Former High Court judge Nazhat Shameem today gave her first public speech, since her sacking on April 10, when the Constitution was abrogated and the judiciary sacked.
Her speech was at the book launch of Professor Satendra Nandan's book, Between the Lines.
Below is the text of her speech.
I read Professor Nandan’s collection and selected prose in “Between the Lines’ with fascination, not only because each piece reflects a piece of Fiji, our country, but also because each reflects facets of a writer deeply committed to the essential goodness in each human soul. But here is no glorification of the weaknesses, the greed, and the opportunism of human nature. He lays bare the racism, the humbug of religious fundamentalism, the lack of commitment to the truth and the lack of commitment to principle 2 or ideology, all of which has featured in our nation – development since 1987. He writes about corruption-that the “cholesterol of corruption…… is “politically and morally a most damaging aspect of a developing nation” and about the relationship between corruption and the fear of the absence of power.”
He links this same fear to the most shameful parts of colonialism, to racist ideologies and to fundamentalist religion. He says in his essay on “Corruption and Society”, that what corrupts in Fiji is this fear of the absence of power.
“What will I do afterwards? Out of power, who ‘ll garland me. Who will offer me a bribe? Once you fall from power there is no cushioning effect”. And, referring to V.S. Naipaul’s ‘The Mimic Man” he says that the book is “about colonial shame and fantasy, about how the powerless lie about themselves, since it is their only resource. It is about colonial men mimicking the conditions of manhood; men who had grown to distrust everything about themselves, including themselves.”
And he links corruption to politics, to culture, and to racism, saying that corruption is more, much more than the World Bank definition of it as the abuse of power for public gain. In Fiji with its complex social “matrix” it encompasses the falsification of history, in the use of language in the laws and statutes and in the
institutionalized racism that is such an entrenched part of Fiji.
These selections of Professor Nandan’s writings show us the link between the fear of the loss of power, the coups of 1987 and 2000, the use of racism and political dishonesty by religious leaders and the deliberate manipulation of religion. And these are the reflections of a former government Minister, an academic, a politician who has lived these experiences. A lover of the country of his birth, an exile from the country of his birth, a critic of the country of his birth and a son of the girmitiyas. How appropriate then, that this collection of prose should be launched on the 15th of May on Girmit Day, a day set aside to celebrate the girmit dream. Professor Nandan ’s background and qualifications themselves represent the girmit dream, not only because he has achieved respect, recognition and dignity in a world which does not lightly honour dreamers, writers and revolutionaries, but also
because he shows a willingness to confront the unimagined, the unrecognized, the unseen. After all , there is no real point in being descended from the girmitiya if one is unable to understand the ideology of the girmit.
Professor Nandan who is Foundation Professor and Dean of the School of Humanities and Arts at the University of Fiji is also Director of the Gandhi-Tappoo Centre for writing, Ethics and Peace Studies. Before joining the University of Fiji in February 2005, he was Professor of English and Commonwealth Studies and Director of University Centre for writing media and culture studies at the University of Canberra. He was also Adjunct Professor at the Commonwealth Special Centre for Professional Ethics and Applied Philosophy at the ANU and the University of Melbourne and the Research school of Humanities at the Australian National University. He holds positions in Associations for writers, for language studies and in December 2005 was awarded Professor Emeritus at the University of Canberra the first ever Professor Emeritus from Fiji.
Yet his writing, his speeches, his prose in this collection launched today reflect his eminent academic history, only in the beauty of the language and the use of literature in explaining his insights of events in Fiji. His love, his concerns, his heart reflects only his Nadi childhood, his school at Sri Vivekanandha and the Natabua High School and his time as a student in India. Ultimately, Professor Nandan’s writing has its soul in Fiji’s earth. He writes as a son of Fiji, sometimes with anguish, often with humour always without pretension, ultimately with hope and compassion. His reflections, if read and properly understood would help us all to
rebuild on the relics of the shattered past.
Of the Girmit he says:
Whatever our perspective on the Girmit experience, there is no doubt in my mind that the Girmit people gave us our history and heritage, our culture and community; indeed by sailing in a new direction they discovered and created a whole new world for us….
Girmit now has an immortal meaning. And a new definition to an old undefinable experience – only the word Girmit conveys the resonance of lives that could not be destroyed: Girmit – the fallen cannot be obliterated from the soil beneath their feet.
