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Mr President, TISI Sangam, Members of the Board of management, Executives, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I thank you all for the warm welcome that has been accorded to me in the true Sangam tradition this morning, and the kind words of welcome and the generous introduction that the Secretary-General has given me.  I last spoke at this Convention in 2003.  Almost a decade has gone by since then, much water has indeed gone under the bridge. And many changes have taken place over the years.   

As we look back at the history of Sangam, we find that there were two over-arching reasons why Sangam was formed.  First, was the desire to preserve “South Indian culture and traditions” for the benefit of people of South Indian origin who had come to the colony under the Indenture system, and then made Fiji their home.  The second was the desire that their children should have the benefit of education in the broadest sense.   The girmityas had “passed through the strictest school of life and realized that their children ought not to go without the blessings of education”.   They were disadvantaged in both respects due to a variety of reasons, that I need not go into at this stage.  But I do wish to go into a little bit of the history of Sangam today. History is important because unless we know our history we are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.  Similarly, it is the positives in our history that inspire and enthuse us to aim higher and to achieve greater things.

Let me begin, by paying tribute to the founding fathers of Sangam for their vision, hard work and sacrifice in the interests of their children and the generations that followed.  We pay homage to Sevak Ratnam Sadhu Kuppaswamy who was the leader of the founding fathers.  The Sadhu has been described as  “an exceptional man of vision and wisdom and of high moral and spiritual discipline, imbued with a spirit of sacrifice”.  An apt description!   Sadhu Swamy who worshipped Ramana Maharishi, a South Indian saint,  was also very staunch devotee of Swami Vivekananda.  Hence the association between  Sangam and the Rama Krishna Mission.  When Sadhu Swami died AD Patel described him as “the greatest Indian ever to come to Fiji from India”.  Our founding fathers may have been lacking in resources but were generous of heart.  They were hard working and laid the foundations of the many Sangam schools and temples that you see around the country today.   Apart from Sadhu Swamy and his faithful followers  Swami Avinasnanda played a critical role in laying the legal foundations of Sangam as we know it today.    I wish to revive his memory today. Swami Avinasananda was an outstanding person who made a deep and abiding impression upon those he came in contact with, including the colonial officials of the day, who described him  as, “an outstanding figure among Indian religious workers undertaking very desirable religious and social work among the Indians”.    It will be of interest to you to know that the same officials spoke of Sangam as , and “a most worthy and progressive Indian association”.   The standing and status that Sangam enjoyed at the time within Government circles and the country, was in no small measure, due to the character and personality of Swami Avinasananda.  It was the concessions that he won from the Colonial officials of the time that enabled the registration of Sangam as a limited liability company, without the addition of the word “limited”.  This happened on 31 October 1937.  In 1949  Sangam started Sri Vivekananda High School.  Swami Rudrananda and A D Patel played a leading role in establishing that high school.   This school was opened in the midst of strong opposition from the government of the day. It was Fiji’s first non-Christian, non-government high school.  The opening of that school was an event of singular importance in the history of higher education for the Indo-Fijian community.  But for that school, many of my generation would not have received  secondary education.  Many students from the farming and working class families were able to enter a secondary school for the first time.  Many from that school were later helped by Sangam to gain admission into universities in India and many came back to serve the country in various positions.   During this period Sangam also helped other deserving students to go to other overseas destinations for further studies.  Many of them came back to teach at Sangam schools.  Today Sangam runs 21 primary schools, 5 secondary schools and one tertiary institution, namely the Nursing School in Labasa.  Some 10,000 children attend Sangam Schools which are open to students of all races without any discrimination whatsoever.  Today you will find  people educated in Sangam schools in all walks of life, in  all profession  and occupations.  Many have made useful and significant contribution to our national life. Like everything in life, Sangam has had its good days and bad days.  There was a period of time when the Sangam stagnated, even declined.  That was also the time when we lacked unity and cohesion.  Sangam was plagued by factionalism and infighting.  All organisations can be likened to an engine.  The engine functions the best when all its many components are working smoothly.  Every part of the engine is important.  A small defective screw can render the engine either inoperative or dysfunctional.  The same is true of organisations, indeed of nations.  Racism, factionalism, dissent and disunity can and do render an organisation ineffective and dysfunctional. In Sangam everyone is important.  No one is more important than another, and there is no job that is too small and there is no person that is too small.  The word “Sangam” itself means unity.  We must not repeat the mistakes of the past and each one of you who have come to attend this important convention will go from here today, renewing your commitment to keeping Sangam strong and united.

