, 2005: Thieves tried breaking into a Hindu temple early Easter Sunday morning.[lxiii]
· April 12, 2005: Thieves broke into a Hindu temple in Nasinu and destroyed the Hindu deities.[lxiv]
· April 18, 2005: During the Hindu festival of Sri Ram Navami, the Kabir Panth temple in Kinoya Nasinu was attacked and vandalized. Hindu scriptures were torn during the attack. Hindu leader Dr. Kamlesh Arya criticized the government for failing to stop the attack on the Hindus. This was the third attack on a Hindu temple in April.[lxv]
· May 16, 2005: Hindu Priest Anil Sharma urged greater religious tolerance as the Laucala Bay Temple, which had been a target of desecration, was opened after renovations.[lxvi]
· May 26, 2005: Hindu Priest Vinay Sharma urged the Police Commissioner Andrew Huges to personally investigate his wife’s allegations of attempted rape after local police failed to take action.[lxvii]
· June 13, 2005: Dr. Kamlesh Arya raised the issue of continued attack on temples as he addressed the 88th annual Arya Samaj conference at the Arya College in Nakasi (Arya Samaj is the oldest Hindu institution in Fiji).[lxviii]
· June 30, 2005: Villager Chandrika Prasad urged Christian leaders to preach tolerance among its members after his village temple was attacked and desecrated.[lxix]
· In a report, Fiji Resource Owners Association indicated that Hindus will lose the right to scatter ashes in the ocean if the “customary fishing ownership” is returned to the indigenous Fijians. Scattering of ashes after cremating dead bodies is an integral part of Hindu custom and has been going on since the arrival of Hindus in Fiji.[lxx] However, certain government branches are contending that the fishing ownership right be returned to the native Fijians thereby abolishing the Hindu right to use the sea for religious purposes.
· Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes confirmed in a August 26, 2005 report that a prominent politician has been implicated in the spate of Hindu temple burnings during the immediate aftermath of the 2000 coup.[lxxi]
· September 10, 2005: The Shiva Hindu Temple in Nawaicoba, Nadi was broken into and vandalized. Musical instruments were stolen.[lxxii]
A law was passed to curb the crime of sacrilege,
but only after it was amended to include all religious organizations. The motion was originally aimed at curbing
the rise in the number of crimes of sacrilege committed against Hindu temples.
The Attorney-general, Qoroniasi Bale, moved to amend the motion to include other religious organizations apart from the Hindu faith.[lxxiii]
· No attacks on Hindu temples or property were reported.
· No attacks on Hindu temples or property were reported.
Although the Constitution of Fiji establishes the separation of religion and State, the US State Department mentioned in its Report on Human Rights Practices of Fiji that, “prominent figures in the Methodist Church and allied political parties continue to advocate for the establishment of a Christian state.” Section 30 of the Constitution limits the right of freedom of expression to protect “the reputation, privacy, dignity, rights or freedoms of other persons, including the right to be free from hate speech, whether directed against individuals or groups” and to “prevent attacks on the dignity of individuals, groups or communities or respected offices or institutions in a manner likely to promote ill will between races or communities or the oppression of, or discrimination against, any person or persons.” Unfortunately, the Fijian government is not upholding this constitutional guarantee as Christian groups condemn Hindus as “idol worshippers” and promote anti-Hindu sentiment that clearly advances “ill will between communities.” Section 35, which is not supported by the Methodist Church, states, “(1) Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. (2) Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.” Despite these constitutional assurances, Hindu temples continue to be looted, vandalized and desecrated at an alarming rate by Fijian Christian groups. The Fijian government must take a strong stance to enforce the laws of its own Constitution.
Although Fiji has not taken any action toward ratifying or signing the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), it has agreed to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Again, the government is not upholding its succession to this convention as Hindus and Muslims continue to be targets of Fijian Christian nationalists.
Hindus in Fiji continue to be targeted with violence against them and their temples. The Fijian government is not doing enough to protect the minority Hindu population from such attacks and from anti-Hindu speeches by Fijian military and government officials, and leaders of various Christian movements in Fiji, particularly the Methodist Church. The government must stop giving preferential treatment to members of the Christian community. Finally, it should repeal the “Truth and Reconciliation” Bill and successfully prosecute and punish the criminals of the 2000 coup.