Girmit

A hidden history: the unknown story of 20th century indentured labour 

Discover the lives of those who were part of British-Fijian indentured labour diaspora in this multi-sensory, immersive, and eye-opening experience. 

Girmit = a corrupt form of the English word ‘Agreement’.

Slavery was abolished in 1833 and so the British, and other European powers, started the indenture system, a way to source cheap labour for their colonies. Between 1870 and 1920 over 60,000 Indians were transported to Fiji as part of a legitimate but enforced mass migration.

‘Girmitiyas’ was the name given to the Indians who served as indentured labourers in the British colonies. Using multi-dimensional, mixed-media art forms designed to engage the eyes and the ears, Girmit aims to bring to life the stories of the Girmitiyas and highlight the history of indentured labour like never before.

The Fijian Community, despite its contribution to UK society through the NHS, the British Army and other sectors, remains invisible. Similar to the Windrush Generation, Fijians have deep associations with the UK. 

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture the memories and stories of this diverse British community at an important moment of the anniversaries of the Independence of Fiji and the abolition of indentured labour.” – Ajay Chhabra, Artistic Director, NutKhut 

Aiming to educate, inspire and facilitate open conversations about an unspoken part of history, Girmit is the third project in our ‘Defining Moments’ trilogy. 

Nutkhut’s ‘Defining Moments’ projects aim to mark significant historical anniversaries and moments in time that reflect the rich and complex inter-relationship between Britain and South Asian communities across the globe.

 

Previous ‘Defining Moments’ projects include:

  • 2016 – Dr Blighty – Marking the centenary of the First World War, this immersive project informed audiences of the untold history of brave Indian soldiers far from home, fighting other men’s wars. As the wounded convalesced within Brighton’s impressive Royal Pavilion, that’s where Dr Blighty was staged.

 

  • 2018 – Never Set Eyes on the Land – This project focused on the anniversary of the largest mass migration in history, the partition of India. A key aspect of the project was the ambition to bring the story of partition, as well as the living legacy of those who had been through this migration, to the wider public.

 

Girmit aims to highlight the centenary of the abolishment of indentured labour and the 50th anniversary of the Independence of Fiji, to inform the public of this neglected part of British history, which remains relatively unknown outside of academic circles.

The project deals with subjects including migration, isolation, humanity, pain, loss of identity, re-creation, culture, survival and hope, something every person can, in one way or another, recognise and identify with.

Our artistic director, Ajay Chhabra is deeply connected to the story of the indentured labour system as his grandfather, Lalli Maharaj unwittingly becoming an indentured labourer 7,000 miles away from his homeland, at the tender age of 10. As we lead up to the launch of Girmit, we will be unveiling Lalli’s story on our blog, read the first blog, here. 

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, ‘Girmit’ brings together a multi-disciplinary team of digital artists, academics, heritage experts, archivists and educationalists all working towards a shared objective.