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Stephen Kangal: Indian Arrival Day Speech
Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2005


By Stephen Kangal

Statement Delivered By Stephen Kangal at The Indian Arrival Day Function held by the Customs and Excise Division on Sunday 29th May 2005 at the Centre Point Mall at 6.00 p.m.

Mr.Chairman- Punditji Bisram Siewdath
The Acting Comptroller of Customs and Excise. Mr Leonard Watty
Mrs Ayesha Babwah, Deputy Comptroller of Customs and Excise
The Honourable Monahar Ramsarran and Mrs. Amina Ramsaran
Officers of the Customs and Excise and their families
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

Namastay, Assalam Alaikum, Good Evening

Thank you for the honour that has been accorded to me to address this audience on the occasion of Indian Arrival Day 2005. I congratulate the Customs and Excise Division for arranging this function. Thank you all brothers and sisters for attending in your large numbers.

Tomorrow the 30th of May 2005 marks the 160th Anniversary of the landing of our ancestors in T&T. May I wish you all Happy Indian Arrival Day 2005. May this celebration today promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation in our multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

The use of the word Indian in Indian Arrival refers to our ancestral cultural links to describe our ethnicity. It does not refer to our nationality of India since we are all citizens or nationals of Trinidad and Tobago. Similarly when we use the word African it is our cultural links that we are referring to since there is no country called Africa. Africa is a continent- a geographical concept but India is both a geographical as well as a political-legal concept. So that when there was reluctance to use the word Indian in Arrival it was based on misunderstanding and ignorance as well as to telegraph that "Indian" is a bad word.

I do not propose to use this important occasion to utter all varieties of nice sounding but misleading and deceptive phrases. I do not want to repeat the historical and economic events that led to the arrival of the East Indian indentured labourers in Trinidad. These phrases will include about how all of we is one. About how we came by the same ship and that there is a common, homogenous Caribbean Man even if that Caribbean Man and Culture has a predominantly African image. About how there is unity in diversity. There is in fact political and economic unity but cultural, religious and ethnic diversity About how every body eating doubles, roti and peleau and that there is no stress and tension in the society. Even Archbishop Gilbert in his Corpus Christi homily said that all ah we is one.

Ladies and Gentlemen if you do not recognise fundamental ethnic and socio-cultural differences in multicultural T&T neither the public nor the private sector can or will cater for these radical differences. And indeed one must if one is to dispense equity, fairness and justice in Trinidad and Tobago.

I will not pretend that all is honky donky. And because all the groupings play Carnival together and fete with Trini Posee at the Oval in an ethnic amalgam and sing and play Rum till I die On Sky Televison Cricketcast and dance to Lota Lay and Ricki Jai's Moor Toor that there is meaningful, harmonious and genuine integration. By integration I do not mean or intend to mean douglarisation or inter-marrying. It is the co-existence of a community of citizens and a community of communities in multicultural societies and the unimpeded interaction among them.

What I have listed are the cosmetics, the visibles that people use to conclude that there is no problem with race relations in T&T. But underlying this veneer of oneness are serious questions that need to addressed and problems to be faced in full frontal nudity. The Indian Community living 160 years in T&T cannot say let the future unfold. We have to make interventions at strategic points in the evolutionary process of nation building. We have to colour, shape and determine that future. We will not do that by assuming and adopting a karmic philosophy of docility and allowing others more articulate and with greater access to the media to define our interests for us. The Indian community is most qualified to determine what is in its own interest and this has implications for its effective and widespread representation in all aspects of national life.

The community has to avoid the predestination-based and determined life where we believe that we get what we deserve ; that our present social and economic status and even misfortunes are causal effects or divine prescriptions of the past that we cannot change. This belief is the essence of the doctrine of karma.

I do not want the Indian community to continue to subscribe to the con job foisted on us by the caste-based ruling Brahmin and priestly class of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These opportunists believed and arranged the caste system. The pundit gave my paternal grandfather the name Kangal. It means poor and bankrupt. It was intended I must remain poor and destitute in India because both my name and the environmental and cultural norms and standards would have conditioned me to accept being down trodden, mendicant, second class citizen.

The Indian Community in T&T today has to dismantle and break the shackles of Karma and Caste, of Political Pundit and Chela relationship when only Brahmins can lead and mislead us politically. We have to learn from the assertiveness demonstrated by our African brothers and sisters the lesson that only by constant struggle and agitation for your rights and entitlements will you get what is yours. The change of the White Anglo-Massa for the Black Massa in 1956 offered us no guarantee that our wishes and aspirations will be respected.

Manna does not drop from the sky in T&T. There is no invisible blind hand that will dispense and confer on the Indian community its rightful, legitimate place in Dharti Mai Trinidad and Tobago.

What I want to focus tonight is on how all of us, according to the National Amthem and the Fundamental Principles of the Constitution are equal in law. But also how some of us in practice are more equal than others ; how the State is doing nothing tangible and meaningful to make sure equality, justice and fairness prevails in T&T. That is the only basis for an integrated harmonious society. So long as the Indian community feels that it is not able to realise its full potential we are going to persist in having a polarised society. Only the Indian community is equipped to make that judgement. No one else.

The celebration of Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago is the observance of an important historical event. It is associated with and driven by social, economic, cultural, religious and political consequences and implications. Ten years ago you will remember what were the political consequences of the celebration of 150 years of Indian Arrival in T&T.

