Emergence of Indian Arrival as a Vehicle for Mobilisation and Cultural Assertiveness
By Stephen Kangal
(Address delivered at the MTS Indian Arrival Day Function
on Monday 28th May 2012)
Mr. Chairman, The PS/PM and Head of the Public Service, Mr. Reynold Cooper,
Mr. Dhaniram Ramkissoon, Vice- Chairman of MTS,
Members of Board of MTS,
Mr. Lennox Rattansingh, CEO of MTS
Divisional Managers and Members of the Staff of MTS
Ladies and Gentlemen- Namastay, Assalam Alaikum, Good Evening
I thank the management of MTS for inviting me to speak at this IAD function and congratulate the Staff for the effectiveness of the décor that emphasizes the theme of Indian Arrival.
IAD is a celebration of the cultural impact of the distinct Indo-T&T personality during 50 years of Nationhood and One Hundred and Sixty-Seven Years of contributing to T&T.
It involves the harnessing or mobilization of the euphoria of Indian Heritage Month and sentiments to serve as a catalyst for political and cultural mobilisation, assertion, consciousness and resurgence.
I wish to suggest that although objectively slavery and Indentureship were inhumanely the same, subjectively the circumstances under which they were transported and the response of the victims and beneficiaries of these systems are very different.
In T&T we tend to indulge in an 'all ah we is one' syndrome. We do not want to recognize diversity, we do not want to cater for diversity and we remain a polarized society.
Allow me to extend to the national community, more especially to the Indian community congratulations on the conceptualization, development and commemoration of Indian Arrival Day 2012. Happy Indian Arrival Day to all of you present. This is a special Indian Arrival on the 50th Birthday of T&T. It is an occasion for transforming cultural silos into frontiers for conducting cultural outreach and understanding
- For building bridges to close the cultural rural-urban divide
- For the Ganges to flow into the Nile.
There is a lot that I can say on the historical and economic aspect of the arrival of the Indians on the cane-fields of Caroni in 1845 when the Fath Al Razack docked in Nelson Island. I want to explain Indian Arrival because:
- There is too much misunderstanding around
- Attempts are being made to dismantle, dilute and diminish the spontaneity and intensity of the annual celebration of Indian Arrival
Why Arrival? Why Not Departure from UP and Bihar? Why not abolition of the Indentureship System in 1917? Why not celebrate the closure of Caroni by Manning and Granting of Two-Acre Parcels and Granting of House Lot?
For the Indian Community to decide to celebrate their arrival in T&T and defy the dominant post-independence political, intellectual and media culture, needs special investigation. That dominant culture was very anti-colonial exploitation, anti-British, anti-European, anti-sugar, anti-transplantation and de-culturalisation, and anti-plantation economy. IAD required and demanded courage, great conviction, self-introspection and self-confidence. Indian Arrival would appear to validate or go soft on the Indentureship system of labour, to be pro-British and indifferent to the inhumane barrack conditions. It concentrates on the rewards of the hard-work of the pitris and not on the cruelties of Massa.
Indentureship would appear to be part of the plan of the Divine for the development of the Caribbean as evidenced in the lyrics circulated in Mission to the Caribbean Song that says that God was sending the girmitiyas to the Caribbean to rescue the ailing plantation economy.
Today in the short time I want to identify very briefly:
- The analytical aspects of IAD- not the historical narrative
- the non-visibles that drive the process and journey towards arrival
- the philosophical
- the cultural
- the religious
- The Political
The IAD canvas is broad. The colours are both dark and bright. There was always light shining in the horizon beckoning the jahajees to Chinidad to chalay chinee. The various gods and goddesses are depicted watching over, protecting the chelas as they navigate the kala pani. Some perish and are unceremoniously thrown over-board. Those who survive became bonded coolies - jahajees for life - stronger than blood connections. Their arrival was met with hostile reception by the emancipated group because they were prepared to work for low wages.
The Ramayan written by Tulsidas in Bhojpuri-Awadhi, the dialect of the indentures is like the Bible that Christopher Columbus used to make the same Trans-Atlantic journey on the same ship 350 years before the Indian girmitiyas. They, the indentures, held the Ramcharitarmanas in one hand and 6,000 years of ancestral memory and civilisation symbolized in the jahajee bundle in the other. The jahajees or girmitiyas remember the voluntary exile of Ram and Sita to Banwas and their return to Ayodha. They make a parallel with their own voluntary exile to the Caribbean and subsequent return to Moolook after 5 years of Indentureship planting kaytharee in Caroni.
This banishment, their karmic and dharmic beliefs mitigate the harshness and transform liabilities into assets. That is the kahani of arrival. They came from a most cruel environment. They were subjected to caste discrimination, rural poverty and neglect in UP and Bihar. What is the state of Bhelupur and Lakshmanpour today? Many were beggars on the dirt-roads. When they faced rural isolation and discrimination in T&T they were equipped to cope by their confrontation with the zamindars of UP/B.
