Mathur Dealing in Psycho-Cultural Falsities

By Stephen Kangal
March 07, 2012

Stephen KangalWriting in her Sunday Guardian column of January 22, Ira Mathur a naturalized citizen of T&T but Indian, was born of military middle class parentage completely detached from the reach of the systems of Caribbean indenture-ship and slavery. She has unwittingly and falsely included herself as a victim of that system.

Ira is not one of the children of the indentures or the girmitiyas. Her parents never crossed the Kala Pani, nor cut canes in Caroni, nor lived in Caroni Barracks. She, therefore, cannot truly empathise with nor reflect the socio-cultural dynamics of indenture-ship. She demonstrates a total ignorance of the legacy of our ancestors in T&T and of their humble station in life in the famine, deprived and remote, inaccessible villages of the States of Bihar and UP during the period 1845 to 1917 from which the T&T girmitiyas originated.

Ms. Mathur proceeded to make the procedural error of classifying the indenture-ship and slavery systems of sugar-based guest workers in the Caribbean as being identical and to make the following psycho-cultural falsities and misleading generalizations:

  1. “…slavery and indentureship destroyed our most important resource. By stripping a people of dignity, separating families, coercing them to change religions, forcing them to neglect their native languages, forget their villages and cities by geographically cutting them off from their ancient histories and oral traditions we were virtually shorn of our humanity…”
  2. “… Powerless, dependent on hand outs, bereft of the soul of ancient civilisations, or oral traditions that could comfort us, make us self reliant, humanise us, we turned blank, harsh and empty giving us among the highest murder rates on the planet in a non warring country…”
  3. “… That there is not just grace in humility in that gesture, but economics that allowed the world’s largest democracy to break out of poverty through its ancient values of hard work, humility and sacrifice to become one of the most powerful in the world, then we will understand the true meaning of that gesture…”
  4. The real poverty we are battling now is the which stands poverty of the spirit ready to destroy us. We have to regain our humanity from somewhere. Why not here with a Prime Minister’s gesture?

I categorically object to her bungling and bundling of the two systems of labour because the wild conclusions she made did not apply to the system of indenture-ship that I know very well. I may not be able to speak for slavery with any authority. Nor can Ira.

The following is a summary of my response to this unfair, wholly erroneous and uninformed act of speculative journalism:

  • T&T is both racially and socio-culturally not a homogenous society.
  • The indenture experience and the ex-post facto reaction to the system of indenture-ship is not identical to that of the slavery experience.
  • We did not lose our humanity anywhere because our “Africanness” and “Indiannness”(6,000 years of acculturation) is deeply embedded in our psyche.
  • Ira being a high caste ex-patriate Indian domiciled in T&T (“shorn of our humanity”) would appear to claim to be a member of the two culturally different groups simultaneously although the minds and personalities of the indenture and the slave are fundamentally different. One is agricultural and the other service oriented; one is Hindu/Moslem and the other Christian.
  • Slavery was harsher than indenture-ship that was regulated by contract and The Protector of the Immigrants.
  • “the values of hard work, humility and sacrifice…” are part and parcel of the socio-cultural landscape of T&T and is not exclusive to India.
  • There is cultural persistence in the Indian community of the Caribbean because colonialism could not have wiped it out.
  • The Indian community is very self-reliant culturally and in the economic sphere.
  • The high murder rate is not the product of a de-culturalised people who could be classified as zombies( “blank, harsh and empty…” and who have no ancestral memory. It is drug and gang-related.
  • People were not allegedly deprived of their humanity by indentureship and slavery and we do not need to regain what we did not lose. Our humanity and spirit are what drove us to be the progressive people we are today.
  • Indians have practiced the goar lagay ritual continuously even after they came to T&T and for 167 years on a daily basis and we have not lost our spirit nor humanity. We also are very proud of the legacy of hard agricultural work, sacrifice, thrift and humility bequeathed to us by our pitris on the bases of which we have attained social and economic mobility and broken the chains of poverty that stalked us not only here but in the remote villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from whence our pitris fled from famine and starvation in search of the better life while these same villages remain today fossilized in poverty and penury although they have the same values of thrift and hard-work but exposed to the caste system and marginalization.
  • The indentures perceived their advent to the Caribbean, although not as harsh as what they left behind in UP/Bihar, as a divine instrument for their advancement in life (Mission to the Caribbean”) and kept in touch with their ancestral villages because thousands returned (20%) and came back in subsequent voyages. Today thousands have traced their roots and keep in touch with their ancestral villages.
  • Indians were not shorn of their links with their ancient history because the Ramayan written by Sant Tulsi Das and other books including the Koran were in their proverbial jahajee bandles and this persistent ancestral connection was serviced via the films, visits of swamis, visits to India, ancient books, the Indian High Commission since the 1950′s etc.

