By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 27, 2017
Whenever a significant occasion arises, Kamla, in her ethnic enthusiasm, always muddles things up. When she was elected in 2010 she declared that the “hostile recalcitrant minority,” an observation that Dr. Williams made, had become the government of the country. I have argued previously that Dr. Williams was speaking about the behavior of a small segment within the Democratic Labor Party, but this fact has never interfered with the ethnic narrative of discrimination that some of our Indian leaders continue to propagate.
On March 18, 2017, speaking at a function at the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the Opposition Leader continued that narrative. She said: “Much like 100 years ago, East Indians are still fighting for recognition and fighting against long-held perceptions about the Hindu faith and Indian people. While many [people] believed East Indians were treated well and received land and gifts from landowners and the sugar cane plantation owners, that was not the case….Every Indian who owned a piece of land paid for it” (Express, March 19).
The Hindus, like all other non-European people who came to this land, fought the colonial authorities to perform their religious rites. The struggles of the Muslims in 1884 and the Shouter Baptists during the 19th century prove the point. It is also true that Indians were given lands in lieu of their return passages to India.
Before we begin to recount the heroic stories of Indian self-reliance and self-sacrifice, it is important that we get our stories right, particularly in an age of fake news and cavalier disregard of the facts.
On May 30, 1845 after ninety-six days at sea, the Fatel Rozack arrived in Port of Spain from Calcutta, bringing 225 East Indians to the island. This voyage was the continuation of a policy that began on January 4, 1836, when John Gladstone, a planter in Guyana, wrote Messrs. Gillanders, Arbuthnot & Co., informing them that his company, in light of the upcoming end of apprenticeship, would institute different arrangements “as far as possible, independent of our negro population” (John Scoble, Hill Coolies). Four hundred and nineteen Indians landed in Guyana in 1838. They were assigned to the Gladstone plantations.
The morning after the Indians arrived in Trinidad, Governor MacLeod visited the Fatel Rozack to inquire into their conditions. He discovered that “several of them who had been in Mauritius and who spoke terrible French afforded me the opportunity of conversing with them freely. From what I could learn they all seemed perfectly contented and in good spirits” (MacLeod to Lord Stanley).
Two conclusions can be drawn from the governor’s assertions. First, we cannot accept the governor’s word that the Indians were “perfectly contented and in good spirits” after a harrowing sea-voyage of 96 days. Second, as distinct from what Kamla contends, several Indians had re-indentured themselves, their having worked in Mauritius previously.
While Indians were treated in a horrible, inhumane manner, a point I illustrated in “Living As Dogs,” there is no doubt the Indians were brought to Trinidad to undercut the progress that Africans were making at the economic front.
The introduction of the Indians proved a mixed blessing for Africans. The Port of Spain Gazette [POG] noted that the arrival of so many Indians placed the labor market in a healthy and satisfactory position. It asserted: “Any planter who is able to pay a fair price for labor, can obtain a reasonable and tolerably steady supply of that grand desideratum” (June 19, 1846).
Lord Harris, governor of the island, did not agree fully with the POG editor’s enthusiasm or the West India Committee in London that was sending the Indians to the island. Although he welcomed the new immigrants, he signaled the difficulty of absorbing them, given the frequency and abundance with which they were being sent to the island.
As successful as the Indian presence was in dampening the wages of the laboring population, the need to procure labor at a “remunerative price” remained an issue. The cost of labor was still prohibitive and the recruitment of Indians was an expensive proposition. Lord Harris noted that “after deducting the value of their labor at the average rate, there is a dead loss on every Coolie, man, woman and child, for this year at £100 which must be borne either by the proprietors or by the mortgagee or by the island generally.”
By December of 1846, Lord Harris changed his tune. He was confident that Indian labor had managed to put Africans back in their place. He rejoiced that Indian immigration “had a most valuable moral effect on the Creole laborer and has shewn him that he cannot quite do as he likes. This effect will of course be increased by the addition of 4,000 during the next year” (Harris to Earl Grey).
