The end is in sight, the shadow lengthening visibly – Homage to Prof. Brij V. Lal

Published Date:   Sunday, Dec 26, 2021

The end is in sight, the shadow lengthening visibly

Homage to Prof. Brij V. Lal

Dr. Nitesh Narnolia


“‘Three scores and ten’ is the age allotted to humans, the Good Book tells us. Modern medicine might add 10 odd years, but the end is in sight, the shadow lengthening visibly. By that measure, my time is up or will soon be.”

These are the lines, Prof. Brij V. Lal, who died on 25 December 2021 in Australia, wrote in his latest article “Fiji made me, but which Fiji is mine?”, published in Islands Business on 30 November 2021. Such a close assumption of ‘death’ can only be expected from a renowned scholar like Lal.

Despite being an internationally acclaimed scholar of history of Indo-Fijian community, Prof. Lal was ‘forced exiled’ from Fiji due to his critic to the current government and died in Australia. A prominent scholar, a pillar to democracy in Fiji and a girmitiya descendant who gave his whole life for Fiji, had to die in ‘exile’ is significant to understand the racial discrimination, Indian diasporic communities face.

Prof. Brij V. Lal, born in 1952 in a small village of Labasa, Fiji, was a Girmitiya descendant and Indo-Fijian historian who dealt extensively with the history and politics of Fiji. He went to the University of South Pacific, the University of British Columbia and the Australian National University. Later on, he became a Visiting Professor at University of the South Pacific and Emeritus Professor of Pacific and Asian History at Australian National University. He also worked as head of the Centre for Diasporic Studies, University of Fiji. Apart from his academic positions, he authored many books – Mr. Tulsi’s Store: A Fijian Journey (2001), Girmiyas: The Origins of the Fiji Indian (1983), Chalo Jahaji: On a Journey through Indenture in Fiji (2000) and Bittersweet: The Indo-Fijian Experience (2004, edited book). First one is an autobiography in which he remembers his life in Fiji, from childhood in a remote village to an internationally acclaimed historian. The latter books recount the history of the Indo-Fijian community.

Prof. Lal was actively involved in the political development of Fiji and was critical to the military coup of 2006. He was an advocate of democracy, as he says in Broken Waves: A History of Fiji in the Twentieth Century

“The moral vision that has shaped my interpretation is essentially modernist, democratic, and egalitarian. I will not contest that my approach is necessarily more justified or better than others with different points of departure. Value is a matter of judgment, and there can be no question of finality in scholarly discourse.”

Due to his critical nature towards the 2006 military coup and the current government led by Frank Bainimarama, Prof. Lal was expelled from Fiji in 2009 and later in 2015, when he applied to return to Fiji, he was prohibited indefinitely from returning to Fiji because he was considered ‘prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, order and security of Government of Fiji’. He denied those allegations and claimed that his wife, Padma Lal had never spoken a word about politics in Fiji, then why she is denied entry in her own country. This decision of expelling Lal and then banning him and her wife to return to Fiji seems a foul play against a voice appeared a threat to the nation-state.

On top of his political views, Prof. Lal is known for his contribution to the Indo-Fijian community by writing extensively about its indentured migration and development in Fiji. Prof. Lal’s grandfather came to Fiji in 1906 after serving in indentured labor for five years. He was aware of the hardships his parents had to go during indenture and as a child, had faced poverty and discrimination. He had experienced every bit of the development of Fiji from establishing the first university to the decaying of the constitution and military coup.

Prof. Lal’s legacy for India lies in his Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora (2006) which is considered the first comprehensive survey of Indian diasporic communities living all over the world. It covers approximately 44 countries/regions where the Indians/Indian descendants are living and contributing in the development of the nation-state. Prof. Lal’s contribution to Indian diaspora cannot be minimized in just one book/encyclopedia, as it is beyond that. He had been actively involved with the diaspora departments of Indian universities, scholars of diaspora studies, specifically the ones working on Indo-Fijian communities and also shared his knowledge through various conferences and lectures in India. Along with that, Prof. Lal established the ground for researchers to understand the evolution of Indo-Fijian community. He not only explored the history of Indo-Fijian communities and how they constructed their life in Fiji, but also identified “every minute shift in trends”. It was his research that opened up the new areas for discussion for Indian scholars and provided a solid base to carry forward the understanding of Fiji Indian society.

Prof. Brij V. Lal and his writings will remain significant for Indian diaspora communities all over the world, especially in Fiji. Though death is inevitable, losing such an eminent scholar/historian has created a void that can’t be filled. The end remains half-unfinished as he could not visit the country, where his heart remained, for one last time.

I pay my homage and gratitude to Prof. Brij V. Lal for his noteworthy contribution for Indian Diaspora in Fiji. Prof. Lal will remain a revered person, cherished across the world for his implausible vision and naïve views.


About the Author

Dr. Nitesh Narnolia is an Assistant Professor of English in Government Girls College, Churu, Rajasthan. He is a researcher in Diaspora Studies and his area of expertise remains African-American Slave migration.


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