Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, is under the spotlight over reports of persecution of the Hindu community. At the epicentre of the controversy is Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the Fijian Minister for Economy, Civil Service and Communications. Hindus in Fiji comprise about 27.9% of the total population and the minority community is faced with increasing cases of inequitable treatment and racial prejudice.
Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum is one of the most important Ministers in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. He is accused of having close ties with the intelligence agency of Pakistan, ISI, and fuelling the ongoing persecution of Hindus.
The allegations stem from his role in onboarding NADRA, the national database registration authority of Pakistan for conducting the 2018 elections in the island nation. This is despite the claim of the agency that it landed the Fiji contract in 2016 via a competitive bidding process.
In 2017, NADRA came under the scanner for tampering with voter registration in its home country of Pakistan. As per a report by ABC News, the agency was accused of ballot stuffing, corruption and giving identity cards to terrorists.
According to Hindu Post, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum used NADRA to allegedly tamper with the 2018 election results and ensure the victory of Frank Bainimarama.
“Critics allege that Bainimarama gave Khaiyum a free hand in return for the victory, and Khaiyum turned all his attention against the Hindu population in Fiji. Not only temple attacks became more frequent, but also Hindu intellectuals are regularly picked up by the police and slapped with false cases,” it stated.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyume has been accused of ‘stuffing’ Pakistani-origin Muslims in key positions of power by flouting rules. One of the controversial appointments has been that of Saud Minam as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Fiji Development Bank (FDB).
Saud Minam, a former Pakistani citizen, was originally eyeing the position of Fiji National Provident Fund. When he was made the CEO of FDB, questions were raised about the manner in which Fijian citizenship was granted to him.
“What a shame…Naturalising someone to become a Fijian citizen after only seven years or so of him being in Fiji. Is this for real? The deception to use their job to gain citizenship in Fiji makes me very very nervous,” legislator Aseri Radrodro pointed out last year.
Under the ‘supervision’ of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Muslims have been appointed to crucial positions of power including the Reserve Bank, Broadcasting Commission, Financial Intelligence Unit, Accident and Compensation Commission, Supervisor of Elections, and Permanent Secretary Trade (government).
It must be mentioned that Muslims comprise only 6% of the population and their appointments have been disproportionate to their population. Khaiyum’s aunt, Nur Bano Ali, controls the Fiji Chamber of Commerce and is the Chairperson of Women in Business (Fiji).
She is said to have tremendous influence in the private sector of the country. Fiji also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a ‘bankrupt’ Pakistan, leading to the constitution of the Pakistan Fiji Business Council.
The unceremonious ouster of Hindus from positions of power, change to Fijian Hindi on Radio Mirchi
Mohammed Saneem, who was appointed as the Supervisor of Elections by Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, had allegedly been involved in recalling the High Commissioner-Designate of Fiji to India, Namita Thakar.
He had accused her of being anti-Muslim after Saneem insisted on having non-vegetarian food during Diwali. “…Khatri was supposed to take Saneem out for a meal. But she said since Diwali was near she won’t eat meat but Saneem said he wanted to eat meat,” reported Fijileaks.
“So Khatri’s deputy and Saneem said “Ok we will go and eat meat”. On that Khatri said “Oh you two Muslims, go and eat meat”. Saneem allegedly told Khaiyum that Khatri “is anti-Muslim”; she was later recalled from India,” the news portal added.
Saneem has been accused of facilitating the wrongful termination of ‘devout’ Hindu, Sharvada Sharma as the Solicitor general of Fiji. He had served in that position for 10 years. After a fallout with Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, he was unceremoniously ousted by the Fijian Prime Minister.
Reportedly, his termination letter came when he was prepping for Puja on the occasion of Diwali. Although Sharma had challenged the matter before the Court, Khaiyum is accused of compromising the independence of the Judiciary and prolonging the case.
Coupled with the sacking of Hindus from key positions and the growing proximity with Pakistan, Aiyaz is paving the way for the Islamisation of the Christian-majority nation.
His brother, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has been accused of severing the Indic roots of Hindu Fijians. Riyaz, who serves as the CEO of Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, even changed the medium of instruction on Radio Mirchi from pure Hindi to an adulterated version called ‘Fiji Hindi’.