Why did we as members of the Indian community begin to celebrate this historical event? Why do we rejoice and celebrate our arrival in Trinidad and Tobago and not our departure from our ancestral home of India? Is Indian Arrival a platform to remember our deceased ancestors because we the current generation of the Indian Community are so much better off economically and with such a comfortable standard of life? Is the observance of Indian Arrival the expression of our persistent ancestral memory, our cultural cohesiveness and the occasion to evolve and carve the constant definition of our socio-cultural space.

What other community within our multicultural society celebrates their arrival since in all instances within the immigrant society of T&T the historical act of arrival is common among all the groupings? The ancestors of all of us faced and survived the crossing of the Kala Pani and the Atlantic sailing under the most inhumane, cruel, traumatic and brutal circumstances?

Some commentators have expressed the view that in their analysis and from a human development and equality and fairness perspective we the Indian community have not yet arrived after 144,000 disembarked from the Fath al Razack on Nelson Island beginning some 160 years ago. We are still being used and abused by our own leaders who make the transaction and conflict of their own personal vendetta more important than safeguarding the collective interest of the community. The Indian community is bankrupt of good and effective leadership in several spheres of national life.

Are we telegraphing today at the Centre Point Mall Auditorium that we are happy to have arrived in T&T after our departure from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar? Are the annual celebrations a public statement of our commitment and loyalty to dharti Mai Trinidad and Tobago? Is T&T our new Ayodha? Why do we have to prove that we are irrevocably bonded to T&T and people still question our patriotism? Have not we and our pitris toiled in the sugar plantations of T&T and were rewarded with starvation wages when others abandoned sugar as a symbol of slavery? What is the reward for this devotion when 9,000 sugar workers are decanted unto the roti line? They are left to fend for themselves. The perpetrators of this most brutal and disgraceful act know that Indians will take it lying down and their labour, union and political leaders will not and have not in fact raised a finger in violent and sustained protest? The Indian community is left defenceless and short-changed by our so-called inept leaders.

Our ancestors lived on the fringes of the society in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They were considered untouchables and relegated to a life of penury, destitution and want. They were the victims of both caste, class and karma. Their names reflected their social, religious and economic status The arkatias deceived them into believing that they were coming to Chinidad to chalay chinee. Some were taken from living on the streets and sent to Calcutta. All three systems that is to say caste, karma and class condemned our ancestors to being hewers of wood and drawers of water. Look back at what Mr.Panday met when he went to visit his relatives in Lakshmanpour. No change had taken place.

Today some including the contemporary political set up in which urban precedence over the resources of the state prevails would still want to marginalise and alienate us and condemn us in the rural backwards of Trinidad? How dare we individually and collectives make our claims to equality, fairness and justice when Here every creed and race find an equal place? Why must you write letters in the media or voice your concerns on the radio station talk shows since you are attempting to re-define, re-configure and reconstitute your cultural space and your own identity.

You the Indian community must not do that because others have assumed the right and indeed the authority to determine how far you can progress, how much wealth you can accumulate and how many of your children can attend UWI. According to Minister Fitzgerald Hinds Indians alone have money and therefore they are fair game for kidnappers and bandits. According to Hinds the murder of an Indian policeman is part of a daily routine. For Joseph the murder of an African policeman is crossing the line. According to Minister Rowley Indian have houses. They do not need houses. In fact Indians have everything and the State has to balance this abundance by allowing another group to monopolise the resources of the state and to commandeer the jobs in the public sector under some false and deliberately orchestrated myth that Indians dominate the private sector.

These are the serious intellectual and social issues the consideration of which must also engage our collective concern during the annual the Indian Arrival Day celebrations.

I am glad to see that an International Seminar was held on the Indian Contribution in the Caribbean at the Divali Nagar; that NALIS conducted a series of programmes on what they called the Indian Presence in T&T.I am also glad to see Plays and Dramas being featured on the occasion Indian Arrival Day. That is the new level of analysis to project our position and our legitimate claims in this society.

It cannot always be tassa, chutney and, curried goat and kaho peeyo aur mowje karo. There is a monumental challenge for the Indian Community to re-define its image and not allow others including the print and electronic media to misrepresent it for us.

There is the task of demanding and earning the respect for us as equals and to be treated as such. After living 65 years in T&T, having travelled the world and moved in the highest social, political and diplomatic circles I have concluded that in T&T Indians have to be twice right to be considered, treated and accepted as right in anything they say or do. I therefore agree with Sat Maharaj that we have not yet arrived in the sense that we have not realised our optimum potential. We are still under -performing in a morass of political indentureship. Judge the recent political events and determine whether the Indian community and its individual political leaders and representatives have really developed the necessary political acumen and skills? We have a lot to learn from our African brothers and sisters in the art of politics. And this is so because politics determines every aspect of your lives and the Indian community must become politically astute and wise to earn your place in the Sun and in Dharti Mai Trinidad and Tobago.

May I, in conclusion give a broad indication of the type of society that I hope we can create in Trinidad and Tobago:

"A society in which all its citizens and communities feel valued- in which they enjoy equal opportunities to develop their respective talents and lead fulfilling lives. A society in which we all accept our fair share of responsibility and where the spirit of civic friendship, shared identity and a common sense of belonging to Dharti Mai Trinidad and Tobago go hand in hand with the love of diversity."

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen!

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