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Cheap Politics and Racism Cannot Beat the Steelpan
Posted: Saturday, December 23, 2006

By A. A. Hotep
December 23, 2006

Why try to deny the legitimacy of the Steelpan being our national instrument?

The Steelpan is globally recognized as the only acoustical instrument developed in the 20th century. The fact that this instrument was created and developed in Trinidad and Tobago out of the experiences of Africans seems to be troubling to a few Indians in Trinidad and Tobago.

One of the considerations for using the Steelpan as the national instrument is that it is recognized internationally as a new world instrument that was invented using new materials at the time. That made the Steelpan a good tourism selling point.

A few years ago, in an attempt to rival the accomplishment of the Steelpan, Rajnie Ramlakhan tried to ignite a case for the persecution of Indians due to the seeming neglect of the Dhantaal (a steel rod, struck by a horseshoe). She wrote:

"The story of the dhantaal is the story of the mainly rural-based Indian community in Trinidad. It is a story of shameful and willful neglect by successive governments, but mainly the PNM, in all areas of national life.

As a result the Indian community was denied the opportunity to develop to its fullest potential. They were unable to produce international stars, especially in sports and music, due to lack of facilities and trained personnel."

Terry Joseph's appropriate response to that article is titled, "Roti Rhetoric". In it he stated:

"In an unprovoked demonstration of see-through separatism, Express columnist Rajnie Ramlakhan on Monday managed to hammer the dhantaal, a hitherto harmless musical instrument, into a divisive, double-edged political weapon; then sharpened it for use in an argument about ethnic discrimination.

The dhantaal, which was featured in its fullness on the cover of Section Two of the last Sunday Express, comprises a steel rod, struck by a horseshoe (or similarly shaped metal ring). It plays only one note, a tinkle, whose resonance can be affected by intermittently grasping and releasing the rod.

The dhantaal is used in the rhythm section of bands playing Indian music, although not exclusive to such groups."

Today, the latest move to rival the Steelpan is coming with a call for the Tassa drum to be elevated to that of a national instrument because it was invented in Trinidad and represents the Indian community. But this call is being made in another political attempt to solidify Indians behind the notion that they are a persecuted group. The dishonest motive behind the call is why I would not even entertain it. In addition to which, the Tassa drum is simply not an original instrument. It is a modified version of another drum like many drums in the African Community. Adding dried animal skin to wood, clay or any other material for the purpose of beating with hands or sticks is by no means original.

Indians were not dragged to these islands as slaves, and as hard as some try, they cannot show proof that Africans, and even the PNM government, systematically persecuted Indians in this country. The fact that Indians are not symbolically represented in several aspects of this country is largely due to their own unwillingness to be a part of aspects of Trinidad and Tobago.

Anyone who looks at football and basketball in Trinidad and Tobago could claim that Indians are discriminated against in football and basketball and that is the reason they are underrepresented there, when the truth is that Indians do not gravitate to those sports.

It was the same in the public service, army and police services in the past. Indians were not interested in those jobs; they just were not getting involved, and like many back then they considered those jobs degrading. But when wages increased after much struggle by landless Africans who took up those jobs, we heard talk of widespread discrimination against Indians as the reason for them being underrepresented in some of these institutions.

As Raffique Shah stated in his article titled, "Memories of Regiment's first Indian officer...a personal experience":

"It is also true that many Indians did not apply to join the military, or, for that matter, the Coast Guard. And there were (and still are) good reasons why they didn't. My father, for example, if he'd had his choice, would have pointed me in the direction of one of the traditional professions. Unfortunately for him, I determined my own destiny from age 17. Most Indians do not see the army as holding any future for them or their offspring, hence the tendency to get into anything other than the military. Too, because of their religions, they tend to shun institutions where there is no "halal" meat or, in the case of Hindus, where meats form part of the daily diet. And yes, as far as I know, there is no time-off granted to Muslims for Friday's "Juma" prayers or for Hindu holy days (other than Eid and Divali)."

Whites too could be calling for a public holiday in recognition of their arrival to Trinidad and Tobago, and they could want to be amply represented in all the symbols of this country. They should want stories to be told about how much these islands benefited from their arrival and that although slavery was bad, we all benefited from it.

It may be easy to see how absurd some of this may sound, and I dare add it is no more absurd than some of the arguments being made by some members of the Indian community who would like to see Indians solidify additionally along racial lines, and especially so as an oppressed group in Trinidad and Tobago. With that in mind, I expect more racially insensitive and outright distortions to be coming from certain politically motivated writers.

This country cannot develop by faking recognition to anyone or by distorting the history of how this country evolved, just to appease a (any) section of the community. Some Indians fuss about getting token recognition from the PNM government, and then they turn around and lobby for the government to give them token recognition.

The dishonesty stinks to high heaven.

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