While speaking about the development back then, Hindu politician Mahendra Chaudhry said, “It is not only demeaning, it sounds absolutely ridiculous when one hears Radio Mirchi announcers expressing themselves in this medium.”
“It is a gratuitous insult hurled at the Indians, particularly the followers of the Hindu religion. To dilute one’s language effectively means diluting one’s culture because language is so intrinsically tied up with the practice and preservation of one’s culture and traditions,” he had emphasised.
Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum had however defended the move and claimed that it would help preserve ‘Fiji Hindi’ for decades and generations to come.
Systemic attack on the Hindu Indo-Fijian community
According to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), Indo-Fijians belonging to the Hindu community have been subject to systemic violence since the first military coup in May 1987.
“In the months following the coup, racial tensions escalated and indigenous Fijians attacked Indians in widespread violence. In one bout of violence in May 1987, nearly 200 Indians were injured by a rampaging mob of thousands of coup supporters,” it stated while citing a New York Times report.
Another coup, which took place in the same year, witnessed the exodus of 30,000 – 40,000 Indo-Fijians from the island nation. According to HAF, systemic violence had seen a change in demographics with the Indo-Fijian community now accounting for only 37% of the population (from 50% in 1987).
The Hindu advocacy group pointed out that Lt. Colonel Rabuka, who orchestrated the first two coups in Fiji, paved the way for a new constitution in 1990. The said constitution reportedly created a race rift, wherein majority of Parliamentary seats were allocated to indigenous Fijians.
This soon escalated to real-life violence against the Hindu community and arson attacks on temples and sacred shrines in October of 1991. A year after the island nation had its first Hindu PM (Mahendra Chaudhary) in 1999, he was held hostage and toppled from his position of power.
“Subsequently, violence against Indian Hindus increased and threatened their fundamental right to practice their faith,” HAF said. Despite the secular nature of the Constitution adopted by Fiji in 2013, the targeting of Hindus continues unabated.
This includes cases of vandalism and theft at multiple temples across the country. Here is a comprehensive list of such incidents:
- June 2016 – Vandalism of Hindu temple in Lautoka, desecration of Hindu symbols and hate graffiti targeting local Indian students.
- December 2017 – Vandalism of Tirath Dham temple (Nadi), theft of donation boxes, desecration of Hindu murtis
- January 2018 – Vandalism of a temple near Suva.
- July 2019 – Theft at Sita Ram Mandir (Calia) and Hindu temple at Malolo
- August 2019 – Vandalism of temple doors and windows of Kaliamman Temple in Lautoka.
- September 2019 — Theft at a temple in the Suva city of Fiji.
The Hindu American Foundation pointed out that Indo-Fijians still have less land ownership [pdf] compared to indigenous Fijians and the former is dependent on leased lands for farming from the latter.
Besides the threat of Islamisation, Hindus in Fiji also face challenges from the hegemony of the Methodist Church of Fiji and its resolve to make the island nation a ‘Christian State’.
In 2012, the then Fiji Methodist Church’s President Tuikilakila Waqairatu claimed, “Fiji was given to God…When we say that Fiji is a Christian state … we say it was decided by our chiefs who ceded Fiji to Great Britain that Fiji be a Christian country.”
“When it was given to God, it has already established its covenant relationship with God, and that covenant relationship is eternal – it cannot be withdrawn,” he had asserted then
Fijian Prime Minister cries foul
Meanwhile, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has reacted strongly to the article posted by Hindu Post.
In a video, he said, “The Fiji I lead does not tolerate antagonism against any faith. Christians, Hindus, and Muslims are all loved, accepted and protected in Fiji, that is the character of our country, that is the security provided by our constitution.”
“What is really quite sad is that no other politician has condemned this nonsense for what it is, even though they know it is a lie,” the Fijian Prime Minister dismissed the allegations.
“Ordinary Fijians know exactly who is most responsible for the communal and religious division that nearly tore our country apart in the 1980s and 1990s. These same people want to drag us back to the darkness,” Frank Bainimarama claimed.