Fiji Ghazals and Minority Writers

a process of articulating identity,
a substance begging inquiry
a practice of queer desires subjugated as perverse,
an action by the marginal migrant to challenge the dominant universe,
an intervention in the national historical archive


She swings to and fro: identity to icon, and back. Her lies.
She pumps her feet caste to caste blue skying with friends.

Girmitya, a noble mask of oneself, the collective memory.
The other portrait a tracery, the overseer’s whips’ lines: doubts, fears.

I was eleven when I got married and came here. In Nasavu, I stayed
for three or four years. Sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I did not.

I have to stay with my husband even if I have difficulties,
I rati, rati. I had a baby girl, a child—I had them every three years.

Language? the teacher says, “the lingua franca here is Fiji-Hindi
We try for a coherent discourse”. She says that. We call it Fiji-bat.

— Kuldip Gill

Dr. Kuldip Gill was a Sikh-Indian poet who did her Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia as a mature student, graduating at the age of 54 in 1988. She did her anthropology field work in examining health care practices of Fiji-Indian women and she was a vocal immigrant rights advocate.

I’m usually not receptive to academics from India(!) writing poetry about the experiences of Fiji-Indians in the indenture system. I would much rather hear the voices of those who actually experienced the pain and trauma of 20th century slavery but I also appreciate Dr. Gill and what she has to say about minority writers and silencing from both the dominant culture and our own communities:

The anxieties that minority writers feel as authors are sometimes created by the values and beliefs of readers in their own ethnic or religious group, and not just by the dominant group in the societies they have migrated to. Freedom of expression doesn’t necessarily mean that writers can write anything they like, oblivious to the undercurrents that exist within the social, political and cultural life of their ethnicity. Most writers are aware that their work might offend some people some of the time, but for minority writers, the struggle between poetic self-expression and self-silencing has had, and continues to have, cultural implications for many of us. My socialization as a woman raised in the Sikh culture has made me acutely conscious of what I say, or write. When I was a child, my mother’s frown, her stare of disbelief if I said something she didn’t approve of or if I talked too much, or my father’s frown—all silenced me. At times my parents showed me what not to do by negative example; relating a story of someone else’s daughter who wasn’t very wise, and what happened to her, was usually very instructive. My parents taught me what many other women learn: the fine art of self-silencing. Much later, in academia, that upbringing, along with the demands of “objective” western science, kept me from writing anything of a personal or emotional nature. It wasn’t until I began to write poetry that I changed my practice to one where freedom of personal emotional expression became important to me and my work.

She’s right — the silencing starts early in our homes and it continues throughout much of our lives. We have to work actively against self-censorship and aim to write as freely as possible. You aren’t any less South Asian if your characters are only white and not any less American if you only like watching Bollywood movies.

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