These are sobering facts. When Kamla talks next, I hope she talks about the impact Indentureship had on her African brothers and sisters and how, in 2017, we can rectify the conditions of poor Africans who still remain at the bottom of the economic pile.
5 thoughts on “Getting It Right”
If Eric Williams was referring to a “small segment within the Democratic Labor Party”, he really did not make this clear when he made his hasty remark. The implication was that this small, recalcitrant minority, that is, all Indians could be discounted as being insignificant but obstructionist.
One of the major problems in T&T is that Indians have always been regarded as lesser, late comer immigrants and not as primary nationals.
It is a well established fact that Indians suffered discrimination as job seekers in various governmental institutions. It is also a well established fact that Indian entrepreneurs never considered hiring Africans in their enterprises.
It is also quite true that Indians received land in exchange for their passage back, but after indentureship many Indians were able to purchase additional parcels because of the sacrifices made to save.
When Indians came to the Caribbean, they had no intention of “undercutting” anyone in the labor force. This version of history is obviously revisionist. They replaced the reluctant Africans on the plantations. Who could blame the Africans for rejecting labor which they associated with slavery?
The antagonism against Indians festered among Africans who misunderstood the strategy which was being employed by the plantation class. It is correct to say that the plantation owners and the British “rejoiced that Indian immigration “had a most valuable moral effect on the Creole laborer and has shewn him that he cannot quite do as he likes.
Generally, the recalcitrant minority has grown into a thriving majority. Also, a large segment of the African population has developed into a prosperous middle class.
Dr. Cudjoe is totally correct when he claims that poor Africans still remain at the bottom of the economic pile. Government after government has failed to analyze and make solid recommendations for the advancement of deprived African communities. The answer is embedded in archaic education system that dates back to the Industrial revolution and failing schools in these communities.
*When Indians came to the Caribbean, they had no intention of “undercutting” anyone in the labor force. This version of history is obviously revisionist. They replaced the reluctant Africans on the plantations. Who could blame the Africans for rejecting labor which they associated with slavery?*
Can you imagine this is what they taught me in school, to justify (or try to)land ownership in Trinidad..
That African suffered so much on the land, that they developed a natural dislike for owning land..
So TMan, how come this disease did not affect Ex Slaves in other islands? Maybe we need to find out how countries that did not have a ‘successful’ Indian Indentureship program settled their differences after slavery.. Jamaica for example..
*The cost of labor was still prohibitive and the recruitment of Indians was an expensive proposition. Lord Harris noted that “after deducting the value of their labor at the average rate, there is a dead loss on every Coolie, man, woman and child, for this year at £100 which must be borne either by the proprietors or by the mortgagee or by the island generally.”*
Maybe The Professor can tell, why Trinidad? What was so ‘special’ about Trinidad or, what did the authorities fear that they spent $1.00 to make $.50?
What was happening in TT during these times? Was it a fear of The Merikins and The Corps of Colonial Marines who settled there… with military experience?
Kamal Persad writes:
The campaign for reparations by blacks for enslavement has an addendum from Selwyn Cudjoe about the negative “impact Indian indenture had on Africans” and “we can rectify the conditions of poor Africans who still remain at the bottom of the economic pile” (Sunday Express, March 26 “Getting It Right”). It is Cudjoe who got it wrong.
Emancipation in Trinidad had a devastating economic impact on “low density” colonies when the free blacks withdrew their labour from the sugar plantations or were unreliable. Plantations were abandoned or were overgrown with bush or were in an unkept state. Donald Wood in Trinidad in Transition recorded that “Lord Harris reported that the whole colony was in a miserable state. May 1848 was the blackest month. By then the colony coffers were completely empty.”
Indians were sourced as indentured labour after other attempts failed, and this immigration benefited everyone. William Green in British Slave Emancipation wrote that while Indian labour “had the effect of reducing the wages paid to creole workers, the absence of immigration would have had the same if not worse effect. Without Indian immigration, scores of plantations in Trinidad and British Guiana would have ceased cultivation. The demand for jobs would have risen on the remaining estates permitting owners to lower wage payments. This is precisely what occurred in Jamaica and the Windward Islands.”
