Indian Tribalism

By Raffique Shah
May 19, 2017

Raffique ShahI did a double-take upon reading Freddie Kissoon’s post-May Day column in the Kaieteur News of Guyana. I don’t know Kissoon personally, but I do know that he’s an activist and a writer who is not averse to controversy, who writes as he sees things, damn the consequences.

In his May 5 column, he wrote about participating in a May Day march, a date that coincided with the arrival of Indian indentured immigrants in Guyana, “After nearly two hundred years of occupation of Guyana, the ontology (nature of being) of Guyanese East Indians torments my psyche… I have seen and met Indians all over this world and they seem a less racially oriented people than the Guyanese Indians…

“…It is frightening to note that this mental anachronism can be found in Guyanese Indians who hold professorship in universities around the world. The list includes professionals in every conceivable area of knowledge…”

He had started his column by arguing passionately for the David Granger-led APNU/AFC Government to give sugar cane lands to the people who worked them, now that the sugar industry was being downsized: “…Let us give the vast lands that the sugar canes once stood on to sugar workers. This country is very poor. It has endured 60 years of economic and political stagnation but one of the great human features that makes this country stand out against all others in the world is its genetically driven resilience… Sugar may have died but you give those fields to our former sugar workers, you will see that unleashed spirit of perseverance…

“I don’t believe we have achieved any greatness as a nation except that phenomenal resilience…”

Since the vast majority of workers and farmers in the sugar industry are Indians, one cannot accuse Kissoon, who is Indian, of being against his own people because of his criticisms of them I noted earlier. He has implicit faith in their perseverance and resilience, such that he calls for all the demobilised sugar cane lands to be given to them, presumably through leases, for agricultural pursuits.

Still, he thinks they are “racial”, from top to bottom, and he explains. Most of the diaspora who reside in the USA were against Barack Obama becoming president of the USA-only because he was seen as a black man. In Guyana, he says, if he met ten Indians and asked their views on the incumbent Afro-dominated APNU government, they would be unanimously against it remaining in power. But if he spoke with ten Afro-Guyanese, five would be for and five against. If he did the same exercise when the Indo-dominated PPP government was in power, all the Indians would be supportive of it, and again, the Afros would be divided.

Kissoon wrote that he felt such racially-anchored politics was peculiar to Indo-Guyanese, not to their counterparts in Trinidad & Tobago, Mauritius or Fiji.

Well I have news for Freddie: I don’t know about the latter two island-states, but when it comes to political allegiance, more than 75 percent of Indo-Trinis vote for whichever party is seen as the main Indian force, matters not if its principals are seen as being corrupt, inept or anything else negative.

I dare argue that except for the pre-1970 period when Dr Eric Williams and the PNM commanded maybe 80 percent of the Afro-votes purely on race and Williams’s charisma, most Afro-Trinis have shed blind race-loyalty. Of course, I don’t have any empirical evidence to support this claim. But tell me, what accounted for Karl Hudson-Phillips’s ONR polling 91,000 votes in 1981? Or the ANR Robinson-led NAR sweeping the 1986 election 33-3? And Patrick Manning losing in 2010?

The Afro-vote has long ceased to be racially anchored. Mostly, the Indo-vote remains a monolith that is manipulated by, not the party, but the Chief (Panday-till-ah-dead, pre-2010, then Queen Kamla), which is an even worse form of tribalism than what obtains among Indo-Guyanese. This thinly-veiled racialism (not racism) spans the societal strata. It includes relics of an indenture-era long gone, beneficiaries of an education system that did not discriminate by race, and yes, Freddie, even professionals and professors.

When so accused, they invoke righteous indignation: Me? I am no racist! And indeed they aren’t. In Trinidad, almost everyone from different ethnicities has friends, even relatives, of other races. We mix socially, as neighbours, at schools and workplaces, at fetes, funerals and so on.

But when it comes to politics, Indians don’t mince matters: “apan jhat” is the guiding and deciding factor. Hey, but I voted for Robinson in 1986! Yes, because Panday told you to. Yow! Look at how many Afros we have in our ranks! Sure, they are window dressing that can be changed overnight-ask Jack Warner and sundry others.

