Ah, the good ol’ feeling of not being Indian enough and not being Fijian enough. It is a feeling that has festered for years and probably will continue to fester. The years of almost desperately craving for acceptance and validations from India Indians – oh wait let me give you context. ‘India Indians’ – my definition: Indians from India. India boasts of a huge history and the indenture system is a big part of India’s history but our history is nothing but an ignored blip.
Years of going to an Indian owned clothing store and having to explain how ‘exactly’ I am Indian, and then not being given a discount because well, I’m not Indian enough. Would 10-year-old me like to have that discount, well yes. This example is one of many microaggressions that I have experienced.
Well then, what makes me different?
Maybe it is because I don’t have a caste. On the ships, Indian indentured labourers had no choice over who they sat next to. By the time they got to Fiji, they were all ‘Jahajis’ (ship mates / travellers). They had all crossed the Kala Pani – black waters. In India, Kala Pani is associated with the Cellular Jail in Port Blair where freedom fighters and dissidents were sent by the British colonial authorities in the early 20th century. When used in the diaspora, it refers to the large-scale migration out of India in the 1830s when hundreds of thousands of Indians, both willingly and unwillingly, left the subcontinent and crossed the Kala Pani (the ‘Black Waters’) to work in the sugar colonies as indentured labourers, or ‘bound coolies’. (Bhardwaj & Misrahi-Barak, 2022). Crossing the Kala Paani meant losing one’s caste.
Does the ‘lack’ of caste differentiate Indo Fijians from India Indians? Or is it our food? I have many friends who are India Indian, and one of the most frequent conversations we end up having is the differences in our food. In comparison, Indo Fijian curries are bland and are not as ‘heavy’ as India Indian curries.
Which leads me to my next difference. Language. Hindi and Fiji Hindi are hugely different. In general terms, Hindi is seen as the ‘proper’ Hindi and Fiji Hindi is seen as the ‘casual’ Hindi. The look of bewilderment on India Indian faces when they hear Fiji Hindi and their amazement at us being able to understand ‘their’ Hindi never ceases to amuse me.
You may wonder, do I ever feel a sense of belonging to India? It is after all, where my ancestors originated from.
It is always a moment of pride seeing Indian representation in the mainstream. Even if it is ‘Mango representation.’ And yes, I have been a victim of the Mango Diaspora Poetry. ‘Mango Diaspora Poetry: an apt descriptor of poems that hinge on the metaphor of mangoes – or coconuts, or chocolate, or any food or non-food-related stereotypes – to indiscriminately represent the experiences, cultures, and history of the South-Asian Diaspora’ (Kumbhat).
The perpetual confusion I feel whenever I am faced with a form that asks me to tick my ethnicity is one of the only times I feel a broad sense of ‘Indianness’. (This also stems from there still being a lack of diversity on these forms).
Bollywood. The shared feeling of forever loving SRK’s entry in K3G, admiring Madhuri’s dancing and loving to hate on Priyanka Chopra. Growing up in a western country meant that Bollywood was one of the only forms of representation available. South Asian representation on Tiktok will always hit home even if it is not specific to my culture.
I cannot tell you what makes an India Indian, nor can I tell you what makes an Indo Fijian. Each person has their own unique connection to their ethnicity. The broad grouping of ethnicities does more harm than good in my opinion.
In no way am I writing this to express any personal vendetta, these are simply my experiences and I know many Indo Fijians have had similar experiences.
If there were a genie who could grant me wishes, I would wish for us to embark on a journey of genuine and conscious acceptance from both sides.
By Aaisha Khan
Global Indian Correspondent Oceania
Read more about the Kala Paani:
Read more about Fiji Hindi:
Mango Diaspora Poetry: