Indian Arrival Day not just for diaspora in Trinidad (Commentary)

May 28th, 2008 - 11:05 am ICT by admin  

Not many know that May 30 marks 163 years since the arrival of the first set of Indians in Trinidad and Tobago. People came from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Bombay, Orissa, Rajasthan and central India and even from Nepal. The first batch of 230 Indian indentured labourers touched the soil of Trinidad and Tobago at Nelson Island, where they were held in captivity for health and social reasons - as if the almost 117 days they spent on the vessel Fatal Razack coming through the Kala Pani were not enough.

The episode of degradation, inhumanity, racism, discrimination, ill health, social, moral and spiritual decay continued. Although that period is now history, it must not be neglected.

2016, just eight years away, will mark the centenary of the struggle spearheaded by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi against continued Indian indentureship from India to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Fiji and Mauritius, among several other countries, at the height of British colonialism.

Gandhi was absolutely shaken by the harsh treatment meted out to indentured labourers in South Africa and was quick to raise the matter with the Indian National Congress where he received support from G.K. Gokhale.

Gandhi, showing his deep love for humanity, quickly dispatched lawyers to report on the situation in Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and some other Caribbean islands.

One of his better-known emissaries, confidants and ardent supporters, C.F. Andrews, included this land on his itinerary. His report was shocking and, based on it, Gandhi persuaded Gokhale to demand the abolition of Indian indentureship in the Indian Imperial Council.

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, in a rapid response to Gandhi’s call, moved in the legislature for the abolition of indentureship. It is reported that Governor Hardinge supported the call and Gandhi, Andrews, Henry Solomon and Leon Polak campaigned throughout India, and on March 21, 1916, the British government cancelled all indentureship.

Our historians, social scientists, researchers and even our politicians must revisit that time and see how and from where the Indian diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago emerged.

Can one say that the Indian diaspora has emerged, arrived, or is it still searching for its space here, after 163 years? In either scenario, how do we graduate to the next level or by what means do we reach there? Is it through politics?

I think former United National Congress senator and attorney-at-law Suren Capildeo answered it succinctly at the induction ceremony of the National Council of Indian Culture, on April 14, 2007.

“How much more humiliation can the Hindu society take? Every time you look at the news, our leaders are either leaving court or entering court. This is not limbo. It’s not how long can we go. The stench of shame is compelling. I do not want to inflict more on you. The Hindu in politics is a tragic story. It is a story of betrayal after betrayal. It is a story of gross incompetence and total selfishness. It is a story of weak leadership and political stupidity.”

How do we reverse this trend? What are the ways to carry out this superlative assignment? We have betrayed ourselves. We have to blame no one for that.

We have to move on. And we have to do so in a very humane, sociological way. A second coming awaits us. We have to get away from the politics of hatred, deceit, infighting and confusion. Those who are guilty of that approach must move aside and give to sober, intelligent and balanced minds of integrity the assignment to recapture the political throne.

Indian Arrival Day must not be construed as a celebration for one sector of the national citizenry. It is a national celebration, having been sourced through the realms of international politics and economics.

All of us as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago must continue to respect our national institutions, systems of governance, national constitution, laws and other elements of governance. We must do our utmost to adhere to and respect the philosophical injunctions of our national anthem and national flag, for all these are integral parts of the national body politic, until it is otherwise through constitutional strategies. Let all those who are apt to fracture this society rethink that approach.

We must remember that our contributions in the past, present and certainly future, must continue uninterrupted. We must do so with a strong sense of validity, purposefulness, dedication and benevolence to all the people of the nation state of Trinidad and Tobago.

(Paras Ramoutar is the IANS correspondent in the Caribbean based in Port-of-Spain. The views expressed here are personal. He can be contacted at

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