Tribalism among most Indians, and, I imagine, some other ethnicities elsewhere in the world, cannot be easily explained. We are doomed to dwell with this anachronism in this life and the next, in Guyana, Trinidad — a case of marking time in perpetuity.

15 Responses to “Indian Tribalism”


  • Is this an opinion piece? If it is ,then it is acceptable as the personal, unsupported, biased views of Mr. Shah.
    If this article was submitted as a regular journalistic column, it should have been rejected by the editor.
    The author indulged in broad generalisations, provided no basic supporting details, offered up a few weak examples and even resorted to name calling in a very weak attempt to prove his thesis.

  • The atrocities committed in Wismar or the calling of the Calcutta ship coming in the THA elections appear to be non-anachronistic and non perpetual in the minds of Indos in general. It take two to tango.

    • Lol… But The Calcutta ship did come, with a barge too.. Lol..

      Sinanan dem eh fraid nobody nah… He is the boss..

      • And speaking of Calcutta Ships… And Barges.

        Min Sinanan find it strange that the ships are having problems and ‘alludes’ to sabotage (Terrorism). One can only hope that these ships do not ‘go down’ with it’s passengers in the future..
        Seems like Sinana was never warned about the unreliability of these ships…

        Stuppes..

        Minister: Ferry problems strange*

        Rohan Sinanan has described the mechanical problems being experienced by the two passenger ferries on the Tobago seabridge as strange.

        http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20170523/news/minister-ferry-problems-strange

        What I find strange is that, Dr. Rowley cannot order Sinanan to report to him as he did order the Min Of Sports…

  • Most of what is written in column is opinion. There can be objective opinions and likewise subjective opinion. Mr. Shah gets respect not because he is Indian or renegade soldier or union leader or author or columnist. He gets it because the narratives he shares with us are human narratives driven by circumstances that we all endure. TMan himself, a contributor to some of those narratives, is sometimes drawn to temper his narratives on race, because to exploit his views with purely racial invectives will take him outside the realm of objectivity.
    Facts, when explained objectively cannot be disputed. When the explanation of fact is taken to create a false premise, then it is no longer journalistic purity but simply a narrative to produce generalizations to support a given outcome.

    As one who have at times disagreed with Mr. Shah, I see nothing in his summation that is biased. I sometimes write about the Afro-Saxon mentality about some of our ‘accomplished’ Afro Trinidadians that can reflect negatively on them but that in itself does not make me biased, as long as the truth is driven by facts, then the narrative is on solid grounds. There is nothing on Mr. Shah’s narrative that most of us have not experienced or participated in. There is nothing made-up in his writing to suggest a mistaken action by the Indian community. Sometimes there are ugly facts and sometime pleasant ones. TMan himself has written many times that the Indian will prosper regardless of who is in power, whether Indian or Afro. This means that he knows as a fact that the Afro will not try to impede the progress of the Indian. The converse of this fact may not be true. He said so with the sound knowledge that supports a particular point made by Mr. Shah when he quoted “In Guyana, he says, if he met ten Indians and asked their views on the incumbent Afro-dominated APNU government, they would be unanimously against it remaining in power. But if he spoke with ten Afro-Guyanese, five would be for and five against.” This supports TMan’s own view that the Indian have absolutely no problems surviving under an Afro dominated government. This is not a racist point of view, it is simply supported fact. I do not believe that it is Mr. Shah’s intention to lie about what he sees and hears in everyday conversations however one wants to interpret this thread.

    • A good journalist does not rely on what he hears in everyday conversations to prove his thesis. He seeks out empirical evidence and attempts to be objective.
      I agree with everything Kian says above and will now classify Shah as a storyteller rather than a journalist.

    • Greetings Kian. I am inclined to agree with you that the majority of Mr. Shah’s column is based on his own personal opinion. So one can digest the contents of it with a grain (or pound) of salt if needed in order for the article to be more palatable.

      In response to Tman’s point, Mr. Shah based many of his arguments on the content of another newspaper columnist, so the argument can indeed to be made that this column is based on the claims of another newspaper column, the conclusions of which may or may not be coloured by personal bias.

      What one can conclude from your exchange with Tman is that there should perhaps be a common understanding among the writers and readers of newspaper columns about the purpose of a newspaper column. In this case, is Mr. Shah’s views those of a professional political science, a pollster, or those of a layman?

      As for me, I have no illusions about my role on this blog as a poster. I would respond to the content of Mr. Shah’s article by looking to conduct future research to see whether there is evidence to support his claims and whether his arguments are made on a sound logical premise.

      What I can say is that the “Calcutta ship” comment was extremely unacceptable and I have mentioned this on a previous blog on this website a few years ago.

      • Very sound response Trinamerican! Too many times I read where some of us write entirely with our hearts and not our intellect. And it bothers me because whereas the heart might lead to a discovery, it takes intellect and experience to make logical sense of our discoveries. There are statements made by prominent people, that seem to become historical in nature, but NEVER analyzed to find its true meaning. One such statement is the one made by Dr. Eric Williams in the 60s in which he referred to the Indians as “a recalcitrant minority”. That statement, when politicized and recited by those taking offense to it, connotes a distinctive disdain towards the Indian by Dr. Williams. In actuality, Dr. Williams was the biggest enabler of Indian progress than even Kamla Persad Bissessar. Dr. Williams was an intellectual, when most studied intellectuals speak, words are chosen to suit the situation to which they mean to convey the event. If one were to analyze that statement and the times in which it was made it turns out that it was a factual statement.
        The fact that many people wonder about the loyalty of the Indian, is not that they are not aware of the citizenship of them, but behavior of the Indian lays a burden on those asking the question, as to their loyalty to nation building of the country to which they claim citizenship. When looked at from this point of view, the statement becomes relevant and some sense of truism becomes evident.

        The “Calcutta ship” comment may not be made in what one might consider “good taste”, but it should also be taken in sum, by the many aggressive and contentious comments made by Indians from Trinidad, who see conquering of Tobago as their next economic venture. The statement in nature is one made in a defensive sense. It can be taken offensively by those who take umbrage to it. But many times we loose the sense of rationality when we take umbrage to the spoken word.

        I am just trying to rationalize our sensibilities to things we make history of without even taking into account why those comments are made and why they are taken into context without taking into consideration, the context in which they were meant to be.

        Your point are well taken and my answer should not be taken to mean that I subscribe to the comments personally or not. Because we are so sensitive about our own securities, anything said or written have a tendency to aggravate our feelings about kith and kin.

  • “The Afro-vote has long ceased to be racially anchored” (SHAH)
    Articles of this nature serve no useful purpose. The writer embarks on a mission, without any empirical evidence to create further division within the society by presenting unsupported opinions and a few anecdotal comments to justify his diatribe.
    I will admit from the outset that people of African origin are less prone to practice racial prejudice as compared to their counterparts. However, the evidence shows that an almost fixed percentage of the African vote in T&T is racially anchored.
    An examination of election statistics will clearly demonstrate that in every election since Eric Williams the African vote (PNM support) has remained almost unchanged and constant. Even in 1986 when the ANR swept the country, the vote for the PNM, interpreted as the African vote remained at 32%. In 1991, 95, 2002, 07, 11, and 15 the support for the PNM ranged between 45 to 52%. Even when the PP took over government in 2010 the PNM support remained at 40%.
    In summary, there is a solid core of Africans who vote along racial lines just as the solid core of East Indians who repeatedly vote along racial lines.

  • I have met many Guyanese Indians overseas who hold strong anti-African sentiments. They view themselves as Burnham survivors who were force or pressured into leaving Guyana because of racial discrimination. Kenyan Indians, Ugandan Indians and some Fijian Indians who believe that they were forced to flee hold similar views. They simply seem to be fearful of African leaders.
    There is no justification for fearing Barak Obama. Any right thinking, intelligent person must agree.

