By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 4, 2018
I have rarely received so many responses to my articles as those I received about my previous column. Once I had the temerity to describe the business activities of the Syrian-Lebanese community I opened up a whole batchak nest unleashing the deadly fury that such colonies contain.
Ant colonies, made up of thousands of insects, are precise, efficient and an organized machine. They behave as a deadly unit. E. O. Wilson, the evolutionary biologist explained, “The activities of the individuals in an ant colony are so perfectly integrated it is almost as though they were part of a single organism. The insects do everything by instinct and they literally are programmed automatons.”
A reader writes: “You have been writing a series of articles over several weeks now, the first highlighted the gruesome murders of three residents of Laventille, on the same night, by the same gun man. They were killed in their prime. From all accounts their murder was a random act of evil. With the exception of yourself, few persons have spoken about that.”
Many commentators have used the deaths of these young people to suggest that there is something inherently evil in the genetic make-up of black people. Similar charges were made against Indo-Trinbagonians. Between 1878 and 1882, wife murders became “increasingly frequent among the Indians,… and was a source of constant worry to Trinidad officials.”
“Indian men believed that they had the right to take their wives’ lives under certain conditions….All the cases of wife murder occurred only among the Hindus. A graceful lad of twenty-two replied, when confronted with his crime: ‘I kill my own wife. Why not? I kill no other man’s wife” (Judith Ann Weller, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad).
On October 26, 1883, San Fernando Gazette reported that from their “industrial residence amongst us it became painfully obvious to reflecting minds that the murders committed by the Coolies were systematic and unvarying in motive—the large majority of murders in the island being perpetrated by them, and in the great majority of cases, under the impulse of jealousy…. [This] evil was but too manifest to be disregarded.”
On May 2, 1881, the Trinidad Legislature passed Ordinance 6 to counteract what the newspaper called “the murderous tendencies of the Coolies… [and] to arrest the crime of murder among Coolies.” Indo-Trinbagonians also resorted to “the suicidal alternative of further reducing their number by legal murder.”
The majority population postulated that the tendency to kill one another resided within the Indian’s genes.. They also believed that “two very distinguishing, nay, predominant, characteristics of the Coolies are his love of money and litigation, especially when the latter may be prosecuted with any prospect of success” (San Fernando Gazette, October 26, 1883).
Such an unsavory reputation did not prevent Indo-Trinbagonians from vaulting to the top of the island’s business. They saved (the primitive accumulation of capital) and sent back astonishingly large sums of money to India during indentureship.
The entrance of Indo-Trinbagonians into the national business field after indentureship was slow. In the 1930s and 1940s Timothy Roodlal and Sarran Teelucksing (both members of the legislative Council) entered the cinema business and did well.
As the century wore on, Indo-Trinbagonians penetrated into the manufacturing, business, and service sectors. They seized the opportunities offered by George Chambers, leader of a PNM government that made Trinidad the net export giant of CARICOM. An observer noted: “The platform for business development and growth that led to their wealth included generous fiscal incentives to the manufacturers, tax holidays, duty free concessions, and protection via negative listings.” The Industrial Development Corporation facilitated a lot of this growth.
By the end of the twentieth century, Indo-Trinbagonians rose from being local market vendors to distributors of manufactured products to regional and international markets by companies such as S. M. Jaleel, Dansteel, Joseph Charles (Solo) Charles Candy, Sunshine Snacks and Chief products.
Indo-Trinbagonians also extended their control to the construction and other industries. Their companies include Junior Sammy (construction and road paving); Coosals (road works); Namalco (construction and road works); Bhagwansingh’s hardware; Nutrimix (feed products); Penny-wise (cosmetics and skin care); Southern Sales (car rentals); Toyota (motor cars); Charles Chocolate and insurance companies; and Persad: the Food King (food products).
The economic growth of Indo-Trinbagonians is so successful they consider themselves the most powerful economic group in the country. While many commentators argue that they achieved economic success because of their entrepreneurial abilities (and they possess much of that), they could not have attained such economic prominence without generous contracts from government and favorable loans from the banks. They did not achieve success in spite of the government but because of the favorable treatment the government and the banks accorded them.
When political and social commentators attack me with such batchak ferocity, they are afraid that commentators such as me will expose the self-induced fallacy that they got to the top of the economic ladder solely because of their self-sufficiency and business savvy. They were assisted by their well-placed friends.
It would be a shame if Afro-Trinbagonians entered into the third century of their emancipation without demanding that the political party they support and the banks in which they put their money do not look support their aspirations.
Beware of their batchak attack. It looks ominous from where I stand.