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Journey of 80 years

Jogindar Singh Kanwal
Monday, May 11, 2015

Shanti Dut, Hindi Weekly of The Fiji Times, started its publication on May 11, 1935 and its 80th birth anniversary is today. I have been associated with this paper since 1959 when one of my Hindi love poems, Tera khayal, "A thought of yours", was published in one of the issues of that year.

After the abolition of the indenture system, the Indian community of Fiji intensified its struggle to establish its identity, dignity and acceptance. The facilities to teach Hindi in Fiji were almost non-existent during the indenture period (1879-1920) but during the following decades, after the abolition of girmit, Indian committee schools were established and Hindi was given an important place in the curriculum.

As the Hindi-knowing population began to grow, the need for Hindi newspapers was felt. In whatever form and quality they were printed, they definitely created keen interest in the minds of the Indian population.

Shanti Dut, pronounced as Shanti Doot, the only Hindi weekly, and the only surviving star of Hindi journalism of Fiji at present, when translated into English would mean the "Messenger of peace".

With the help and encouragement of Alport Barker, then owner and publisher of The Fiji Times, Pandit Guru Dayal Sharma, founded this weekly.

During its teething period, Shanti Dut had to encounter many difficulties and Pandit Sharma, a man of great determination and strong will, was able to surmount all the obstacles that confronted him. During the early years, he single-handedly did Hindi compositing, proofreading, editing, collecting advertisements and carried out many other responsibilities related to the production of this paper.

Writing about his experiences in his book, Memories of Fiji, he says: "I hardly found time to glance at my watch, and almost worked round the clock, sleeping in the press room on newsprint sheets laid on the concrete floor and to be up again at first light of the day to continue the work. I had very little time to relax."

Shanti Dut celebrated its golden jubilee on May 14, 1985. RH Samson, past director-chairman of The Fiji Times commented on this occasion: "No acknowledgement could ignore the uniquely important role played by Mr GD Sharma, its founding editor and driving force for the extraordinary period of 47 years. Few, if any newspaper in the world, have benefited from such a long and dedicated service from one man, and the company remains indebted to Mr Sharma for his contribution."

And LG Usher, past executive director, wrote in his message: "I was associated directly with the Shanti Dut for 14 years. Through all these years, I was abundantly conscious of the fact that Shanti Dut was a projection of personality of Mr Guru Dayal Sharma.

"The high standards consistently observed by Shanti Dut was a reflection of his character and outlook. The regard for accuracy stemmed from his own integrity. He avoided sensationalism or extreme views because he is himself by nature a man of moderation and balance."

Before and after the publication of Shanti Dut, other weeklies and bi-weeklies appeared and disappeared from the scene of Hindi journalism.

In 1924, a group of prominent Indians established the Indian Printing and Publishing Company and began to publish Fiji Samachar (Fiji News). With Pandit Vishnu Deo as its editor, it became a strong voice of the Fiji Indians and it continued its publication for about half a century but owing to some unforeseen circumstances, this newspaper stopped its operations in 1974.

Dr LH Beattie, a scholar of English from Scotland who knew some Hindi too, set up Pacific Press and started the publication of VRIDDHI (Avance). Its editor was Pandit Durga Prasad.

Other papers that have come and gone are; Bharat Putra by Reverend AW MacMillan, Vedak Sandesh by Krishna Sharma an Arya Samaj missionary, Sanatan Sandesh by Sanatan Dharm Organisation. Other Hindi papers which could not survive long were; Deen Bandhu, Gian, Tara, Pravasni, Prakash, Kisan Mitra, Fiji Sandesh, Awaz, Jagriti and Jai Fiji by Pandit Kamla Prasad Mishra, a well-known poet of this country.

Hit by problems such as insufficient advertisement, limited readership, lack of trained staff and other resources, these illustrious names that glittered once on the Hindi horizon came down one by one.

But Shanti Dut is still surviving. This very popular weekly stood the test of the time and remains alive today. It is still read with passionate interest by the Hindi lovers of this country.

Other editors who took charge after Pandit GD Sharma's retirement were Jag Narayan, MC Vinod, Ashok Diwedi and Hemant Vimal Sharma.

Now it is in the efficient hands of Nilam Kumar. Although she does not have a large team of journalists to assist her, she has a wealth of experience, and with the help of Rakesh Kumar and two other assistants — Jyoti Maharaj and Gyan Prabha Nand — she is able to publish, social, educational, religious, political news every week. The paper also includes poems and short stories written by our young pen-pushers and filmi masala from Bollywood.

As Nilam has a good command of Hindi, her editorials are balanced and fair. Pandit GD Sharma was the editor for 47 years and Nilam has been with this weekly for more than two decades. I think no other journalist has worked for such a long period.

So far as I know, the management of The Fiji Times including Hank Arts, Fred Wesley and directors of the Motibhai Group who are the owners, have always provided full co-operation and assistance to Shanti Dut.

They are to be congratulated on this occasion. Hindi lovers of this country, particularly the regular readers of this paper, should be thankful to the management.

* Jogindar Singh Kanwal, former principal of Khalsa College, Ba and author of many Hindi and English books, writes frequently for The Fiji Times. The views expressed in this article are his and not of this paper. He can be contacted on fj.

* The special edition for the 80th anniversary of the Shanti Dut will be published on May 26 with lots of history, features, interviews, farmers and writers' contributions.

p The health column usually published today will be in tomorrow's newspaper.

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