By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 23, 2010
A foolish person opined that I was catering (they used the word “kissing up”) to Sat and Kamla because I dedicate Indian Time Ah Come, my most recent book, to Sat, Kamla and the East Indian struggle for justice. He even seemed perturbed that I asked Sat to offer the feature address at the launching of the book and more aggrieved that Sat agreed to do so.
“Like dey buy you out, too” he exclaimed. He felt that since Sat and I disagreed on issues we should be at each other’s throat perpetually, constantly stressing out each other all of the time. He ought to read “Peace and Tolerance,” a lecture that I gave in 2005 at the behest of the Indian High Commissioner, and which is reproduced in my new book. It might give him a sense of how I handle issues.
Over the last seven years, Sat and I have grown to genuinely like and respect each other. He has come to see my argumentative side as I have grown accustomed to his pugilist rhetorical thrust. I have also grown to respect his wisdom and his intelligence. We recognize that since we live in a plural society (he likes to call it a multicultural society) various groups will always compete for the society’s scare resources, one of the many reasons why there are constant ethnic squabbles in our society.
But there is another reason why I admire Sat. I respect the man’s integrity. Having spent seven years exploring many issues pertaining to Indian and African relations in this land, I came to recognize that Sat is a patriot who happens to be Hindu. Sat is Hindu first and foremost—I suspect that this is what his religious inclination demands—but he is also a patriotic Trini who, in his own way, wants the best for his country.
Sat is driven by the proposition that T&T has done Indians wrong. Sometime he conflates T&T with Africans and reasons there from that Africans have done Indians wrong. Such a posture leads him to conclude that Indians have made it in spite of the varied discriminations to which we (Africans) have subjected his people (Indians).
I do not agree with his formulation. Africans were exploited by the slave regime. The colonial authorities discriminated against Indians and Africans. These discriminatory practices began to change when the PNM came to power in 1956 and changed for the better when the society became independent in 1962.
Although Indians have been creative and parsimonious they made economic, social and political advances because of a climate of openness and opportunity of which any government or country should be proud. There has never been any legislation under the PNM that prevented the advancement of East Indians in this land.
Nor for that matter was T&T an apartheid state in which discriminatory laws were enacted to stymie the advancement of the East Indian or any other group. Successive PNM governments provided a level playing field where all talents were maximized—evidenced by the tremendous strides East Indians made in the last fifty years—although many remnants of the colonial past still remain.
If we are to create a more harmonious society we have to learn to disagree with each other’s ideas without disliking or holding the person who expresses them in rancor and bitterness. In “Peace and Tolerance” I argued that “courageous men and women ought to meet in mutual love and respect and try to resolve their differences.”
We cannot be true Trinbagonians to the bone if we do not understand the ideological, religious and cultural impulses that drive Trinbagonians of all persuasions. Every Trinbagonian should know what the ramleela; hosay; gayap; orisha; La Divina Pastora; gaiapa and other festival/performances/feasts entail. Names such as Daaga, J. J. Thomas, L. A. de Verteuil, Sylvester Williams; Adrian Cola Rienzi; Rudranath Capildeo; Badase Sagan Maraj; Eric Williams; A. N. R. Robinson should be enshrined in our memories.
We should also know that T&T has gone through many stages in its history. If we begin with 1797 when the British took over from the Spanish we can define our history into four brief eras: 1797-1850 when William Burnley and the English ruled the society; 1850-1900 when L. A. de Verteuil and the French Creoles reigned supreme; 1900-1956 when we saw the rise of the working people embodied in the Water Riots (1903) and the activities of Cipriani, Butler and Rienzi. 1956-2010 saw the political dominance of the Africans in the society.
The crushing defeat of the PNM in 2010 signaled that the East Indians were/are a new force to be reckoned with particularly in political terms, hence the title of my work Indian Time Ah Come. This is not necessarily a time for fear or dread but a recognition that society changes—in fact, history is a process rather than stasis—and that a new force has come to fore with which all of us have to reckon.
My naming the phenomena does not change its reality. It allows to recognize where we are and how to come to terms with this reality. Denying its existence helps no. It merely allows us to misdiagnose the condition.
As the control of the state changes from Africans to Indians it is important to recognize as Dr. Williams did at Marlborough House in 1960 when we negotiated our independence with the British that a plural society can only remain free if the majority recognize and respect the rights of the minority. Nor, for that matter, should we be unaware of the rising importance of Hinduism that this transformation entails.
This is why it is important to re-echo the sentiments our Prime Minister uttered on Indian Day Arrival when she reminded us that while she was proud she was the first East Indian women to achieve that noble office she “would rather that the nation feel the pride one of the descendants of our collective experience of hardship and sacrifice today represents [in] their realization and longing for a better life and for freedom.”
It is this spirit that I want to thank Sat publicly for agreeing to deliver the feature address at the launch of Indian Time Ah Come.
Respecting each other as friends and comrades is neither sucking nor kissing up. It is the mutual respect that compatriots show towards each other. It is even more important as the nation transitions from one era to another.