Vale Karam Chand Ramrakha

March 18, 1933 ”“ April 17, 2021

By Neena Badhwar

Karam Chand Ramrakha, a prominent Sydney lawyer, former Fijian Member of Parliament and a contemporary of leading political lights, Siddiq and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, passed away on April 17 at Sydney’s Mater hospital.

Karam’s columns as Fiji Diary in The Indian Down Under newspaper, his analysis on Fijian politics, the coups, articles before and after elections there, became a window into the island nation for our readers.

His columns reflected the fire in his belly, passion as an Indian and a Hindu (of course, at times with a bias), described and analysed meticulously the situation of the Indians there and the suffering they constantly faced with the cancellation of farm leases as many Fiji Indians left for other countries including Australia.

Having been a part of the august team to write the Fijian Constitution, Mr Ramrakha was a repository of information on the country. His witty, yet excellent, sum up of the situation in Fiji enlightened and kept everyone not only well informed; people looked forward to read his articles with great interest.

He would talk of his days of the law practice in Fiji and later in  Australia. He used to mention how as an MP there at the 1966 election for the Legislative Council he stood as the NFP’s candidate and became Opposition Whip in the Legislative Council.

He had many a stories that he reminisced of the times in Fiji, and his student days in the 1950s in Australia, its White Australia policy, the racist language test that was inflicted on unsuspecting foreign looking citizens by the immigration officials.

Known as KC by many who came close to Karam Chand Ramrakha in Fiji and Australia, a Melbourne journalist, Iva Tora had interviewed him several times regarding politics in Fiji.

He writes in Fiji Times in a tribute to Karam, “Mr Ramrakha was among the last remaining stalwarts of the National Federation Party from Fiji’s early post-independence era.

“Erudite and eccentric, he was an engaging raconteur whom I affectionately knew, by turns, as Uncle or KC. He was 88 when he passed on, mind still as sharp, like cut glass, a firm twinkle in his eye and spirits as buoyant as ever, right to the very end.”

KC was born on March 18, 1933 in Nabouwalu in Bua to Odin Ramrakha, a senior public servant in the colonial judiciary and his wife, Mohandai.

Karam Ramrakha studied at Marist Boys High School and passed out as Dux of the Year. His father managed to send Karam to study Law at Sydney university in 1950 along with his two older brothers who enrolled as well to study medicine.

After completing his Law degree Karam was admitted, at the age of 22, to the New South Wales bar. He went back to Fiji and opened his law firm in Suva with a determination to change conditions in Fiji where the British had a strong hold and governed natives with a system of rules and regulations not far removed from apartheid. Fijians had to obtain passes if they wanted a drink at the local pub.

Says Tora in his article, “No Fijian or Indian could join the exclusive Royal Suva Yacht Club or indeed, other British establishments like the Defence Club. Schools were racially segregated and ordinary Fijians could not move freely around the country unless they had documentation. The colonial masters maintained an iron-clad grip on the hearts, minds and pockets of their genuflecting citizens.”

The National Federation Party Leader, Biman Prasad, in his message of condolence to the bereaved Ramrakha family, said, “KC did not pull back any punches. In the Legislative Council and later the House of Representatives post-independence, KC was probably the fiercest debater and orator.

“This was the quality recognized by NFP’s founder A D Patel who first recruited KC to stand for Legislative Council Elections in 1966. He didn’t disappoint and won a landslide victory for NFP. KC ably assisted Mr Patel, together with Mr. Koya, in negotiating Fiji’s independence and help shape the first constitution for Fiji ”“ the 1970 Constitution.”

Karam Ramrakha became an avid painter in his later years. He used to say there was not enough space to store his paintings as he had made many friends from his painting classes that were held every month.

When TIDU print paper switched after thirty years to web, Karam kept on writing, only missing for the last few months.

When I rang to ask how he was doing, he did not say he was ailing, sounding with the same old effervescence. Little did we know that he had sent it going through kidney dialysis and perhaps typing it on Whatsapp.

The candle of this great man was slowly extinguishing. He was a man who had stood for the rights of Girmitiyas and the native islanders. As a young lawyer he and his boss A D Patel fought in London against Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) and won when the sugarcane farmers had a dispute that CSR accounts lacked transparency and that they were getting a bad deal.

Karam Chand Ramrakha is survived by his wife Usha, their four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren – one only born in March this year.

We, at The Indian Down Under, and our readers will greatly miss Karam Chand Ramrakha, his insightful columns on Fijian politics, and as a upright man with a passion for human rights.

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