After 167 years of active participation in the socio-economic development of T&T, third and fourth generation Indo-Trinbagonians, albeit the largest ethnic community is still struggling:
- to defend and prosecute their legitimate rights and entitlement to their cultural space;
- to be adequately integrated, accepted and included as an essential component of the national cultural mosaic of this rainbow country of emancipated and progressive immigrants.
One has to be honest and face reality and stake a claim for inclusion. We are very quick to brand as racists anyone who articulates a claim for inclusion and to be treated fairly. We cannot ignore the following developments as clear indicators of this continuing, unfinished struggle or jihad that is still to be conducted because of the sheer stubbornness of some of our leaders:
- The exclusion of their cultural expressions at the Summit of the Americas in 2009;
- The negative reaction and lack of understanding displayed by segments of the population to the recent events during the Prime Minister's Official State January visit to India and the extolling of her attachment and cultural linkages to her ancestral home village of Bhelupur
- The exclusion of the word "Indian" by former PM Manning in Indian Arrival, the inclusion by former PM Panday, the non-attendance at Indian functions by the former PM Manning and the decision of the Mayor of POS Louis Lee Singhji to exclude any reference to Indian in its Arrival Day celebrations this year. Singh's exclusion of the word Indian is based on what I call sheer stupidity and ignorance.
- There is a certain unwillingness and political vacillation to accept the policy of multiculturalism or cultural diversity even by the Minister of Multiculturalism. MC is a policy and programme matrix to enable equity and justice to be afforded to all cultural streams flowing in T&T. MC will result in elevating Indian cultural and other ethnic expressions to being accorded to the status of being national in scope and character.
In the face of this backdrop today, I want to point out:
- the firstly the uniqueness of the factors that inspire Indian Arrival celebrations, and;
- secondly, the distinctive perception and deeply embedded culturally-generated response of the Indian Community to their arrival, occupation and development of socio-economic space In Trinidad and Tobago.
I suggest that this response by the Indian community to project the arrival concept that I put forward as being brave, courageous, unique and distinctive is indeed driven and coloured by their:
- deeply embedded, innate and complex socio-religious personality-norms, values, beliefs and priorities.
NGO's within the Indian community by their agitation and own actions since the early 1990's had concluded quite spontaneously that selecting and celebrating the arrival component of the crossing of the Kala Pani is patriotic and appropriately loyal to the statement that T&T wants to make as a valued participant in the Caribbean plantation economy.
IAD arrival is an Ode to thank Dharti Mata T&T for being kind and generous to the children of the indentures in creating a new janaam- a yug- a new Ayodha- a Nirvana
Abundance of Diversity
From my recollection no other group has opted to transmit its joy, happiness and satisfaction from surviving the crossing of the Kala Pani and arriving in T&T. One other large group has chosen to celebrate its departure from the cane-fields of Caroni to occupy urban and sub-urban non-agricultural space. That is their right and entitlement because I think it suits their aptitudes, values and innate skills-base. The Chinese celebrated their bi-centennial in 2010 as a one-off affair. Everyone left the cane-fields except the Indians.
The Communities of Peoples of T&T have a remarkable and very noticeable mutually-reinforcing distribution of labour and skills that is ideally suited for the total development of T&T- agriculturalists- builders- shop-keepers-writers-athletes- entrepreneurs- mountain urban dwellers- plain rural dweller. That did not happen by accident. T&T is the vine-yard of the Lord Krishna- Allah- Almighty God etc.
Definition of Indian Arrival
But I must give you a definition of what I think the Indian community regards as the concept of arrival that is the focus and rallying point of cohesiveness, even political mobilization and spin-offs associated with the annual celebrations.
Indian Arrival as a concept which is celebrated is not basically a historical date. It is not exclusively a specific historical event that took place on 30 May 1845. That is peripheral to the celebrations as it has now grown.
It is a concept- a-process- a journey- a jihad- continuum-
It is a powerful mobilisation vehicle geared to reflect the degree of achievement/emancipation of the Indian community from:
- the dehumanizing effects of the system of indentureship and subsequent rural agricultural isolation;
- statal neglect;
- eliminating the hurdles to subsequent integration and acceptance into the wider society post-1917 while still preserving their innate cultural personality and hybrid distinctiveness after 167 years of active participation in and contribution to the socio-economic life of T&T and
- unbroken cultural interaction and linkages with the civilization of the Indian sub-continent that constituted part of their jahajee bundle and
- that provided the daily solace, respite and sanctuary after working in the sun and the rain of the cane-fields of Caroni under the eyes of the sahibs and
- conquest of adversity.