There is no poverty of the spirit in T&T because we are basically a God-fearing society that never lost its humanity because neither the Spanish nor the French nor the British had the superior capacity to play God and strip us of what they never had control over and to whom the indentures felt that they were culturally superior. The Indians were never the hand-out class and built every institution by the sweat of their brows because they were outside of the corridors of power dominated by the black – urban educated elites who imitated the Anglo-whites in every possible detail, form and fashion but more fashion that led Naipaul to refer to them as “mimic men”.

  • The ritual of the goar lagay cannot restore our humanity because we never lost it in the first instance. The inhumane indenture-ship system of treatment will have made us stronger and more determined to succeed against adversity and overwhelming odds and that is the platform for our success today as a society. The goar lagay is a cosmetic ritual that is neither here nor there because it is a custom and cannot usher in any fundamental change. It is like shaking hands or giving the namastay greeting.

51 Responses to “Mathur Dealing in Psycho-Cultural Falsities”


  • Praim you know nothing how a how dialect is formed.BHOJ PURI
    jANAM>janaam in Trinidad Bhojpuri.This a sociolinguistic evedence not a study of standard scrripts and or loking at laguagew through the eyes of the untrained mine.Obvious in socio linguistics conversation anlysis produces langag a irs pracrice.Its as Ridulous as comparing the ancient term Raj meaning head of ruler> becomes Roz in one dialect,ras in another and rez in others.Dialects of lanhauage are breathing,living evolving.Forget the ridicule.Realm of thridiculous.Go study Bhojpuri and not Hindi or Urdu>therein lies the problem,Am willing to debate this.But leave the realm of the ridiculous.One of the problems here is that Kangal thesis is not dealt with but instead with have Aryan outriders at it.I am ready to defend BhojPuri using Sociolinguistic principles than being petty here.

    • Jo Mode

      In today’s Express there is a book review written by Professor Brereton. The Professor writes:
      “The stories were first written down by the sage Valmiki, but the tradition came to Trinidad in the Hindi version written by Tulsidas around 1575. And this version, correctly known as the Ramcharitarmanas, became the chief religious of the text of the Hindus in Trinidad and every where in the Indian diaspora’.
      My question to to you is was the version of the Ramayan that the indentured labourers brought in their jahajee bandles to Trinidad and which they had read previously in UP/Bihar written in the Bhojpuri dialect by Sant Tulsi Das firstly and then thereafter in Hindi?
      Grateful for your clarification please.

  • Sir Kangal, You raise a formidable point to my mind a grey area or blind spot in Indentured History. This can be likened to Cricket term a “googlee”. Since topic raising is now a socio-linguistic phenomena found in the feature as the “floor”. It is unique where you have led the conversation.
    What version of the Ramayana did the Indentured Indians bring to Trinidad? Did they bring a Hindi version of the sixteenth century poet Tulsi Das as a copy of the Ramacharitmanas or did they bring a version as it was conceived by the noted thinker.
    If Sherry Ann Singh who one greatly admires by her contributions to the study of Indentured life is the one who Professor Brereton uses to posit that a Hindi version by Tulsi Das, “came to Trinidad during early Indentured life in the Jahajee-Bai bundles it would seem that can be deemed patently misleading. In the way of several reasons, though the original Ramayana was conceived by Valmiki in Sanskrit. Sanskrit being foundational to most of the foundational languages that evolve over period of time in which a transmutation of certain laws and scriptures became vogue and peculiar in early Indian history. Now characterized as Hinduism. Sanskrit by the way is a specialist language and very classical in nature whether Tulsi Das knew it or not he wrote the Ramacharitmanas, in, well, his native tongue which happened to be in Awadhi. In this complete version other languages were featured for example Bhojpuri, Brijbhsa, and Budeli. He never wrote this text in Hindi. The possibility that that the texts of this work in Hindi are later translations of the sub-text. One can only point out that these late translations in Hindi happened over a course of time. Mind you one has not seen any evidence of a scripts or texts by Tulsi Das written by him in Hindi.
    If an early version or versions of the Ramacharitmanas came from Bihar region and Eastern Uttar Pradesh in Hindi with the Indentured Singh and Bereton can best point us to that primary evidence. I for one would love to peruse the text and devour its scripts to rediscover the potency of Tulsi Das and his thinking being thoroughly influenced by the Sanskritic version by Valmilki. This of course does not take away anything from Dr. Singh her two books one dealing with socio-religious change amongst the Hindus between 1920 and 1945. A crucial point where the language death of Bhojpuri seems to have been well on the way. Now that it seems that Bhojpuri is a dead a language in the way linguists view dying languages in context to living languages. A cursory glance at the works of Khan, Shukla, Dabedeen, Samaroo, not to forget Ramcharitas or even Peggy Mohan provide no evidence of an early Hindi version of the text which can be said could have come from the baggage’s of the Indentured travellers.
    What version cam anyway? Did they bring Bhojpuri version which is very important for verification of the Bhojpuri prevalence and competency amongst the majority of Indentured to survey the grey area completely. N. Jayaram’ study: They Dynamics of Language in Indian Diaspora: The Case of Bhojpuri/Hindi in Trinidad makes for interesting reading and offers wonderful evidence that clarifies the issue of which language was most prevelant even in textual preference. Jayaram believes that between 1845 and 1917 that indentured workers brought certain languages to Trinidad. They are and he cites Mohan 1978: 8, “besides the dialect of Bhojpuri the immigrants brought Awadhi, Meghi, and Methuli.” As languages go he and Mohan cites Bengali, Nepali, Telegu, and Tamil amongst the Indentured speakers something that the Revernd W.A. Gamble found to be very confusing (1866:35 cf Mohan, cf Rajaram). The fact that all of these languages were spoken provides further evidence that the knowledge of Hindi at that time was certainly sparse and least yet any scholarship of any type in raw terms of learning Ramayan in Hindi version by Tulsi Das certainly seems a far stretch forcing history to play the role that it is not intended to be. Rajaram further argues that Bhojpuri was the dominant linga-franca of “internal communications” amongst the indentured, which at least to my mind makes it possible that an early version or versions of Ramacharitmanas, may well have been in Awadhi-Bhojpuri brought by the Jahajee-Bhai.

