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The East Indian Challenge
By Stephen Kangal
May 28, 2007
The genuine way forward to nation building for the Indian Community is identifying the challenges to be faced in forging a New Arrival in which entrepreneurship and professionalism (social and economic mobility) must go hand in hand with programmes designed to increase and promote human welfare and progress notably in the rural communities.
We all must want to create a just and caring people-centred society in which all groups will feel a sense of ownership of Trinidad and Tobago and where no one feels excluded or limited in its quest for excellence. All must play their part and not benefit vicariously from the work of other citizens.
The Indian community benefited enormously from the work of the Canadian Missionaries in education. It is time to give back to society.
The Challenge of Transforming the Concept of Indian Arrival Into a Platform to launch the Next Level of Nation Building/ Achievements
It is to be hoped that the observance of the festivities and celebrations organised to commemorate this important socio-economic historical event of the arrival of the Indian Community on 30 May 1845 in Trinidad via Nelson Island from Calcutta will have great significance for and be appreciated and understood by the entire multicultural community of T&T in order to facilitate a new era of cultural co-existence.
The Outward Looking Orientation
The annual celebrations must now progress from being an inward looking event to an outward looking orientation in addition to intra-community celebrations. We have to go beyond the traditional speeches and cosmetic cultural activities to document and intellectually define our place and claim our legitimate space in T&T.
No Man is an Island
Life has convinced me that no man is and can be an island unto himself. Man is also a social being who develops and derives his nature and nurture from constant healthy social interaction. Being in discreet connexion with the pulse of the people is important.
Focus of the Maha Sabha
On this occasion of the observance of the 162nd Anniversary of Indian Arrival I wish to congratulate the Sanatan Dharma Mahasabha (SDMS) for a number of outstanding achievements some of which I wish to list:
Deepening and Enhancing the Exposition
- The continuing socialisation of the young in Hinduism and the performing arts via the highly successful: Baal Vikaas Competition.
- The emphasis being placed on the education of our women folk to play their part in building and defining this society as well as to compensate them for loss of a head-start. (The achievements of Lakshmi Girls College)
- The development of its network of primary and secondary schools in rural Trinidad and its proposed establishment of a Hindu mandir in Tobago.
- Its efforts to re-examine and bring to the attention of current society the rich and varied legacy bequeathed by the late unsung hero, first President- General Bhadase Sagan Maharaj.
- Use of the electronic media to service the cultural and religious needs and aspirations of the Hindu community.
- Bringing the celebration of the Hindu Festivals to the attention of diverse T&T.
As a community we have to do something qualitatively different to promote deeper intellectual and inter-generational understanding of the socio-economic fundamentals of the act of arrival that changed the landscape of T&T forever, The Maha Sabha needs to use dramatic presentations, the arena theatre genre (Ram Leela), panel discussions, lectures, seminars, pichakaree compositions etc. to take our celebrations to a new level of exposition and analysis so that its message and significance can be embedded in the national psyche.
We need to communicate in the language that the young can appreciate and understand. We cannot always pat ourselves on the back each year in Public Relations exercises. We have to deepen the dialogue so that the young can serve as vectors of the message and achieve inter-generational transfers.
The Challenges facing the Indian Community
We must appreciate the fact that cosmopolitan T&T is a community of several communities (Unity in Diversity). So that while at the political and economic levels we can be allowed to be nationalistic at the cultural level we can only be a multicultural society. All ah we are not one. We did not come by the same ship. The conventional identity of the Caribbean man excludes the Indian presence and his socio-cultural- linguistic identity. The state must recognise and appreciate the richness of our socio-cultural differences, cater for them and make adequate provisions for all citizens to live fulfilling lives according to their moral and spiritual values. That is where equity and fairness enters the equation for in the words of the late Dr. Eric Williams, Mother Trinidad and Tobago cannot even appear discriminate amongst its children.
We have to accept our fair share of the collective responsibility, develop civic friendship, accept our shared identity and promote a clear understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity in T&T.
Dismantling the Cultural Fences of the Villages
The challenge that faces the Indian community today is one that involves a spirited and concerted attempt to break away from the comfortable, often neglected and traditional isolationism of the rural backyards. We have to assert our inalienable and unfettered constitutional right to participate fully without let or hindrance in the task of continuous nation building. We have to equip, train and educate ourselves to perform this new role. Mind you, in doing so you will run the risk, as you have already done, of being accused of breaking away from the lowly status and subservient position to which urban traditions have hitherto relegated you and imposed upon you. You may be accused of pursuing an unfair, orchestrated domination agenda by certain false professors. You may therefore be tempted to stay in your crease as good, obedient Indians to avoid conspiracy theories. Genuine attempts at breaking away from the false destiny to which you have been confined by all and sundry may be met with all manner of evil and false accusations geared to stem your progress because you dared to be your best and sought equality for yourself. Seeking equality is promoted as re-arranging the status quo and causing friction in the society by the media.
If you upset the prevailing status quo you may be targeted for criticisms that may tend to deter you from innovations, enterprise and playing your part in nation-building.