Green further added that “the civic institutions and physical infrastructure of British Guiana and Trinidad, as well as the material well-being of a substantial portion of the inhabitants, white and non-whites, were enhanced by the effects of immigration. Without it, Trinidad and Tobago might have assumed the impoverished aspect of the neighbouring Windward colonies and whole districts of British Guiana would likely be reclaimed by the sea.”
The wages which were low were that of field workers. Africans benefited from high wages because of Indian immigration. Donald Wood quoted that when blacks knew an immigrant ship was on the road, the creoles would say: “That’s right massa, get plenty coolies to grow canes for aw we to grind in crop season.” He further added that “[t]he creoles profited from the work of Indians. Some were employed throughout the year in more skilled occupations that had been coveted even in slavery days and had a certain prestige.”
Green further added that “although creoles in Trinidad worked less than Indians, they earned slightly more. That the rate of wages in (Trinidad) remained abnormally high is attested by the thousands of workers from other islands who flocked annually to cut cane on the Trinidad estates.”
It is Selwyn Cudjoe who is peddling “false facts” and disregarding the historical record, even of recent history as in Eric Williams April 1, 1958 speech “The Dangers Facing the West Indian Nation” and the “recalcitrant minority” of the West Indian nation. Trinidad owes an historical debt to Indian immigrants and pioneers for their invaluable contribution.
The events marking the centennial of the “abolition of Indian indentureship” (1917-2017) in the form of three social events and a two-day academic conference are appropriate for this significant historical occasion. Undoubtedly, the 100th anniversary is a milestone in the history of countries like TT, Guyana and Suriname.
However, there appears to be some confusion in the form of perspective which informed the organisers of these events, the Indian Diaspora Council and its local affiliate in TT . What we had was ideological confusion and the domination of an India historical experience and the total marginalisation of the Indian-Caribbean historical reality.
EH Carr in his What Is History defined it as “an unending dialogue between the present and the past.” He added that “history cannot be written unless the historian can achieve some kind of contact with the mind of those about whom he is writing.” The mind of our Indian ancestors was not recognised and ignored.
And this is easy to verify.
The history of the end of Indian indenture came about largely as a result of a massive campaign in India against the export of Indian labour under a contract or indenture system to various parts of the world. The India campaign was led by EK Gokhale, Pandit Madan Mohn Malaviya and especially Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s ten-year residence in South Africa brought him in contact with indentured Indians whose grievances he began to champion.
His mind was made up on the question when he returned to India.
In his autobiography he recorded that he was about “to tour the country for an all-India agitation” when the system was ended.
Indians in the Caribbean were not supportive of the Gandhian campaign. Indian opinion wanted Indian immigration to continue, even if in a modified form. For example, in the Koh-i-Noor Gasette (1898), the first Indian newspaper, there is no campaign to end Indian labour immigration. In 1913, the first detailed analysis of the Indian presence in Trinidad, given by FEM Hosein, titled “East Indians in Trinidad A Sociological Analysis,” expected Indian labour immigration to Trinidad to continue indefinitely.
The opponents to Indian indentured labour migration were largely non-Indians, mainly blacks. Eric Williams in chapter 9 of his book History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago (1962) listed the names and quoted their position extensively: Sir Henry Alcazar, Lechmere Guppy, Dr de Boissiere and Prudhomme David.
Two working class black organisations were involved in this campaign: Working Men’s Reform Club and the Trinidad Working Men’s Association headed by Alfred Richards.
In Guyana this opposition began in 1868. Several black newspapers in Trinidad and Guyana were part of this campaign.
The positions against Indian indentureship were similar for different reasons. The Gandhian India nationalist position had to do with Indian pride and self-dignity and an affront to their nationalist feelings; here it was a black campaign of the black fear of the Indian spectre.
An accurate interpretation of this history should inform Indian opinion to properly guide action in the present.
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