And the earth beneath the soles of their feet became part of our souls.”
Of democracy he writes: “Democracy is not the art of the possible; it is the science of possibilities. That is why politics is sometimes called the master science – it makes the practice of other sciences both desirable and practicable. Its unique virtue is that it gives every person one value, one vote and through this process governments fall and are formed.”
And of course with his unerring ethical accuracy he strikes the nail on the head, as to the true meaning of democracy. The concept rests on a belief in equality. Any electoral system, which gives greater weight to the vote of one or more people is not a democracy. He says ‘But Fiji has never had that electoral equality
of one person, one vote, one value.
That of course leads him to a discussion of race and racism. He talks of a history in Fiji which is either silent or dismissive of the realities of the lives of whole ethnic communities. He writes of an image created of Fiji on tourist brochures, in documentaries and travel books which fail to show a single face of European, Indian or Chinese origin. He writes of a silence about the language, culture and dreams of whole communities in Fiji. And he writes of the unleashing of racial hatred, religious intolerance and ethnic violence in the aftermath of the 1987 coup de’etat, a coup which of course affected him in the most direct way. He links racism to
the fear of the loss of power, and does not spare the cynical politicians who seek to justify racism by saying “race is a fact of life in Fiji” Race is not a fact of life in Fiji . That people are genetically different from each other is a scientific “truth” but race is only a fact if one chooses to make it relevant. And Fiji has experienced such an outpouring of ethnic hatred and religious intolerance in the past 20 years that as Professor Nandan writes, it is time to see diversity as “our world’s deepest unity”
What an enlightened and compassionate belief. That diversity unites. To say that “race is a fact of life” without condemning racism and religious intolerance, is to perpetuate that racism.
Ironically, it is often those who claim to fight for democracy who are the most racially intolerant. Indeed, since 2000 and 2006, racism and religious intolerance have been propagated in the media in the name of democracy.
Professor Nandan has no time for such hypocrisy. He writes in his piece “The Role of Religion:“Religious communities, I feel which involve themselves in the political life of a nation, should then accept the constraints of democratic society. You cannot use democracy’s structures and processes to gain power and then undermine those very institutions. You cannot claim to be the prophets of the lands and
depend on the profits of your political masters. In short, how long can a democracy tolerate intolerance?”
Professor Nandan writes of the consequences, moral, social, and economic of the exodus after the coups of 1987 and 2000, of the exile of whole communities and of the sense of betrayal suffered. But he writes also of the growth of the Fiji Indian Diaspora, of the free societies these exiles are now a part of, and of the
achievements of these migrant people, acquired through energy, intelligence and material possessions. Evil then can produce good. While the results can never exonerate those who do evil, the message is one of hope. And that after all is the Girmit message. Survival and hope, with the dream of dignity, equality, and peace. It is that message that is expressed most poignantly in this collection of essays. Professor Nandan acknowledges that even as he writes about writing in ‘Writing Fiji in Asia – Pacific:‘Writing then is your inner home: a struggle, a journey into the self.
It is a clarification of the convulsions and confusions of history. It is also an art of hope even when one is writing about despair sometimes so deep that you could simply die.”
And of the impact of coups on the Fiji Indian writer: “We know we were a banished people even from Mother India but home was where one’s heart was, where one was born and bred and had broken bread with people who later betrayed with such casual brutality. The coups, I think became the defining moments for the Fiji – Indian writer.
We had not realized that the innocence and evil were so closely intertwined in our paradise……… There is nothing like a bloodless coup. How much blood do you see in the breaking of a heart? Or in the inward death of a country?”
And yet he does not let the Fiji Indians off the hook either. He writes of the complicity of many Fiji Indians in the institutionalization of racist dogma, and of their indifference to the plight not only of other Fiji Indians, but also to the dreams, culture and thoughts of those of other races in Fiji.
And so, the writer writes of love, of pain, of exile, of betrayal and of hope. These are stories of Fiji, of loss, of building and of the memories of a home lost by banishment. The writer talks of collecting sea-shells in his memories – “And the sound of the surf beating against the reef. “My soul, my soul, is another country.”
These writings the beauty of their language and the poignancy of the subjects will inevitably move the reader.
They moved me. It gives me great pleasure to launch this publication today.