That is an expression of the national penchant today to view all things and to decide what is politically and socially correct with ethnic lenses. That is the challenge facing the entire national community that we must face frontally to reach to the next level.
We have to dismantle this mindset and begin to see and view things as objectively as possible consistent with our growth to maturity as a people.
I submit you today that T&T is too small and mobile a country to lend itself any longer to the unbalanced economic, social and infrastructural development associated with the current urban-rural dichotomy. You have heard unfortunate statements alluding to the calibre of citizens who live South of the Caroni River and the lack of judgement attributed to them by reason of their geographic location.
The Concept of the Large Village
T&T is one large village. The full cosmopolitan human resource high grade capital must be released to prevent any further hibernation and neglect in the villages. Skills development is the new platform that must be built to bring about the Jagriti- the awakening of the body, the soul and the mind to contribute to genuine nation building and equality and fairness. We must build a new Janaam. We must not allow the conspiracy theorists to determine how many of the Indian community should be enrolled at tertiary education or deter you from transforming your indentureship into entrepreneurship. You must resist all attempts that tend to project the full release of our latent talents as a threat to the status quo or some divinely determined right to permanent group domination.
Indian Arrival Day Celebrations are the making of a powerful statement by the Indian community regarding our commitment to Motherland Trinidad and Tobago. The Indian community regards T&T as Dharti Mai. We celebrate and remember our arrival on the shores of T&T even though we were pawns and chattels in the emerging Seventeenth Century European capitalist system. We cannot afford to look backwards anymore and harp on the inhumanity of treatment to which our pitris were subjected on the barracks and on the cane-fields of Caroni. We have to press on with building this meradeshbhoomi of T&T.
Getting On with the Tasks Ahead
Today we remember the contribution of our pitris who made monumental sacrifices for our benefit. We do not dwell on the cruelties of the sahibs. We leave that judgment in the hands of God. We get on with making Trinidad and Tobago a first world, cohesive country where citizens will be able to live fulfilling lives.
What is needed is for publicists to put this Indian Community contribution in their proper perspective so that posterity can have a proper and progressive assessment of the achievements of the Community.
Breaking Out from the Comfort Zones Syndrome
It would appear that we continue to seek comfort and security in the fortresses of our rural mandirs and mosques. That is OK for our relationship with the Divine. Our response to kidnappings must not be flight to safer climes. It must be fight. But there are other aspects to our national life that need active inputs from the Indian community that is the largest minority in T&T.
The Legacy of Indian Culture in T&T
- The need of our young sisters to make an effort to reduce or mitigate shortage of nurses and health care providers.
- The need to develop physical fitness programmes in rural communities to reduce the growing incidence of sedentary life-style ailments that reduce our human resource potential, drain the health services and impair the quality of life.
- Young rural people to get more involved in sports other than cricket and volleyball so as to enhance national performance in other team sports for example athletics, hockey and football.
- Participation in larger numbers in the critical sphere of the protective services to enhance national security concerns and widen the intelligence -gathering network (Indians too localised and embedded in their communities).
- Establishment of NGO's and welfare programmes within the Indian community to promote community welfare and poverty reduction since existing NGO's focus on the urban areas.
- The further emancipation of women from the home to contribute to the national work force, productivity, competitiveness and to increase family incomes to sustain a higher standard of living (Example of inward looking).
On the 162nd anniversary of Indian Arrival let me pay tribute to the rich cultural heritage that was transplanted from the fields of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to Trinidad and other parts of the Caribbean including the French Antilles beginning in 1845. I also pay tribute to the local practitioners who were the pioneers of the performing arts. Some of these have passed on but have left us an indelible legacy.
Cultural Retention and Persistence
The retention and persistence of this cultural legacy in the face of the opposition of the harsh colonial system is nothing short of a miracle. These traditions were handed down orally from generation to generation. While these traditions and cultural practices changed on the Indian sub-Continent they were preserved in their original practices in Trinidad. UNESCO must commission a study on documenting the Indian culture of T&T in their heritage series for international attention.
Admiration from Ex-Patriate Indians
The Indian Community deserves respect and appreciation for their monumental achievements in cultural retention, preservation and retention in its original purity and form. Ex-patriate Indians have marveled at the authenticity and symbolic observances of Our Divali Festival, our Hindu devotions and the appeal of our traditions.
We must realise that we have preserved a way of life that continues to serve Trinidad and Tobago well.
Warding off the Challenge Posed by Intellectual Dishonesty Geared to Dismantle Indian Culture from T&T
This rich and original vein of Oriental culture must be preserved, encouraged and documented for posterity. This culture is an integral component of our cultural landscape and the Indian Community must take every step to ensure that it is not threatened by false intellectual dishonesty or discredited or marginalised in any way whatsoever. Culture is not a shirt that you change depending on the vagaries of the climatic conditions. It flows in our blood. Indian culture in T&T with on-going change and modification is the product of 6,000 years of Indus Valley Civilisation. We do not have to re-invent the wheel. The new socio-geography of the Caribbean has impacted positively in influencing the rhythms of local Indian music, dance, creativity and innovation.