  • 2011 marked 25yrs since Idi Amin expelled Indians living in Uganda, among the group were two teenage brothers who left with their parents, they are grown men now , have their barbershop business in the London area, to coincide with the 25th anniversary, BBC had a forum, the brothers being interviewed told the moderator that Idi Amin was right to expel his people, the way Amin went about in expelling those vast amount of people,they disliked.They acknowledged that the Indians were reaping off the coffers of the Ugandan economy, while refusing to be citizens of that African state,they all held British passports at the time of being expelled.My Indian brothers are doing a lot of postings with little research or knowledge of the topic at hand, mis-information on the Indian part, and mis-education on the African side, the African refusing to research his past, is not in a position to refute any misconceptions.Africans have lived in India for thousands of years, the Indus valley civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro was African base, the Dravidians,their roots came out of Ethiopia, they can still be found in southern India today. In gujaresh we also find a population bigger than T&T living on the sub-continent. Herodotus the ancient historian said in his writings, that their were two African nations, one in Sind, the other in Ethiopia.Can you imagine what would have happened to the native Fijians, had they not stood firm when Chaudry of Indentured heritage took political power? luckily the military was controlled by the native Fjians. The law in Fiji today is that no one with the exception of native Fijians can own land. I will continue to blame our forbears for not initiating the teaching of the beautiful history of India and Africa. The Indians in Guyana at this time is taking the brute of this racist dilemma, but it was England, racist England with all their divisive manipulations that put discord,up to this present time festering with no end in sight.Most of the Indian brothers and sisters brought to the sugar plantations were Dalits/Untouchables being discriminated against up to this day as we speak.Presently Dalits are leaving the Hindu faith in mass to become Bhudist.I have always wondered, can T&T Lawyers, Docters, judges, and other professionals practice their trade in India and not be discriminated against seeing that they belong to the lower cast? in Trinidad and Guyana do our Indian Brothers and Sisters view themselves as nation builders or takers? can’t remember ever hearing a nation building song comming from our fellow ethnic group,Chutney music is an African concept, lately the male chutney singers rather sing Bollywood songs in a chutney style, instead of composing their own, very disrespectful.There is nothing to be fearful of the African man or woman, we have and continue to stretch our hands to every ethnic group in time immemorial,we are not asking to be loved by no one , but to be respected of our accomplishments and the gifts that we have given the world.Hotep

    • Cooper I read with interest the many hateful statements by the likes of Mamoo and others who speak ill of us Africans.
      It is interesting to see Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote
      rated number 25 on the Forbes richest, have at his side an Indian as one of his many Executive Group Directors. This is not the sign of a man who has hate on his mind nor does he discriminate. He is building the world’s largest oil refinery which is due to be in operation in 2018. Yes, he is a black man who do not fit the negative stereotypes that Mamoo so callously prints on this blog. But I do hope our brothers who frequent this blog knows and feel proud of this brother. He is of course Nigerian with companies operating all over Africa but the refinery is in Nigeria.

  • Perhaps it will take another 60years, before the Guyanese, Indians shed their dislike for his fellow African.

    What I saw first hand during the 60s at places like Wismar,Boxton , Stuartville ,Lenora and Georgetown, have a great deal for the Indo thinking

  • As a young fellow I use to look forward going to the barbershop in Lord St., San-F’do. for a hair cut. Why? the debates and discussions I use to hear amongst the patrons, barbers, watch repairer made me politically aware and conscious and helped molded me during adolescence as to the land I was living in. An experience I have never ever had elsewhere in the world at large. I appreciated how clinical and at the time these guys seem to know more about the happenings and offering free suggestions than the politicians themselves. I remember when Eric was reading the budget speech one day all ears were tuned to the radio and interventions at the time by the patrons as to who getting the ‘hit’. The one thing that stood out in my mind at the time, there was never an occasion I can remember where the word tribalism was ever mentioned. The patrons were blacks, browns, some chinese, dougla, one or two Syrians (sometimes called ‘potagee’).Those were the days Panday and Weekes joined forces as trade unionists marching for peoples’ rights. Sugar workers getting 100% increase in wages and justifiably so and oil workers getting wages increases and improvement in working conditions. In 1970 all hell broke loose but the brothers from the barber shop looked out for one another. It appears to me that the promotion of race talk (re- tribalism) takes place when it suits people needs especially amongst people who hold influential positions in society beit politicians, journalists etc. where they plant the ember and let it develop into the flame.

    • I say amen to you Loyal Trini! We no longer have the Lionel Suekarans admen of honor among us. The quickest way to stardom is to fight for kith and kin, not country.

Comments are currently closed.