T&T is a community of communities. T&T is at the centre and the communities on the periphery all linked to the centre like the spokes of a wheel.
At the same time we must appreciate that Mother T&T or Dharti Mai T&T is a cosmopolitan society consisting of several legitimate communities (Every Creed and Race according to the National Anthem).
Every community has a right to adhere to its distinctive socio-cultural moorings and values; not to live in silos but to conduct inter-community relations both organizationally and personally. These natural cross-fertilisation of cultures and mutual exchanges are taking place daily at several levels of the society. The Indian community chose to commemorate their concept or mantra arrival as the rallying point to expressing their loyalty and patriotism to Dharti Mata T&T. That is the most patriotic statement that it could ever make.
I wish to repeat that IAD is not projected as the exclusive observation and commemoration of a historical event beginning with the arrival of the Fath Al Razack on 30 May 1845 on Nelson Island quarantine center.
The celebration of IAD has assumed a peculiar character; a certain distinctiveness that is Indian culture-driven and peculiar to the post-Indentureship experience of the Indian community.
That is what Mayor Louis Lee Singh and others will not take the time and effort to appreciate and understand- the cultural dynamics and underpinnings of IAD. But they are prepared to preside over the demise of the cumulative celebrations of Indian Arrival using what we would regard as a very cosmetic visual appreciation of the Indian Arrival mantra. That is the level of dishonesty that is corroding and hindering the development and emergence of T&T as a harmonious, well-knit, multicultural society.
The celebration of IAD is a socio-historical process that extends to and includes the present. The question of IAD is an ice-berg issue. What we see (the visible clothes, the musical expressions at village gatherings, the Indianness or communal spirit, adulation of our ancestors or pitris) are the tip of the iceberg.
Four-fifths of the driving forces underlying IAD are the:
- The Celebration of the Philosophical Moorings that drove the indentures and their descendants to transform liabilities that they faced into social and economic assets using their beliefs and values of life enshrined in and derived from the Ramcharitarmanas that is regarded as the fountain of Caribbean Hinduism.
- IAD reflects the sociology of the Indian community, Cultural persistence and their perceived validity of Indian Culture over that of the Anglo-Saxons in repelling and mediating the cultural colonizing process.
- The Religious- The concepts of Dharma and Karma in shaping and determining the celebrations (e.g) Mission to the Caribbean- Ancestral worship- Pitra Puksh), inspiration and solace provided by Ram's banishment and return to Ayodha and the principle of Dharti Mata
- The Social and Economic Mobility being the level/degree of accomplishment in the face of the overwhelming odds and the triumph against all the challenges that came their way that is peculiar to this community and looking back at the building blocks (Hard work of the pitris and land economics) that paved the way for this success.
Emancipation is essentially the unique African response to slave experiences. No one prevented the other groups from celebrating their arrival in T&T if they so wish. But we cannot dilute, diminish and down-grade the intensity practiced in IAD in order to accommodate others because:
- their celebration will be qualitatively different;
- have no cultural synergies with IAD and;
- they can in fact take place simultaneous with IAD and;
- not necessarily on 30th May annually.
Alternative IAD Awards and Recognition
Some NGO's such as The SDMS, GOPIO, Mere Desh, NCIC and others have evolved their own Alternative Award and Recognition Systems as a component of Indian Arrival Day because of a perceived exclusion of the Indians in satisfactory numbers from the National Awards Systems. My checking revealed a consistent 8-10% representation even during the NAR term of Government.
I attended the Mahasabha IAD dinner on Friday where T&T novelist, Toronto-based Rabindranath Maharaj was honoured. Mere Desh will do the same on Wednesday. The Kendra will honour Bhadase Sagan Maharaj.
The National Holiday
The importance of the declaration of IAD as a national holiday was the main impetus to the mushrooming of the observances and the plumbing of the resourcefulness of the people. We are moving away from the traditional concert in the playground type presentations to other more artistic and dramatic methods of communicating the IAD mantra and message. Pickakaree provides the analysis and the social commentary. Classical Singing is being revived and our elders honoured.
One piece of advice to all and sundry.
Never set the dates for elections and according to Kitchener to play Mas in May. Because rain will come and wash away the party as Manning realized on the 24 of May 2010 (165th Year of Indian Arrival) and debacle and electoral melt-down. You will also recall what happened on the 150th Anniversary of the IAD with Manning again calling a premature election.
I refer to these events to merely illustrate the level of mobilization and the jahajee spirit of camaderie and togetherness that inundates the Indian community during Indian Heritage Month of May.
This week will be a unifying time for the people of Dharti Mata-T&T. Enjoy the Bhangra and the Chutney party.
Thank You, sisters and brothers all!
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