  • “…the actual oral origins of the Ramayan are way earlier than Valmiki and Tulsidas (and there are lots of regional versions). the Tulsidas Ramayan is of medieval vintage, and is written not in Bhojpuri, but in Braj (Brajbhasha). but the sung dialog in Bhojpuri folk tales (even in Trinidad!) tend to be in Brajbhasha too, so that may be why the language looks so familiar to us…”
    Supplied by Dr.Peggy Mohan.

  • YES PROFESSOR MOHAN SERVES IN RIGHT,IN BRAJBHASHA,AWADI,AND BUDELI.

  • This is what the author Sherry Ann Singh wrote on my inquiry:

    “…Yes, there were many earlier versions—passed down orally. However, Valmiki’s was the first written version.
    The Tulsidas version is written in Awadhi, not Brajbhasha. Both are closely related dialects of Hindi. In the text each of the Awadhi are verses followed by standard Hindi translations. The text itself was never written in Bhojpuri, but locally, until as late as the 1960s, the sung verses were translated into Bhojpuri during discourses. English translations during discourses would emerge during the 1970s.
    Hope this helps.
    Sherry-Ann…”

  • “Maybe. I am not an expert on the differences between Awadhi and Braj. I just know that Braj is old, and was quasi literary, and used in a lot of poetry”.
    This is the response of Dr.Peggy Mohan to the view of Sherry Singh

  • One must agree with Professor Mohan’s positions conclusively in regards to Bhojpuri/Hindi (Note). Even if Dr. Sherry Ann Singh has now clarified her far reach, or it is perhaps Professor Bereton’s interpretation of her point that: a Hindi version of the Ramayan Tulsi Das’s version was brought especially by the Jihaji-Bhai, not the women (no sexism meant).
    It is further weak for Singh to argue as she does that both Awadhi and Brajhhasha are (closely related dialects of Hindi without conditioning her statements).She like others are making serious mistakes.And cannot explain seriously the evolution of lauguages in India from Sanskrit and thhe indgenous tongues all which contributed to contant diglossia ,vernacular,dialects and so forth tat comes into fruition.The human laboratory of languages being of ripe cross culture and derived linguistic evolution based and beyond networks,active speech communities and such.
    Even though we can now recall that we are speaking about Indo-Aryan languages meeting up with so callede various stages of Advaisi and older migrant languages like Munda languages and such other as so-called Dravidia ones the term “Hindi” did not just come about like that. In the circumference of this Language beyond SanskritI.Sindi ,Gurati,Punjabi,Oriya and Marathi and those which came in evolution aditional,preclusive,in North and Central India Parakits that is to say “vulgar or impure languages”,emerging.Afterwards thef developed consistency outside of the Sanskritic horizon versions of Parakits as admixtures and developments .Of Mohan’s persistent theory because it happened in Trinidad again– of diglossia.In India as we know this constantly happening,Hindi therefore is not oler than Pali,note the Ashokan Pillar a primary evidence.
    How old is Hindi?
    Hindi as it comes into existence is not older than Pali’s versions of Maharastri wherein one would find endless Dravidian morphology, grammar, lexicon phrases, rules, etc. predates our now conception of Hindi even Urdu. Hindi is not older Saureseni version of Pali or the Magadi version of Pali (South Bihar related to Sengala) and so forth. Thus Old Indo languages such as Aveston and Sanskrit have considerable influence in forming the so-called Modern Hindi. Hindi being a misnomer for the term “Sindu” (S>H). By definition any Sindu or Indus language can be called Hindi but that doesn’t convey the true meaning of what is happening on the ground as misnomer’s go. First we have the old Indo-Aryan languages (if we are comfortable with those terms) evolving into Middle Indo-Aryan languages (Tadbhavi) an non-aryan term from the Indigenous side. Speaking of these languages that emerge from Sanskrit. Constantly modifying with Sanskrit words an Indigenous language colloquiallism (Tadbhavi) as part of Indigenous languages.
    One other thing the evolving languages from Sanskrit,Davidian,Austri,Tibeti-Burman or Sino, evolved parakits.etc are forming affinity based on closeness of speech communities ,intersection of speakers by trade,sex,,male,female,upward mobility excetra, all this fascinating to the socio-linguistic.Sharing invariably Phology,partsof speech,concord,verbs,inflection,negation,voice .causatives,grammar and other concerns,So what came to be dominant in the 12 century aother dominant Parakit.Hence`History of Hindhi(Dr,Singh please note)…the closely related dialects BraJ and Awadi…earleir writings.. are in ..dialects(Prakrits and Apabrhramsas.).So one can well understand Professor Mohan explain that modern Hindi or Shuddh hindi emerges as power struggle between the Brahmins and kayathas in the 19 th century and both had their writing systems Devangari and Kaithi(cf Mohan&Zador 1986).This is understood as a given.No doubt why some view Urdu as a twin of Hindi for being structuraly similar.Basded of the spoken dialect of Delhi called Dihhlavi or kari Boli.And its noy until after the British raj whic followed Persian(mogul raj) that for specific reasons Hindi emerges.So Awadhi and Braj oews noting to modern Hindi conceptions.Where are the old Hindi literayure beond Braj and awadhi te two short peces found in the Adi Grant of the Sikhs,even though Profesor Mohan response to Singh is humbly,Ì just know Braj is old.`Yes in Braj praises to krishna was sung in the beatified cities of matura and Vdaban and Awadhi relate to Rama.king of the abode of Ayohdya.
    Where is the Hindi version found in the Jahajee bundles if Hindi as we know it is literary mix of Sahu Basha inthe nirguna tradition of mystical poets (Kabir etc) and dislglosses with khari boli.
    Another langauge in itself.Awadhi and Braj are no lesser than old prakrits sharing like Urdu and Hindi compnents of Socalled Aryan-Dravian.AuSTric -Tibeto burman AND SO FORTH in measures but still the point is: the Hindi version in the bundles .Awadhi and Braj share features but are no mere “Hindi“ laguages to repeat a no fact as Singh does.

  • Raj New Delhi India

    JO Mode…Like you I too have my doubts that hindi version of Ramcharitmanas came to Trinidad. I have travelled across AWADH and Braj region of Uttar Pradesh. I have got a feeling that Goswami Tulsi Dasji composed in MIANLY Awadhi but had a fair amount of BRAJBASHA and to a lesser extent Bhojpuri. I think we have got to read through the whole book of MS Sherry Ann Singh to get a gist of her arguments.Let us all tread with caution until the cows have come home. Regards.

  • Yes,quite so,but we must not throw away the baby the bath water.Tulsidass wrote his wonderful Geetawali,in,not Awadi but Brajbhasa.lOOK DISGLOSSIA AND MuTILINGUALISM amongst his level knowledge would have been as easy as those who have knowledge of Uru/hindi/bihari.Or say comparable french english,spanish–Romance languages nothetheless– but dialect becoming language by procees of change.That is the acceped norm:languages changers over time.Similarities between Urdu and Awadi exist that does not mean Awadi is an Urdu dialect,even if some weak person can make that argument.Publish books yes but know you primary evidence.What makes a dialect become a language and a language a dialect certainly not linguistic arrogance>language live and die by power the dominant speech community.we can’t just repeat like parrots recycled beliefs.

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