Just like the founding fathers, Sangam has been fortunate with many of its leaders who have guided its affairs over the last few decades. They did a sterling job in re-invigorating Sangam and giving it a new lease of life.  We pay tribute to all of them.  They were assisted by the loyalty and devotion of all of you and many others who are not with us today, and we express our gratitude to them.  This was a time when  Sangam made good progress.  It established its new offices in Nadi, built a magnificent temple in that town, streamlined the management of Sangam and  brought its affairs under a central administrative umbrella, established  the Nursing School in Labasa, built a new primary school in Nasinu, established the Village at Lovu, Lautoka, to mention some of its achievements.  The Sangam today is run in a very professional and business-like manner.

I have spent some time talking about our past leaders.  We cannot forget those that serve us today.  Many of them both at the Central and Branch level, work without expectations of reward; they give freely of their time and labour; and we thank them all for their service.

I have spoken at some length about our founding fathers. They were all God-fearing men with deep and abiding faith in God.  They were self-less.   They worked in very difficult circumstances.  They did not serve for honour, wealth or glory; but out of love for their fellow human beings.  They were principled and stood firm in adversity.  They did not change with the wind.  They said what they thought and did what they said.  That is a great legacy that we can all be very proud of, and emulate.

 I am delighted to see many of our mothers and sisters here today.  Mathar Sangam is an integral part of Sangam and our mothers and sisters have done extremely valuable work for us over the years.  They deserve our whole-hearted support and recognition.  There is no basis for any form of discrimination against our mothers and sisters.  Any discrimination is wrong and immoral and cannot be defended in this day and age.  All forms of discrimination must end.  Education for our women has to be encouraged and Sangam as an organisation must continue to give every impetus for women to go forward and to attain the highest levels of qualifications possible,  and  assume a greater leadership role not only in Sangam’s affairs but also in the nation.    As we were reminded by Mahatma Gandhi, women are not the weaker sex;   when it comes to moral power they are more superior.

Violence against women is a social evil.  I am sorry to say that despite significant social changes, violence against women is still far too prevalent and Sangam, both men and women have a role in educating our people that violence against women is not okay, and must be  condemned wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head.


Sangam has promoted culture through music and religion and spirituality through its temples and mandalis. Although Sangam had limited  success in the teaching of Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam in our schools due to lack of teachers, none the less South Indian culture is largely preserved  through music, dance forms, pujas and festivals such as fire walking.  And our presence here in large numbers today bears testimony to the fact that South Indian culture is alive and well in Fiji.  While Sangam’s initial mission has been accomplished, today it faces new challenges.  It is for the present generation to articulate those challenges and to work out strategies to meet them.

There are those who live in abject poverty.  The number of beggars that you see in our streets appear to be growing.  It is not only the poor.   There are the disabled, the unemployed, the homeless, and their concerns must be in our concern.    In the midst of all the pain and suffering that we see, we cannot and must not look the other way.  Sangam must address these issues with vigour and determination and play its part in bringing help to those in need.

There are many other issues that confront Sangam going forward.  Our members are dwindling.  We must begin to think of the future, where will our membership come from?   Many of our rural schools are half empty. There is a great deal of capital invested in these schools and the infrastructure that support them.  Do we need institutions that will prepare our young people and give them the skills necessary to survive in a world where employment in the formal sector is becoming increasingly difficult.  Should more emphasis be placed on self-employment?   How will we sustain the many schools and institutions that we have built?  Can some of this infrastructure be put to alternative use?  For example, old and disabled peoples’ homes where the sick and infirm can be taken care of with compassion and love.  There are many sick people out there who are unable to afford very basic medical care.  Their needs must also concern us.  In this regard it is very heartening to see some charities that are providing very valuable help to the poor and needy.  I am here referring to Ramakrishna Medical Centre in Nadi and the Sathya Sai Medical Centre at Vuda. Lautoka.  Can Sangam also join their efforts?    The Sangam Village at Lovu will lend itself to such an idea.  It is within a high density area in ideal location, where many of the poor live. 

In this address I have raised many questions.  My purpose is simply to identify what I think are important for the people of our country, and particularly the very poor.

Should Sangam become more inclusive?  Fiji is a multiracial and multi-cultural country.  We need peace and harmony, because without that we cannot prosper and grow.  Sangam as a society must play its part in creating and sustaining an environment where peace and harmony can prevail at all times.    And every step we take in fostering peace and harmony and spreading goodwill among all people will be welcomed by all men of goodwill.


The Convention is a great occasion.  It may be likened to a gathering of the extended family which is indeed what the Sangam is – “a family”.  It is a time to strengthen and deepen the bonds that already exist between each one of us as individuals and of groups from different parts of Fiji, and overseas.  It is time to put our heads together and ponder over many of the issues and problems that people face and work out ways in which we can help.

I wish you all a very happy and fruitful Convention.